Conserving Nature in Culture: Case Studies from Southeast Asia
2005. Co-editor with P. Sajise and A. Doolittle. Southeast Asia Monograph Series, Volume 54, Yale University. xvii + 348 pp., ill.
This volume presents the results of an international, multi-year, collaborative project designed to transcend orthodox thinking about environmental conservation. The project focuses on Southeast Asia and was developed in a series of research and writing workshops held in the region, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It was prompted by the widespread acknowledgment of the failure of global conservation programs, to which the project participants' response was not simply to propose new and improved programs but to first ask why conservation programs have failed so consistently?
The thesis that underpins this volume is that the principal conservation paradigm has been flawed in the way that it construes the relationship between local communities and their environments. The contributors to this volume reverse the popular problematic that assigns responsibility for environmental degradation to proximate communities and asks how the global conservation community can help these communities to reform. Instead, the contributors first ask what local communities are already doing that contributes to environmental conservation and then ask how the global community can avoid undermining these efforts and perhaps even support them. This reversal elides the popular but pernicious dichotomization of conservation and development; it also elides the related and equally pernicious dichotomization of nature and culture (much of the volume, for example, is devoted to assessing the way that biodiversity is conserved on everyday agricultural landscapes).
In documenting the way that many societies conserve resources in the course of everyday activities, the contributions to this volume question formal, state-led conservation interventions, the planned character of which itself reintroduces and is often doomed by the vision of a dichotomy between society and environment. Finally, the contributions to this volume show how the views of Northern and Southern scholars, of natural scientists and social scientists, can converge on many of these issues but still differ. This analytic diversity, these multiple voices, is no less important to valorize and conserve than diversity in nature.
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