ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012


Cultural dimensions of ecology

Location Convention Centre Auditorium I
Date and Start Time 06 April, 2012 at 08:30


Hoineilhing Sitlhou (Hyderabad Central University) email
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Short Abstract

The panel will discuss the cultural dimensions of ecology through the shared experiences of different agricultural societies across the world.

Long Abstract

Humankind social systems, culture, religious values and economic pattern grew around the land. This is especially true in the case of societies which are more dependent on nature or whose source of sustenance is immediately from the forest produce. Sociology and anthropology has as a discipline studied the interdependence between the concept of culture and ecology in diverse ways. Environmental influence on the cultural life of the people has been widely studied. The ecology influences not only human geographical locations and settings but also human relations, their mode of patterning everyday existence and practices. On the other hand, humankind also impact upon their surrounding nature. This can be of two extreme forms. Firstly, humankind acknowledges their dependency on nature by attributing various rituals to it as a means of appeasement or reciprocity, or organise collective action or movements with a cause to protect nature from the destructive tendencies of human beings in the name of development. Secondly, there are studies of the adverse effect of this relationship in which man impose and manipulate nature to his selfish gain. There are activities which lead to alienation of humans from nature like deforestations or the ramifications of colonialism or the state. The panel welcomes paper which will throw more light in understanding the diverse ways in which one can study the discourse between culture and ecology in different parts of the world especially in societies which experiences colonial rule.

Chair: Dr. Savyasaachi, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Cultures and Communities: The Distinct life-worlds of Peasants and Forest-dwellers in Andhra Pradesh

Author: Neredimalli Annavaram (University of Hyderabad)  email

Short Abstract

The Present paper proposes to examine the life-worlds of peasants and forest-dwellers – the communities who purely dependent upon, and are completely immersed themselves with, ecological sphere in which they work and sustain upon.

Long Abstract

Since times immemorial, human groups have been operating in diverse geographical systems and have come to develop lifestyles of their own. Although it is quite a complex task to attribute any fixed characteristic feature to a particular human group, it is nevertheless not so difficult an exercise to find a particular set of people living with certain commonalities. Social science scholarship has long been deeply involved in the latter exercise. Anthropology and Sociology are known to have shown a particular interest in observing and explaining the inter-relationships between the human life and the natural environment. One of the most contentious, if not a completely controversial, findings of the social science research in this regard is a recognition that some human groups are more close to their environment than others.

Forest-dwellers, be it in India or elsewhere, are found to have been living in intimate relationship with their nature. Quite interestingly, however, most of the Indian peasant groups too live in close relationship with the nature around which their sustenance revolves, and Indian social sciences do not seem to have paid enough attention to understand these intricate relationships - the relationships between forest-dwellers and the natural environment on one hand and the relationships between peasants and their natural environment on the other.

It is in this regard that the proposed paper would attempt to understand and explain some of the nuanced events taking place in the life-worlds of both the peasants and the forest-dwellers.

Of Guns, Fences, and Wire: Experiencing forest governance in Wayanad, Kerala, South India

Authors: Ursula Muenster (Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and University and Rachel Carson Center)  email
Suma Vishnudas  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the ways in which indigenous communities in Wayanad, Kerala, South India, have experienced state control, law and forest governance over time. It shows how in this process human-forest relationships have been co-produced.

Long Abstract

We argue that the relationship between people and forests in the region can only be understood by closely looking at the repercussions of colonialism, authoritarian state control of forest resources, and the more recent history of forest governance, law, and conservation.

This paper engages ethnographically with the ways in which Adivasis of the Kattunaika community, traditionally hunters and gatherers, experience forest governance and how they remember transformations in the state's conservation regime over time. We will show how Kattunaikas' relationships to the forest change along with the political and legal environment, and how it effects their livelihoods. Presently, for example, a large scale rehabilitation project is under way to relocate forest dwellers from the Wildlife Sanctuary, which will radically alter human/forest relationships.

On the other hand, we highlight the role which Kattunaika and their knowledge of the forest's ecology have played in Wayanad's forest conservation regime. The British used their expertise for exploiting forest resources - Kattunaikka worked for low wages on the empire's timber plantations and as elephant mehouts. After independence, the Kerala forest department employed them as watchers in the forest, to report poaching cases and forest fires. Today in fact, most camp sheds inside the well guarded Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary are staffed with Kattunaika watchers.

By looking at the historically close connection and interrelationship of Kattunaika's with forest governance in Wayanad, much can be understood about their ways of relating to the forest and its ecology.

Politics of Ecology with relation to Caste and Community in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand

Author: Shruti Joshi  email

Short Abstract

An inquiry into the manifestation of caste inequalities and hierarchies through multiple spaces of ecology–the everyday ecological spaces and the more universal forest spaces of the Kumaon region. The colonial aspects of the region’s ecology will be juxtaposed against the ecology of the everyday.

Long Abstract

The study aims to find a broader understanding of the politics of ecology and to find meaningful insights into the politics of caste and village in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. It looks into ecology as encompassing larger social relations of caste and community and the extent to which ecology is co-opted by these equations in supporting unequal social relations.

The intricate upper caste hierarchies of the Kumaon region require more than a comparison along traditional lines of social structure. A deeper understanding of the politics of ecology will help to put into perspective the different configurations of power relations between the major caste groups of Kumaon. Different configuration of castes and the sub-castes in the region- as this work will argue - need an ecological perspective.

The work will juxtapose the caste hierarchies of Kumaon against hierarchies as presented by the ecology of the region. The subtleties of ecological hierarchies often conceal aspects of exclusion and discrimination. A study of caste oppression in the region therefore, needs a broader canvass, and a re-evaluation of the region's politics of ecology can provide sufficient space to interpret the subtleties behind these oppressions. Even as traditional hierarchies are important demarcations to understand caste divisions, the work presses upon the need to go beyond these interpretations for understanding the intricacies of caste hierarchies in the region.

Political ecology of transhumance and change among the Bhotias of Kumaon, Uttarakhand.

Author: Nisthasri Awasthi (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper aims to comprehend and explore the practice of transhumance as it exists among the Bhotias of the Himalayas, with respect to present state policies and the attitude of the community.

Long Abstract

The broad aim of the paper is to comprehend and explore the practice of transhumance as it exists among Bhotias of Himalayas with respect to the present state policies and attitude of community people towards this. The importance of transhumance calls for an economic and ecological understanding of the same. Transhumant societies the world over are fast changing in social, political and ideological sphere and particularly in India, which is in its declining phase and in years to come is likely to become extinct. An examination of changes in such societies would reveal the trend of total or partial abandonment of pastoralism. In many societies, governments have nationalized and confiscated pastures, forests and natural resources, alienating the nomadic pastoralists of their traditional and age-old rights. As a result, communities are abandoning transhumance as an economic practice and there is no government intervention to restore it. The paper has two important connotations on social, economic and ecological aspects; one, impact on environment due to neglect of transhumance and two, the impact on social identity of pastoralists. The paper deals with social, economic and ecological understanding of transhumance, how it has changed over time and what implication it has on the identity of Bhotias as pastoralists.

Culture and Ecology in the Hills of North East India

Authors: Hoineilhing Sitlhou (Hyderabad Central University)  email
Shruti Joshi  email

Short Abstract

The paper studies the social discourse between spirits and human as portrayed in the land rituals to understand the interdependence between humans and nature, and subsequently land and identity relationship in the Kuki Society. It will contribute to the study of culture ecology.

Long Abstract

The Kuki society of Manipur was predominantly an agricultural as well as a hunter-gatherer society with ownership of land as a collective enterprise. Consequently, their attitude and reverence for land is reflected in the sacred space and institution it occupies in the society and the various rituals attributed to it. Discourses and interdependence between humankind and ecology, palpable in day-to-day habits of most tribal societies usually become ingrained in their customary practices. Besides the agricultural rituals, the primeval religion before the advent of Christianity, mythologies and legends reflects their worldview and close sentiments towards nature in general. There were social institutions that were set up to mediate or handle land as a part of the ecological structure like the Chieftainship system and Thempu system (priestly role). Colonialism or the colonial intervention, especially in the form of religious ideologies and practise affected the Weltanschauung of the Kuki society. The change brought about by the colonial missionary widened the gap between land and man as they interpret the relationship between them through their own lens, made stipulations accordingly and gradually reduced land to an alien entity. Therefore, the paper explores the question—how does the ecological relation influence the institutions in the society and how does the social structure in turn influence the conceptualization of the ecological relations? What kind of power relation and meanings does the social discourse between humans and spirits portray? What does it reflect about the man-land relationships, and therefore, land and identity relationships in the society?

Jhumming as defining feature of Kuki Identity in Northeast India

Authors: Vibha Arora (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)  email
Ngamjahao Kipgen (IIT Delhi)  email

Short Abstract

Jhumming has traditionally been the basis of subsistence and practiced among the Kukis for the past few hundred years. Is it a form of sustainable land-use? We document and trace the continuities and discontinuities in jhumming practices in the contemporary period.

Long Abstract

Jhumming has traditionally been the basis of subsistence and practiced among the Kukis for the past few hundred years. Is it a form of sustainable land-use? As a form of agriculture, jhumming has evolved and got embedded in the socio-cultural practices of the Kuki community living in Northeast India. This form of agriculture now defines their very identity and constitutes their way of life.

The paper discusses the political economy of the Kukis by relating it to their dependence on agriculture and forests for their livelihood. This relationship governs their economic, social and cultural systems, and shapes their ethnic identity in the region; for instance the neighboring Meitei community follows wet rice cultivation in the valley areas of Manipur. Land-group connectedness is central to the formation of Kuki identity. We explain how land is not only a material resource but also a social cultural resource that determines social exchange and the basis of political power among them. The paper details various socio-cultural practices connected with jhumming.

This paper is based on review of relevant secondary literature and multi-sited fieldwork conducted in 2 villages of Manipur during 2008-09. Primary data was gathered through a household survey, interviews, and participant observation. We document and trace the continuities and discontinuities in jhumming practices in the contemporary period.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.