ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P35)
Cultural models of nature in primary food producers facing climate change
Location Science Site/Maths CM107
Date and Start Time 07 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Stephen Lyon (Durham University) email
  • Giovanni Bennardo (Northern Illinois University) email

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Short Abstract

Using cases from fishermen, farmers, hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists, the panelists will examine the consequences of different dominant conceptual models of Nature on decision making and practices.

Long Abstract

We discuss cultural models of Nature found in distinct environmental and socio-economic contexts in which communities of primary food producers have experienced dramatic effects of climatic change. Primary food producers around the world face severe changes in rainfall, severity of storms, top soil erosion, raising sea level, and reduction in the quality and quantity of available species for hunting and fishing. Cultural models of Nature function as filters in the perception and explanation of these at times devastating changes. We show how these cultural models contribute to the generation of food production practices. Thus, they provide valuable insights into indigenous knowledge to be eventually employed for the implementation of more effective policies. Cultural models also shed light on the complex interaction between human cognition and the environment. Using cases from farmers, horticulturalists, hunter-gatherers, and fishermen, we examine the consequences of different conceptual models of Nature on the perception and explanation of environmental changes, as well as on the decision making processes and daily practices in several primary food producing communities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Insights into Tongan cultural models of nature from the results of analyses on language data

Author: Giovanni Bennardo (Northern Illinois University)  email

Short Abstract

I present the results of the analyses conducted on linguistic data collected in the Kingdom of Tonga, Polynesia. These results allow me to hypothesize a Cultural Model of Nature for the community investigated.

Long Abstract

A cultural model (CM) of Nature is a fundamental part of the local knowledge of a community as it is engaged with and challenged by many aspects of current climate change. To obtain insights into CMs of Nature in several communities around the world, we collected a variety of data, both linguistic and experimental. I present an example from my research in the Kingdom of Tonga, Polynesia. The analyses conducted on the Tongan linguistic data collected include a gist analysis, a key words analysis, a reasoning analysis, a causality analysis, and a metaphor analysis. The results provided reliable findings that allowed me to hypothesize more than one Tongan CM of Nature utilized by the community in understanding and interpreting their surrounding environment, both social and physical. The two CMs of Nature hypothesized for the Tongan community investigated include two distinct causal models.

Roles of cultural models of nature in farmers' perceptions of climate change in central Japan

Author: Hidetada Shimizu (Northern Illinois University)  email

Short Abstract

I present preliminary results of the analyses on linguistic data collected from farmers in central Japan. The analyses explore the impacts of cultural models of nature on the farmers’ perceptions of climate change.

Long Abstract

While Japanese islands have been prone to a variety of natural disasters throughout the history, the magnitudes of some of these threats seems to have increased in recent years. My informants, farmers in two neighboring cities in central Japan, for example, anecdotally spoke of perceived increase in the temperature throughout the years. The relatively cool rainy season which lasted from the middle of June into July, which used to require heating equipment, turned into "wet summers." Yet the informants appeared relatively nonchalant about the effects of these changing climates: no one spoke of climate change as an eminent threat to farming. What could be some of the reasons? By informally analyzing prominent themes from my linguistic (interview) data, I hypothesized that the informants believed that nature can be "humanized" to enhance human endeavors particularly in the areas of self-cultivation and associated interpersonal relationships. Using this cultural model works as a buffer against and around which to circumvent the perceived and real harms of raw, untamed nature. I then conducted secondary analyses of the linguistic data, which included a gist analysis, a key words analysis, a reasoning analysis, a causality analysis, and a metaphor analysis. I will report some of the preliminary results of these secondary analyses in conjunction with the aforementioned hypothesis about the informants' perceptions about the climate change.

Cultural models of nature and climate change among fishers in Batangas, Philippines

Author: Katharine Wiegele (Northern Illinois University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores fishers’ understandings of change in climate, environment, and fishing in two communities on the Verde Island Passage in Batangas, Philippines. Causality, agency and metaphors involving humans, climate, weather and fish are analyzed to describe locals’ cultural models of nature.

Long Abstract

This research focuses on fishers' understandings of the relationships between humans and various elements in the natural environment such as weather, animals, and fish. Fishers in two communities along the Verde Island Passage in Batangas, Philippines, during a 6-week period of ethnographic and linguistic research in March and April of 2014, explained if, how, and why the climate, the natural environment, and food production (fishing) had changed over the past four decades. Both small-scale commercial and subsistence fishermen reported significant changes affecting their ability to capture fish in areas such as the quantity and species of fish available; the sea level and the sea's proximity to homes; the quality of the marine habitat; and the intensity and predictability of seasonal weather, especially storms. Changes in weather patterns and fish availability have caused fishermen to abandon some of their traditional capture strategies.

The research also reveals that fishermen in the region understand humans, animals, and the climate as linked by shared characteristics. Changes in weather patterns, climate, and the natural environment are often understood using metaphors of human characteristics, the human life cycle, cycles considered "natural," and the supernatural. With some important exceptions, many believe there is little humans can do about observed climate changes and sea level rise besides adjust to these changes. While community members may implicate human activity in diminishing fish supply, they point to local (not global) activities such as area pollution, development, and illegal fishing.

Is there any future in climate change?

Author: Thomas Widlok (University of Cologne)  email

Short Abstract

This paper highlights the problems of connecting scientific interests in climate and nature with local experiences of weather and the environment. While anthropological research on climate change tends to focus on "climate" the paper shifts attention to the "change" part of "climate change".

Long Abstract

Anthropological research on climate change has largely focused on the "climate" aspect. This paper presents some results of recent field research conducted in Namibia in the context of the NSF project on "Cultural Models of Nature". It highlights the problems of connecting scientific interests in "climate" and "nature" with local experiences of weather and the environment. The second half of the paper then shifts attention to the "change" part of "climate change" and suggests that this may be where a comparative anthropological perspective has promising insights to offer. This concerns, above all, ways of conceiving time and the future. The paper explores the notion of "temporal frames of reference" and revisits some of the African ethnography in this light.

Climate change as ontological shift in north-eastern Bolivia

Author: Rosalyn Bold (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

In Kaata, Bolivia, small scale farmers cultivating mountain terraces consider they inhabit an animate changing landscape. Non-humans are actors with whom humans are in constant conversation with their actions, rather than resources to be exploited, in contrast to western naturalist ontologies.

Long Abstract

In contrast to western 'naturalism', Kaata, a village in highland Bolivia, has a largely animist or totemist ontology. Joseph Bastien (1972) explored how the mountain villagers inhabited and cultivate in terraces was perceived as a body, and diviners could cure human bodies by analogy, curing the mountain.

Kaata conceptualises its environment as a constant conversation between humans and sentient non-humans including the wind, mountain and earth. Climate change is thus occurring within everything at the same time. It is in Delueze and Guattari's terms a haecceity, a mood of the world borne in the wind, a simultaneous event. Humans are not merely affecting the other actors in this network- though they are very clear about how everyday 'contamination' of consumer waste in the community causes climate change- but are subject to the humours of the other entities with whom they are conversing. The winds and earth do not like the rubbish contemporary villagers bury or burn instead of the rituals and labour with which they formerly nurtured the land. The earth itself is tired and stony, driving young people to migrate to cities. One cannot stop climate change however by changing our practices, as it is borne in the winds, a more powerful consciousness in which we are al immersed.

As humans cease to feed the other actors of the landscape with their labour and migrate, they weaken and become less animate. In the human centred anthropocene landscape that is emerging, non-humans are becoming mere resources for human exploitation.

Adaptations and explanations: Punjabi farmers' models of nature and environmental change

Authors: Stephen Lyon (Durham University)  email
Muhammad A. Z. Mughal  email

Short Abstract

Using interview data produced in the course of a large, comparative study of primary food producers, we examine local explanations for environmental change and some of the range of adaptations farmers have made in response to them.

Long Abstract

Pakistani Punjab is known as a fertile food producing area, however, not all regions are equally productive. In historically rainfed areas like parts of northern Punjab, agriculture has been transformed by the introduction of electric and diesel powered tubewell irrigation. This, along with global climate change, has resulted in dramatic changes to the local environment. Using interview data produced in the course of a large, comparative study of primary food producers, we examine local explanations for environmental change and some of the range of adaptations farmers have made in response to them. This is part of a larger, multi-sited study addressing the relationship between foundational cultural modules of nature and space and primary food production. In this paper we deal with agricultural peasant farmers in Attock District, Punjab, Pakistan. Farmers in this study agree that human induced climate change is a problem, but root this in the sexual morality of society rather than carbon consumption. The solutions to these problems are diverse, but include both practical changes to crops, creative energy production and usage and heightened recognition of the importance of religiosity. There appear to be clear generational breaks in causal explanations and appropriate responses. Younger farmers rely less on local saints and seek technological solutions, while older farmers invest in less innovative solutions and turn to traditional devotion to local saints.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.