McCay, Bonnie

Professor II-Chair
Areas of Interest: 
The Challenges of Managing
My Story: 
My expertise is broadly defined as "the human ecology of marine and coastal ecosystems," which I approach with the training of an anthropologist as well as multi-disciplinary training in other fields. I view ecological matters as issues in using and managing "the commons," by which I mean places and things that are shared, valued, and managed collectively rather than just individually. I have spent most of my career-- which began in the early 1970s-- studying marine fisheries and fishing communities for what they can tell us about challenges and promises for the commons. I have done this in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Canada, along the eastern seaboard of the United States, on the Pacific Coast of Baja California, Mexico, and to a lesser degree in Scotland, Norway, and Mozambique. 
Was this area always of interest? No, I was an English and American Studies major in college at first. It was only when I went back to school, after leaving to support a husband through law school and to raise a child, that I turned to Anthropology as a major, just out of curiosity. It so happened that one of my anthropology professors, Wayne Suttles, worked with Pacific Northwest Indian tribes involved in the fisheries, and that got me interested not only in linguistics (following upon my earlier inclinations) but also in ecological and marine issues. When I graduated from Portland State University, I went to Columbia University in New York for graduate training in anthropology, but it was in a new interdisciplinary program called "ecological anthropology," and so my training was as much in demography, nutrition, ecology, and economics as it was in cultural anthropology. Fast forward, I got a teaching job at Rutgers University in the Department of Human Ecology, which carried on this multi-disciplinary tradition, and the rest of my career has been in that framework. 
It was "serendipity" and happenstance, guided loosely by a compass that kept pointing me toward academia. I chose my first undergraduate college (Valparaiso U, Indiana) because I could get a full scholarship to it; I chose my second (UC Berkeley) because my boyfriend was there; I chose my third (Portland State Univ.) because it was close to where I lived at the time. When it was time to go to graduate school, I had several choices with full fellowships in anthropology programs: University of Hawaii, for Native American linguistics; Cornell University, for East Asian studies; Columbia University, for ecological anthropology. I chose Columbia University-- and hence ecological anthropology-- mainly because I'd always wanted to live in a great city. 
I was born and raised in southern California suburbs (see the writings of Joan Didion for that mostly alienating culture). That experience led me to seek alternatives such as New York City at one extreme and the remote fishing villages of Newfoundland at the other. However, the southern California experience also contributed to my love of things coastal and marine, as we were often either living at or visiting the beaches. The experience of growing up in a busy, crowded, somewhat troubled household, where reading was a sanctuary, fueled my inclinations toward an academic career. But in addition, my father loved to read about archaeology, and that contributed to my eventual interest in anthropology (and great satisfaction many years later, before he died, when I was able to carry out an archaeological excavation on the island in Newfoundland where I did much of my ethnographic research). I was also influenced by my high school and college teachers who were role models for the scholarly life, and who honed my capacity for critical thinking. Later on, Professor Suttles and Andrew P. Vayda helped shape my anthropological research. 
I received a request from my advisor at Columbia University to apply for a position at Rutgers University; I was still doing my ethnographic field research in Newfoundland at the time and had not thought about applying for a job until he called. I came, was interviewed, and accepted the position, quite unprepared. That was at the start of Cook College (which became the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences), with entirely new programs of study and courses. I arrived with no teaching experience to face the challenge of teaching five courses not only new to me but, in four of those cases, new to the universe! 
Finding the time and energy to do everything that needs to be done, both at home and at work, has been a challenge. Still it is worth it because I am able to gain satisfaction from bearing witness to the experiences and lives of ordinary people who live and work in what might seem to others as extraordinary situations, such as commercial fishing. I am proud of contributing to policy shifts that respect the knowledge and opinions of resource users and their capacities to contribute to science and management ("co-management," "community-based management," "traditional ecological knowledge," are some of the buzz-words). Helping construct and shape institutions that support interdisciplinary research, particularly greater involvement of social scientists in arenas otherwise dominated by physical and natural scientists, is also a source of great pride. 
For a video interview done in October 2009, concerning the four decades of research I have done in Newfoundland Canada, see Memorial University's Distance Education and Learning Technologies web-site for the Community-University Research for Recovery Alliance (CURRA), featuring excerpts from a two hour seminar about my work.
Edited by Lauren Miller
732-932-9153, ext. 314