Culture and Resource Conflict

Culture and Resource Conflict: Why Meanings Matter

Douglas L. Medin
Norbert O. Ross
Douglas G. Cox
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610443906
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  • Book Info
    Culture and Resource Conflict
    Book Description:

    In a multi-cultural society, differing worldviews among groups can lead to conflict over competing values and behaviors. Nowhere is this tension more concrete than in the wilderness, where people of different cultures hunt and fish for the same animals. White Americans tend to see nature as something external which they have some responsibility to care for. In contrast, Native Americans are more likely to see themselves as one with nature. In Culture and Resource Conflict, authors Douglas Medin, Norbert Ross, and Douglas Cox investigate the discord between whites and Menominee American Indians over hunting and fishing, and in the process, contribute to our understanding of how and why cultures so often collide. Based on detailed ethnographic and experimental research, Culture and Resource Conflict finds that Native American and European American hunters and fishermen have differing approaches—or mental models—with respect to fish and game, and that these differences lead to misunderstanding, stereotyping, and conflict. Menominee look at the practice of hunting and fishing for sport as a sign of a lack of respect for nature. Whites, on the other hand, define respect for nature more on grounds of resource management and conservation. Some whites believe—contrary to fact—that Native Americans are depleting animal populations with excessive hunting and fishing, while the Menominee protest that they only hunt what they need and make extensive use of their catch. Yet the authors find that, despite these differences, the two groups share the fundamental underlying goal of preserving fish and game for future generations, and both groups see hunting and fishing as deeply meaningful activities. At its core, the conflict between these two groups is more about mistrust and stereotyping than actual disagreement over values. Combining the strengths of psychology and anthropology, Culture and Resource Conflict shows how misunderstandings about the motives of others can lead to hostility and conflict. As debates over natural resources rage worldwide, this unique book demonstrates the obstacles that must be overcome for different groups to reach consensus over environmental policy.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-390-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Douglas L. Medin, Norbert O. Ross and Douglas G. Cox
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Chapter One Contexts
    (pp. 1-9)

    Pretty much everyone is an environmentalist. One fairly recent survey of lay people in the United States indicated that virtually 100 percent of those polled agreed with the statement “We have a moral duty to leave the Earth in as good or better shape than we found it.” One might expect this figure to be lower for two industry groups whose members have been involved in controversies over protecting the environment, dry cleaners and sawmill workers, but even among these groups 96 percent agree with the statement (Kempton, Boster, and Hartley 1995).

    This apparent consensus starts to break down when...

  7. Chapter Two Why Meanings Matter: Culture, Concepts, and Behavior
    (pp. 10-22)

    In 1940 the German-born American anthropologist Franz Boas introduced the notion of cultural relativism to the social sciences. The underlying idea was that we should withhold from judging the behavior of members of other cultures and instead should engage in understanding people’s behavior on the basis of their own models of the world, the way they themselves make sense of it.

    Taking the perspective of cultural relativism is helpful to our purposes in two ways. First, it allows us to understand the meanings produced by individuals, meanings that guide both an individual’s judgments and behavior. Second, it helps us to...

  8. Chapter Three The Study of Culture: A Framework for Theory and Methodology
    (pp. 23-34)

    It is hard to do cultural research without having a clear definition of culture in mind. Serious questions come up whenever cultural comparisons are undertaken—for example, how to decide what groups are relevant to study; how to select samples of participants; how to measure whatever it is you want to measure; and how to interpret any differences or similarities found. Researchers’ specific notions of culture and cultural processes go far to determine the way they answer these and other questions.

    The logic of cross-group comparisons is very, very tricky. In the cognitive sciences most of the researchers have been...

  9. Chapter Four Categorization in Cultural Perspective
    (pp. 35-43)

    Since we’re going to be talking about how two different groups think about nature, it seems like a good idea to place our work in the context of other work on cross-cultural similarities and differences in categorization of biological kinds. If you’re just interested in intergroup conflict over environmental resources, you might think we are straying a bit, but as we mentioned earlier, the intention of this book is to show that meanings matter. If meanings matter, the various components of understandings of the biological world, values, and practices are all interrelated and provide part of the story told in...

  10. Chapter Five Contemporary Setting and Conflicts
    (pp. 44-57)

    There is Considerable tension over Native American hunting and fishing rights in Wisconsin. Letters to sporting magazines commonly urge the boycotting of casinos run by Indian tribes until the tribes give up their right to set their own hunting and fishing regulations. Many majority-culture fishermen believe that Indian fishing practices are a threat to the sportfish populations of Wisconsin. This is seen as having important economic consequences, for in Wisconsin, hunting and fishing for sport are multibillion-dollar enterprises.

    To get the flavor of some of the more extreme anti-Indian views, one has only to visit the websites of organizations such...

  11. Chapter Six Ethnographic and Historical Background
    (pp. 58-67)

    In this chapter we provide historical background on the Menominee and the majority-culture communities.

    The Menominee have been in Wisconsin for a long, long time—evidence from the tribe’s oral tradition and archaeological records both provide clear evidence that Menominee residence in the area dates back at least several thousand years (Beck 2002). The name of the tribe in the Menominee language is Kayaes Matchitiwuk, which means “original people.” Today, however, they are known and also describe themselves as Menominee, a word that derives from the Algonquin word “manomin,” for wild rice (Zizania aquatica), or “manomini,” “the wild rice people”...

  12. Chapter Seven The Folkbiology of Freshwater Fish
    (pp. 68-86)

    This book is about intergroup conflict over natural resources, mainly fish and game. Even though experts from the two groups included in this study, Menominee Indians and majority-culture sportsmen, more or less agree on their basic values with respect to conservation, they are often in conflict. Our hypothesis is that different ways of looking at nature and the species that make up nature constitute different frameworks used to evaluate activities and practices. These meanings and associated judgments lead to stereotyping, misunderstanding, and intergroup conflict. To make our argument we shall elaborate each group’s understanding of nature; in this chapter we...

  13. Chapter Eight Ecological Orientation
    (pp. 87-97)

    To be successful in fishing, you have to know where certain species are found and usually that means knowing what they are eating; what they are eating often consists of other fish. Are the two groups of experts equally knowledgeable concerning where fish are found and which fish are found together? Here we describe studies probing further into ecological orientation. A key question is whether majority-culture fishermen, despite their expertise, have less knowledge of ecological relations than their Menominee counterparts.

    In study 2 we used forty of the original set of forty-four local species of fish. We dropped four species—...

  14. Chapter Nine Values, Attitudes, and Practices
    (pp. 98-107)

    By means of studies 1 to 4 we have established that Menominee fishermen tend to use an ecological framework to conceptualize fish. Menominees also commonly express the attitude that every fish has a role to play and are less likely than majority-culture fishermen to think of fish in terms of positive (game fish) or negative (“garbage fish”) utility.

    Now, we shall examine values and attitudes toward various fishing practices more directly. Both groups report wanting to save fish as a resource, but the goal of conservation is supported by different strategies in the two groups. Menominees have a strong “do...

  15. Chapter Ten Intra- and Intergroup Perception of Goals and Values
    (pp. 108-119)

    The studies described in chapter 9 established the existence of substantial agreement between our two groups, and some second-order differences.

    Majority-culture fishermen were slightly more approving of practicing catch-and-release exclusively and reliably more approving both of using fish finders to locate fish and of “pretending to fish for suckers in the spring in hopes of getting a sturgeon on the line.”

    Menominee fishermen were more approving of fishing for smallmouth or largemouth bass for food, spearfishing walleyes, and someone with a large family taking more than his limit to feed his family. One important result was that the Menominee men...

  16. Chapter Eleven Fishing: Cultural Changes
    (pp. 120-131)

    Douglas Medin of our research team grew up in Iowa and Minnesota in a typical midwestern hunting and fishing family. Here is his first-person perspective on that time: At least in northern Minnesota in the 1950s and ’60s, it seemed like everyone was fishing for food. Sure, there were lots of tales about “the big one that got away” (or even more about the big one that didn’t) and some people had trophy-sized fish mounted, but these events were incidental to, or a byproduct of, our primary orientation. Mind you, fishing was a lot of fun, especially when you had...

  17. Chapter Twelve Hunting and Forest Ecology
    (pp. 132-144)

    Our studies of hunting very much parallel our research on fish and fishing. As with fishing, cultural differences in hunting orientation lead to misperceptions and intergroup conflict. Would we continue to find that majority-culture sportsmen misperceive Menominee values when we looked at hunting? Our informal observations suggested that we would, but there are two reasons for thinking that we might not observe stereotyping. One is that when it comes to hunting there is no clear counterpart to Native American off-reservation fishing rights and the surrounding publicity and controversy. The other reason for thinking we might not see stereotyping is the...

  18. Chapter Thirteen Ecological and Value Ratings
    (pp. 145-160)

    Our research with hunters partially parallels the studies done with expert fishermen. Initially we asked a sample of Menominee and majority-culture hunters to name the most important plants and animals of the forest. We used these nominations to select twenty-nine animals and thirty-nine plants to be used in a series of rating tasks (see table 13.1). Next, we asked each hunter to indicate his familiarity with each kind by indicating whether he had heard of the kind, could recognize one if he saw it, and whether he had seen one. Informants were also asked to rate the importance of each...

  19. Chapter Fourteen Reported and Perceived Hunting Values
    (pp. 161-172)

    In the previous chapter we looked at the ways Menominee and majority-culture hunters rate the importance to themselves and to the forest of certain species. We found general agreement coupled with modest group differences. This is essentially the same result as we reported for the fish experts. As with the fish experts, however, we were not only interested in how individuals value specific practices, but also the values they predict for members of their own group and members of the other group.

    In this chapter we shall examine the extent to which the two groups’ orientations are reflected in goals,...

  20. Chapter Fifteen Why Meanings Matter
    (pp. 173-184)

    This story nicely illustrates our main point: meanings matter. For both women, hunting in and of itself is not a problem, but it matters a great deal why the boyfriend wants to hunt. But it goes further than that; the suggested compromise presumes that catch-and-release is the needed ethical compromise and that a competitive orientation toward nature is reasonable.

    These same sorts of presumptions underlie Menominee and majority-culture worldviews and mental models. The preceding chapters have illustrated how Menominee and European American hunters and fishermen construct different worldviews by attaching different meanings to seemingly similar events. Menominees approach fishing and...

  21. Chapter Sixteen Summary and Implications
    (pp. 185-190)

    It is time to address ourselves to the potential implications of our research for policy. Along the way, we’ll discuss possible misconceptions concerning our goals and orientation.

    What would we like policymakers in the general area of natural resources to understand? In this section our focus is local, but most of our recommendations likely have generality.

    We have argued that Native American and European American hunters and fishermen have differing approaches, different mental models, with respect to fish and game, and these differences lead to misunderstanding, stereotyping, and intergroup conflict. The more majority-culture sportsmen move away from seeking fish and...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 191-202)
  23. References
    (pp. 203-212)
  24. Index
    (pp. 213-230)