Andrew P. Vayda

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Andrew P. Vayda
Born(1931-12-07)December 7, 1931
DiedJanuary 15, 2022(2022-01-15) (aged 90)
Alma materColumbia University (BA, PhD)
Scientific career
InstitutionsRutgers University
Columbia University
University of British Columbia
University of Indonesia

Andrew P. "Pete" Vayda (December 7, 1931 – January 15, 2022) was a Hungarian-born American anthropologist and ecologist who was a distinguished professor emeritus of anthropology and ecology at Rutgers University.

Biographical background[edit]

Vayda was born in Budapest, Hungary, on December 7, 1931. He came to the United States in 1939 with his mother. He grew up in New York City. He attended Columbia University, obtaining his B.A. in 1952 and his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1956.[1] His dissertation, based on library research he had done in New Zealand in 1954–1955, was a detailed description and analysis of Maori warfare.

A distinguished professor of anthropology and ecology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, from 1972 until his retirement in 2002, he had also been a professor at Columbia University (1960–1972) and a lecturer at the University of British Columbia (1958–1960).[2][3] Beginning in the 1960s and continuing into his retirement years, he taught also at various European, American, Australian, and Indonesian universities for periods of a year or less.[4]

Social and ecological field research was conducted and/or directed by Vayda in the coral atolls of the Northern Cook Islands in 1956–57, in Papua New Guinea during the 1960s, and in Indonesia at various times and on various islands since the 1970s until 2017. He founded the journal Human Ecology in 1972 and has been serving on the editorial boards of this and other journals through the years. Since 2002, he has been an independent scholar with a home base in New York City and also an adjunct professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and at the University of Indonesia in Depok, Indonesia, and a senior research associate of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia.[5] A festschrift in his honor was published in 2008.[6] In December 2021, Human Ecology published a tribute to Vayda in celebration of his 90th birthday.[7]

Vayda died on January 15, 2022, at the age of 90.[8] A virtual obituary, with pictures from Vayda's various excursions and of him and his loved ones, was created in his honor.[9]


Vayda's long and varied career featured historical, anthropological, ecological, philosophical, and interdisciplinary research. He is known also for his criticisms of the work of others for failures of causal reasoning and explanation and for undue generalizing and theorizing in the absence of adequate supporting evidence. His published works include some hundred articles and three books. He has also edited or co-edited four books.

Maori Warfare, the book based on Vayda's Ph.D. dissertation, was first published in 1960.[10] Now a classic, it has been regarded as the authoritative work on the subject of Maori warfare in its last stage of evolution before being greatly altered by European weapons and ways. As such, it continues to guide archaeological research in New Zealand and has been important also for anthropological and ecological studies of war.[11] In the 1960s, Vayda extended his studies of intergroup fighting to societies in Borneo and New Guinea.[12] His New Guinea findings have special value as products of field research carried out among groups contacted and pacified by outsiders only a few years earlier. The findings figure prominently in an important 1989 article, “Explaining Why Marings Fought.” In this, Vayda admitted to certain errors of reification and fallacies of functional explanation in some of his own earlier work and he showed how avoidable ambiguities in the meaning of questions about why people fight have led to long, unproductive, and acrimonious debates among scholars.[13] This last theme was taken up again in a 1992 review article on the anthropology of war.[14] Both articles are included in Vayda's 2009 essay collection, Explaining Human Actions and Environmental Changes. The 1989 article is noteworthy also as an extended illustration of Vayda's abiding interest in analyzing and explaining explanation itself and in engaging with the philosophical literature on explanation.

Vayda's year (1956–57) in the coral atolls of the Northern Cook Islands failed to produce the ethnographic monograph expected at the time from extended anthropological fieldwork. However, it did result in a number of articles, including some on such unconventional topics as the relation of island size to sexual activity and to openness to cultural innovations.[15][16] Throughout his career, Vayda's efforts have been directed mainly towards the production of critical, analytic articles on various topics rather than big books with overarching themes.

Having become involved in UNESCO's Man and Biosphere Program, Vayda directed or co-directed in the 1970s and 1980s a series of interdisciplinary projects on the causes of deforestation in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. The projects resulted in useful data on how, why, and to what extent did specific activities such as legal and illegal logging, pepper farming by migrants from another island, and shifting cultivation, contribute to deforestation.[17] In addition, the projects are notable for certain conceptual and methodological innovations. Thus, breaking with the anthropological tradition of conducting holistic studies of communities or societies within which the activities of interest occurred, the projects concentrated on explaining the activities by relating them to the specific contexts in which they were occurring and by making the contexts themselves the objects of research to make them broader or denser in explanation-relevant ways. This is what Bonnie McCay has referred to as “progressive vs. a priori contextualization.”[18] The methodology, as set forth in Vayda's article, “Progressive Contextualization; Methods for Research in Human Ecology,” has been adopted by many anthropologists, geographers, and others doing applied research, and the article has been and continues to be widely cited.[19] Following the 1980s research related to deforestation, Vayda engaged in or directed other research in Indonesia in projects related to such subjects as integrated pest management, possibilities for relocation of settlers from a national park, and possibilities for control of forest and peat fires.[20]

Vayda's critiques of views and approaches accepted by and popular among colleagues in the social sciences and human ecology are numerous and varied. They have been described as “creative destruction” resulting in influential intellectual innovation.[21] Included in the approaches critiqued were some Vayda himself had previously been partial to. The criticisms have pertained, inter alia, to the following for being based on theories, assumptions, and/or methodologies whereby broad conclusions either poorly supported or actually contradicted by evidence are drawn and/or practical conclusions fail to be drawn:

  • Earlier anthropologists’ emphasis on the social and/or ceremonial character of such institutions as potlatches in North America and pig feasts in Melanesia, with no recognition and not even consideration of their significance for subsistence.[22]
  • Julian Steward's cultural ecology and Charles Frake's ethno-ecology.[23]
  • The “calorific obsession” and equilibrium bias of some ecologists and ecological anthropologists.[24]
  • Roy Rappaport's metaphysical holism.[25]
  • Marvin Harris's cultural materialism.[26]
  • Marshall Sahlins's essentialist structuralism.[27]
  • The adaptationism of human behavioral ecologists (called “Darwinian Ecological Anthropologists” by Vayda).[28]
  • Cognitive anthropologists’ failure to deal with the knowledge bases of practical human activities or actions.[29]
  • Steve Lansing's selective use of evidence to support his modelling of Balinese agro-ecological change.[30]
  • The undue claims made for the holistic study of local knowledge systems as practical guides to economic development and environmental conservation.[31]
  • Such whole fields as political ecology and spiritual ecology, criticized for their promotion of confirmation bias by virtue of their causes-to-effects rather than effects-to-causes research methodology (see below).[32]

The methodological approach favored by Vayda and his frequent collaborator, Bradley Walters, draws on pragmatic features of the work of such philosophers as David Lewis on causal explanation and Charles S. Peirce on abductive reasoning.[33][34] The approach has the following key features (or “admonitions” as the geographer/political ecologist Paul Robbins[35] has called some of them):

  • Events, including human actions, are made the usual objects of explanation. Among examples from Vayda's work are the events comprising deforestation, intergroup fighting, migration, forest fires, and adoption or non-adoption of integrated pest management.
  • Explanation and explanation-oriented research proceed from the events that are regarded as the effects to be explained (i.e., the explananda) to their causes and not vice versa, thus reducing the confirmation bias which, according to Vayda and Walters, is promoted by the causes-to-effects research characteristic of such fields as political ecology.
  • Multiple and/or alternative causal possibilities are investigated, with some usually being eliminated while others, comprising some portion of the causal histories of the explanandum events, are left to stand as likely or possible explanations.
  • The main goal of research and explanation is seen as simply answering why-questions about concrete changes or events of interest and not as the kind of development or evaluation of general theories or models favored by some scholars, although theories or models are sometimes used as sources of the causal possibilities considered.[36]

In recent years Vayda has been using this methodological approach in explanation-oriented research on forest and peat fires in Indonesia and has, obversely, used the research in expositions of the methodology.[37][38]


Vayda has published some hundred articles and several books, including Explaining Human Actions and Environmental Changes, a selection of his essays on explanation and explanation-oriented research in the social sciences and human ecology, published by AltaMira Press in 2009, and Causal Explanation for Social Scientists: A Reader, co-edited by him and Bradley B. Walters, published by AltaMira Press in 2011. A festschrift in his honor, Against the Grain: The Vayda Tradition in Human Ecology and Ecological Anthropology, with a concluding chapter by him on “Causal Explanation as a Research Goal,” was published in 2008 by AltaMira Press. Most recently, Vayda co-authored an article on Indonesia's peatland fires, which appeared in the January 2022 issue of the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography.[39]

Books by Vayda
  • Explaining Human Actions and Environmental Changes, Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. 2009 ISBN 978-0-7591-0323-8
  • War in Ecological Perspective, New York: Plenum Press. 1976.
  • Maori Warfare, Wellington, NZ: Polynesian Society, 1960, reprinted 1970.
Books Edited
  • Causal Explanation for Social Scientists: A Reader (co-edited with Bradley B. Walters), Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. 2011 ISBN 978-0-7591-1325-1
  • Environment and Cultural Behavior, Garden City, NY: The Natural History Press. 1969
  • Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific, Garden City, NY: The Natural History Press. 1968
  • Man, Culture, and Animals: The Role of Animals in Human Ecological Adjustments (co-edited with Anthony Leeds), Washington, D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1965.

Past Graduate and PhD students[edit]

  • Cristina Eghenter, Social Development Deputy Director, World Wide Fund for Nature Indonesia.
  • Kevin Flesher, Research Director, Centro de Estudos de Biodiversidade, Michelin Ecological Reserve, Ituberá, Brazil.
  • Timothy C. Jessup, Indonesia Green Growth Specialist, Global Green Growth Institute.
  • Jay F. Kelly, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, Raritan Valley Community College.
  • Bonnie J. McCay, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor-Emerita, Rutgers University.
  • Christine Padoch, Senior Curator Emerita of the Institute of Economic Botany, New York Botanical Garden.
  • Roy A. Rappaport (deceased), Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan.
  • Iwan Tjitradjaja (deceased), Head, Department of Anthropology, University of Indonesia.
  • Patricia J. Vondal, International Development Consultant.
  • Bradley B. Walters, Professor of Geography & Environment at Mount Allison University (Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada), lead editor of Against the Grain and co-editor of Causal Explanation for Social Scientists: A Reader.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bookshelf | Columbia College Today". Retrieved June 15, 2022.
  2. ^ "Human Ecology at Rutgers SEB".
  3. ^ "Profile: Andrew P. Vayda". ResearchGate.
  4. ^ Andrew P. Vayda homepage Archived May 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Rutgers University.
  5. ^ Andrew P. Vayda homepage Archived May 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Rutgers University.
  6. ^ Walters, B.B., McCay, B.J., West, P., and Lees, S., eds., 2008. Against the Grain: The Vayda Tradition in Human Ecology and Ecological Anthropology, Lanham, MD: Altamira Press
  7. ^ A Tribute to Andrew P. Vayda on his 90th Birthday this December. Hum Ecol 49, 669–670 (2021).
  8. ^ "Andrew 'Pete' Vayda, in Memoriam".
  9. ^ "Pete Vayda, 1931–2022".
  10. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1960. Maori Warfare. Polynesian Society Maori Monographs, No. 2, Wellington: Polynesian Society (reprinted 1970).
  11. ^ McCoy, M.D., and Ladefoged, T.N., 2019. In pursuit of Māori warfare: New archaeological research on conflict in pre-European contact New Zealand. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 56 (December); Scaglion, R., 2008. Maori Warfare: Prefiguring contemporary directions in ecological science. In: Walters, B.B., McCay, B.J., West, P., and Lees, S., eds., Against the Grain: The Vayda Tradition in Human Ecology and Ecological Anthropology, Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 27–39. It should, however, be noted that some of Vayda's interpretations have been questioned in some fairly recent studies of Maori warfare (e.g., Ballara, A. 2003, Taua: ‘Musket wars’, ‘land wars’ or tikanga? Warfare in Maori society in the early nineteenth century, Auckland: Penguin Books).
  12. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1976. War in Ecological Perspective. New York: Plenum Press.
  13. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1989. Explaining why Marings fought. Journal of Anthropological Research 45:159–177.
  14. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1992. Review, The Anthropology of War, J. Haas, ed. Anthropos 87:268–272.
  15. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1961. Love in Polynesian atolls. Man 61:204–205.
  16. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1959. Polynesian cultural distributions in new perspective. American Anthropologist 61:817–828.
  17. ^ Kartawinata, K., and Vayda, A.P., 1984. Forest conversion in East Kalimantan, Indonesia: The activities and impact of timber companies, shifting cultivators, migrant pepper farmers, and others. In: Di Castri, F., Baker, F.W.G., and Hadley, M., eds., Ecology in Practice, Pt. I, Dublin, Tycooly, pp. 98–126.
  18. ^ McCay, B.J., 2008. An intellectual history of ecological anthropology. In: Walters, B.B., McCay, B.J., West, P., and Lees, S., eds., Against the Grain: The Vayda Tradition in Human Ecology and Ecological Anthropology, Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 11–26.
  19. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1983. Progressive contextualization: Methods for research in human ecology. Human Ecology 11:265–281; see also Vayda, A.P., Colfer, C.J.P., and Brotokusomo, M., 1980. Interactions between people and forests in East Kalimantan. Impact of Science on Society 30:179–199.
  20. ^ Vayda, A.P., and Sahur. A., 1996. Bugis Settlers in East Kalimantan's Kutai National Park: Their Past and Present and Some Possibilities for Their Future. A CIFOR Special Publication. Jakarta: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).54 pp.
  21. ^ Walters, B.B., and McCay, B.J., 2008. Introduction. In: Walters, B.B., McCay, B.J., West, P., and Lees, S., eds., Against the Grain: The Vayda Tradition in Human Ecology and Ecological Anthropology, Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 1–7.
  22. ^ Vayda, A.P., Leeds, A., and Smith, D.B., 1961. The place of pigs in Melanesian subsistence. In: Proceedings of the 1961 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society, pp. 69–77; Vayda, A.P., 1961. A re-examination of Northwest Coast economic systems. Transactions of the New York Academy of Science, 2d ser., 23: 618—624; Vayda, A.P., 1967. Pomo trade feasts. In: Dalton, G., ed., Tribal and Peasant Economies, Garden City, NY: Natural History Press, pp. 494–500.
  23. ^ Vayda, A.P., and Rappaport, R.A., 1968. Ecology: cultural and noncultural. In: Clifton, J.A., ed., Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 476–497.
  24. ^ Vayda, A. P., and McCay, B.J., 1975. New directions in ecology and ecological anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 4:293–306.
  25. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1986. Holism and individualism in ecological anthropology. Reviews in Anthropology 13: 295–313; also, Vayda, A.P., 1996. Methods and Explanations in the Study of Human Actions and Their Environmental Effects. A CIFOR/WWF Special Publication. Jakarta: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). 44 pp.
  26. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1987. Explaining what people eat: A review article. Human Ecology 15: 493–510.
  27. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1994. Actions, variations, and change: The emerging anti-essentialist view in anthropology. In: Borofsky, R., ed., Assessing Cultural Anthropology, New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 320–329.
  28. ^ Vayda, A.P., 1995. Failures of explanation in Darwinian ecological anthropology: Parts I and II. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 25:219–249, 360–375.
  29. ^ Vayda, A.P., and Setyawati, I., 1998. Questions about culture-related considerations in research on cognition and agro-ecological change: Illustrations from studies of agricultural pest management in Java. Antropologi Indonesia (Indonesian Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology) 55: 44–52.
  30. ^ Vayda, A.P., 2011. Confirmation bias in consequence explanations. In: Vayda, A.P., and Walters, B.B., eds., Causal Explanation for Social Scientists: A Reader, Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 281–284; Vayda, A.P., 2012, Rejoinder to Lansing and de Vet. Human Ecology 40: 469–470.
  31. ^ Vayda, A.P., Walters, B.B., and Setyawati, I., 2004. Doing and knowing: Questions about studies of local knowledge. In: Bicker, A., Sillitoe, P., and Pottier, J., eds., Investigating Local Knowledge: New Directions, New Approaches, London: Ashgate Publishing, pp. 35–58.
  32. ^ Vayda, A.P., and Walters, B.B., 1999. Against political ecology. Human Ecology 27: 167–179; Vayda, A.P., 2009. Explaining Human Actions and Environmental Changes. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 29–36 on “the problem of confirmation bias”; Vayda, A.P., 2014. Against spiritual ecology: Reply to Sponsel's comments. Human Ecology 42: 803–805.
  33. ^ Lewis, D. K., 1986. Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 214–240 (chap. 22 on “Causal Explanation”).
  34. ^ Peirce, C.S., 1932. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss, eds.), Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Vol. 2, pp. 495–499 and passim.
  35. ^ Robbins, P., 2012. Review, Causal Explanation for Social Scientists: A Reader, A.P. Vayda and B.B. Walters, eds., Human Ecology 40: 657–659.
  36. ^ The approach has been used most recently in: Walters, B.B., and Vayda, A.P., 2020. Mechanisms and causal histories: Explanation-oriented research in human ecology. Human Ecology 48: 641–650. It has been called “abductive causal eventism” (ACE) in some recent publications (e.g., in Walters, B.B., 2019, The Greening of Saint Lucia: Economic Development and Environmental Change in the Eastern Caribbean, Kingston: University of West Indies Press), but an earlier version of the approach was presented under the label of “event ecology” (Vayda, A.P., and Walters, B.B., 1999. Against political ecology. Human Ecology 27: 167–179; Walters, B.B., and Vayda, A.P., 2009. Event ecology, causal historical analysis and human environment research. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99: 534–553). A 2013 article by Rodrigo Penna-Firme (Political and event ecology: Critiques and opportunities for collaboration, Journal of Political Ecology 20: 199–216) commended this version for its methods for identifying causes of environmental changes and criticized it for not dealing more with local people's perceptions of those changes.
  37. ^ Vayda, A.P., 2006. Causal explanation of Indonesian forest fires: Concepts, applications, and research priorities. Human Ecology 34: 615–635; Goldstein, J.E., Graham, L., Ansori, S., Vetrita, Y., Thomas, A., Applegate, G., Vayda, A.P., Saharjo, B.H., and Cochrane, M.A., 2020. Beyond slash‐and‐burn: The roles of human activities, altered hydrology and fuels in peat fires in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 41: 190–208.
  38. ^ E.g., Vayda, A.P., 2013. Causal explanation for environmental anthropologists. In: Kopnina, H., and Ouimet, E.S., eds., Environmental Anthropology: Future Directions, London: Routledge, pp. 207–224.
  39. ^ Jessup, T.C., Vayda, A.P., Cochrane, M.A., Applegate, G.B., Ryan, K.C. and Saharjo, B.H. (2022), Why estimates of the peat burned in fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan are unreliable and why it matters. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 43: 7–25.
  40. ^ Bradley Walters homepage Archived May 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Mount Allison University

Other Sources[edit]

  • Walters, B.B., 2013. “Vayda, Andrew P.” In: McGee, R.J., and Warms, R.L., eds., Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, pp. 889–891.
  • McCay, B.J., 2008. “An intellectual history of ecological anthropology.” In: Walters, B.B., McCay, B.J., West, P., and Lees, S., eds., Against the Grain: The Vayda Tradition in Human Ecology and Ecological Anthropology, Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 11–26.
  • Vayda, A.P., 1994. “Intellectual roots.” In: Borofsky, R., ed., Assessing Cultural Anthropology, New York: McGraw-Hill. 1994, pp. 339–340.
  • A 53-minute video interview of Vayda on his life and work as of April 2008. The interview took place on April 5, 2008 in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, and was conducted by Dr. Patricia Kelly Spurles of Mount Allison University. Uploaded to YouTube by Professor Alan Macfarlane of King's College, Cambridge University, the video is included in a series of interviews with scholars.
  • Walters, B. B., Doolittle, W. E., Klooster, D., Rocheleau, D., Turner, B. L., II, and Vayda, A. P., 2011. “Book review forum: Explaining human actions and environmental changes” [Five reviews of Vayda's 2009 book, followed by his reply]. Dialogues in Human Geography 1:370–389.
  • ResearchGate's almost complete list of Vayda's publications, many of them available for free download ( (There is a much less complete list at