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Culture and the Changing Environment

Culture and the Changing Environment: Uncertainty, Cognition, and Risk Management in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Edited by Michael J. Casimir
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 410
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  • Book Info
    Culture and the Changing Environment
    Book Description:

    Today human ecology has split into many different sub-disciplines such as historical ecology, political ecology or the New Ecological Anthropology. The latter in particular has criticised the predominance of the Western view on different ecosystems, arguing that culture-specific world views and human-environment interactions have been largely neglected. However, these different perspectives only tackle specific facets of a local and global hyper-complex reality. In bringing together a variety of views and theoretical approaches , these especially commissioned essays prove that an interdisciplinary collaboration and understanding of the extreme complexity of the human-environment interface(s) is possible.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-004-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps, Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Michael J. Casimir
  5. The Mutual Dynamics of Cultural and Environmental Change: An Introductory Essay
    (pp. 1-58)
    Michael J. Casimir

    The picture that won the first award at the annual international competition for photo journalism in Amsterdam on 11 February 2005 shows a grieving Indian woman who had lost her family in the recent tsunami. For days the Western media in particular devoted much space and time to the ‘Century’s Catastrophe’, the ‘Killer Waves’ of 26 December 2004 which left in its wake well over 200,000 dead or missing. Was the devastation wrought by these ‘cruel forces of nature’ inevitable, or was it itself partly a result of the interplay of environmental and cultural agency and change? This introductory essay...

  6. Part I: Evaluating, Attributing and Deciding

    • 1 Antinomies of Environmental Risk Perception: Cognitive Structure and Evalution
      (pp. 61-78)
      Gisela Böhm and Hans-Rüdiger Pfister

      The field of environmental risk perception is, compared to the perception of more mundane risks such as smoking or mountain climbing, special in several respects. First of all, environmental problems are among the most urgent problems in today’s world, especially if we are concerned with global risks, which will be the focus of this paper; the greenhouse effect and ozone layer depletion, for example, are among the most serious hazards for the whole globe. Second, almost everybody is part of the problem, either as a causal agent – most people contribute, for instance, to increasing air pollution by using a car...

    • 2 Risk Management and Morality in Agriculture: Conventional and Organic Farming in a German Region
      (pp. 79-106)
      Thomas Döring, Lutz H. Eckensberger, Annette Huppert and Heiko Breit

      Moral dimensions in risk perception and risk-taking in agriculture, a cultural domain, which is in various respects particularly conflict-ridden, determine ideas of responsibility for remedial ecological action. Moral judgements constitute a fundamental cultural rule system for initiating processes of change in environmental contexts. In Western cultures there are basically two different risk management strategies in this field, involving different risks and uncertainties with respect to marketing, income and environment. One is called ‘conventional’, the other ‘organic’ farming. When differences and similarities between these are outlined on the basis of recent literature, it turns out that in the conventional strategy economic...

    • 3 Attributed Causes of Environmental Problems: A Cross-Cultural Study of Coping Strategies
      (pp. 107-124)
      Josef Nerb, Andrea Bender and Hans Spada

      In June 1991, after the largest eruption of the Philippine volcano Pinatubo in the twentieth century, the Aeta (Ayta) explained the catastrophe as having been caused by human misbehaviour that disturbed both the environment and the sacred places of the spirits and the Supreme Being. The Aeta belong to the oldest indigenous population of the Philippines and supplement their subsistence with hunting and gathering. Most Aeta held the drilling of the Philippine Oil Company responsible for the disaster, a claim that was confirmed bymanganitos, the mediums of the spirits. Somemanganitossuggested further causes for the catastrophe: they blamed...

    • 4 Decision-Making in Times of Disaster: The Acceptance of Wet-Rice Cultivation among the Aeta of Zambales, Philippines
      (pp. 125-146)
      Stefan Seitz

      The gradual transformation of the environment through human activities generally enables the populations affected by it to adapt to their changing surroundings step-by-step, mainly through a selective modification of common techniques of resource utilisation. Sudden environmental changes resulting from natural disasters, on the other hand, invariably necessitate a rapid adaptation to the new conditions. Short-term decision-making processes during stress situations like these caused by natural disasters are largely determined by the reaction of the whole group. This is so despite the urgency of quick reaction, which must be taken by some group members who, mostly keeping socioeconomic traditions, by the...

    • 5 Drought and ‘Natural’ Stress in the Southern Dra Valley: Varying Perceptions among Nomads and Farmers
      (pp. 147-174)
      Barbara Casciarri

      The Dra Valley consists of six oases stretching from the southern fringes of the High Atlas mountains to the Sahara. The area has been inhabited since early times by several groups and communities – Arabs and Berbers; nomads, farmers and traders; religious and lay groups; ‘freemen’, clients and slaves – differentiated according to various parameters, but integrated in complex socio-economic formations. This part of south-eastern Morocco, known in the pre-colonial past as a rich region in the heart of the trans-Saharan route linking Timbuktu with northern Africa, was affected by radical change during colonial times, but most of all in the first...

    • 6 Local Environmental Crises and Global Sea-level Rise: The Case of Coastal Zones in Senegal
      (pp. 175-196)
      Anita Engels

      By 2100 Global climate change might, it is thought, lead to a global rise of 15–95 cm in the sea-level, ‘as a result of thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers and ice-sheets’ (IPCC 1995: 5). This scenario is particularly threatening because of the importance of coastal zones which have attracted human settlements throughout human history, as they provide access to marine natural resources, trade opportunities, beaches and scenic views. The attraction of these regions has resulted in more than half of the world’s population living within 60 km of the coastline (Clayton and O’Riordan 1995: 154)....

    • 7 Meshing a Tight Net: A Cultural Response to the Threat of Open Access Fishing Grounds
      (pp. 197-218)
      Andrea Bender

      The 1968 paper by Garrett Hardin on the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ triggered a vivid discussion on how the depletion of renewable, yet limited, common pool resources can be prevented. Since then, a whole string of case studies has been carried out in order to specify regulatory measures for successful management. Differing from Hardin, these came to the conclusion that even jointly used resources arenot necessarilydoomed to be ruined. On the contrary, if communities of resource users craft institutions that regulate and monitor the exploitation of the respective resource, sustainability can be achieved (e.g. Casimir and Rao 1998; Feeny...

  7. Part II: Knowledge, Meaning and Discourse

    • 8 Dangers, Experience and Luck: Living with Uncertainty in the Andes
      (pp. 221-250)
      Barbara Göbel

      Studies on risk in economic anthropology have concentrated on the question of how rural communities of the non-Western world ensure their subsistence in highly unpredictable environments. Two different approaches to the phenomenon of risk have been used: decision theory and moral economy. The models from decision theory, which in part are influenced by evolutionary ecology and cultural ecology, emphasise the adaptive advantages of individual strategies that take security aspects into account (see for example Barlett 1980; Browman 1987a; 1987b; Cashdan 1990; de Garine and Harrison 1988; Halstead and O’Shea 1989; Ortiz 1980). These strategies are often called ‘minimax strategies’, because...

    • 9 Transforming Livelihoods: Meanings and Concepts of Drought, Coping and Risk Management in Botswana
      (pp. 251-274)
      Fred Krüger and Andrea Grotzke

      According to meteorological statistics, and in terms of the long-term mean of rainfall, one out of three years in Botswana is a drought year (fig. 9.1). Particularly devastating are several droughts in succession (e.g., 1981/82–1986/87), or droughts that are accompanied by extremely high temperatures and extend over larger parts of the southern African sub-continent (e.g., the 1991/92 ‘drought of the century’). But even apart from the mere lack of sufficient precipitation, the high spatial variation of rainfall may cause severe problems for some areas even in years with overall precipitation above average. Drought can thus be seen as the...

    • 10 Cultural Politics of Natural Disasters: Discourses on Volcanic Eruptions in Indonesia
      (pp. 275-300)
      Judith Schlehe

      In Western thought, nature is conceptualised as environment, ‘out there’, excluding the ‘inner nature’ of man. But the term ‘natural disaster’ should not distract from human factors being responsible for, or having an influence on, natural events. Even when the primary causes are not ‘man-made’, as is the case for example with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the effects on human beings make the designation ‘disastrous’ unquestionable. Hence, human involvement cannot be denied, ‘because “natural” disasters always occur from a combination of nature and society.’ (Geipel 1992, translation mine). Many disasters are a complex mix of natural hazards and human action....

    • 11 Knowing the Sea in the ‘Time of Progress’: Environmental Change, Parallel Knowledges and the Uses of Metaphor in Kerala (South India)
      (pp. 301-324)
      Götz Hoeppe

      This text considers how knowledge change is expressed in speech, focusing on the members of a community of fisherfolk who have experienced several decades of dramatic social, economic and environmental change. It draws on fourteen months of fieldwork in Chamakkala, a coastal village in the South Indian state of Kerala. The village’s fishermen, mostly Hindus, commonly subsume recent developments and changes, whether in the sea, in fishing, in the village, or in the world at large as pertaining to the ‘time of progress’. Referred to aspurōgamiccụ kālaṃ¹ (literally ‘progressed time’) in Kerala’s Malayalam language, this period is commonly opposed...

    • 12 Mass Tourism and Ecological Problems in Seaside Resorts of Southern Thailand: Environmental Perceptions, Assessments and Behaviour Regarding the Problem of Waste
      (pp. 325-350)
      Karl Vorlaufer, Heike Becker-Baumann and Gabriela Schmitt

      On 26 December 2004 a seaquake whose epicentre lay close to Sumatra’s west coast led to a disastrous tsunami which hit the Thai mainland and island coasts with an unprecedented fury. Some 8,000 people lost their lives or went missing; of these some 5,000 were foreign tourists. The waves did not affect the entire coastline and the localised coastal morphology largely influenced both the volume and the effects of the tsunami. Those coasts which were no longer protected by mangroves and coral reefs were especially exposed, as also those with beaches gradually sloping into the ocean. Such coasts are often...

    • 13 Local Experts – Expert Locals: A Comparative Perspective on Biodiversity and Environmental Knowledge Systems in Australia and Namibia
      (pp. 351-382)
      Thomas Widlok

      Research conducted within the framework of multidisciplinary programmes such as the German Research Council (DFG) programme on the ‘human dimensions of global environmental change’¹ is embedded in a tension between the aim to document the complexity of social and environmental processes that are instances of current global environmental problems and the aim to work out generalisable patterns which help understand present and future environmental issues in their diversity. These two conflicting aims sometimes appear to coincide with disciplinary boundaries such as that between model-building disciplines (above all cognitive psychology) and case-based disciplines (for instance ethnographic studies in anthropology). However, cooperation...

  8. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 383-388)
  9. Index
    (pp. 389-394)