Academic journal article Human Organization

The Impacts of Rural Labor Out-Migration on Community Interaction and Implications for Rural Community-Based Environmental Conservation in Southwest China

Academic journal article Human Organization

The Impacts of Rural Labor Out-Migration on Community Interaction and Implications for Rural Community-Based Environmental Conservation in Southwest China

Article excerpt

Recent migration and environment literature shows an increasing demand for better understanding the mechanisms through which human migration affects the natural environment. Community interaction can be an important mediating variable in the relationship between migration and the environment. This study investigates the impacts of rural-to-urban labor migration on community interaction and assesses its potential consequences for environmental conservation in rural origin areas in Chongqing Municipality of Southwest China. Empirical data were collected through key informant interviews and household surveys in four rural communities in Chongqing. We examine the effects of rural labor out-migration on local communities by analyzing the differences between household groups with different labor migration statuses regarding participation in general and environment-related community activities. The results suggest that rural migration presents both detrimental and beneficial potentials for community interaction in rural origin areas. These findings have direct implications for community-based natural resource management in rural China.

Key words: migration and environment, mediating factor, community participation, community-based natural resource management, Chongqing

Introduction

The relationship between population and the environment constitutes a major field in the study of human-environment interactions. As one of the key components of population dynamics, migration has become increasingly important in the population and environment research. Recent migration and environment literature shows a growing demand for better understanding the mediating social and economic mechanisms through which migration affects the natural environment. Common property resource institutions, social capital, and social resilience are identified as important intervening variables in explaining the complex and contextually specific effects of migration on the environment (e.g., Adger et al. 2002; Cassels, Curran, and Kramer 2005; Curran 2002; Ostrom et al. 1999). All these factors represent important forms of human organization and relations and logically converge at the concept of community. However, the migration-environment mediating factor framework has not systematically incorporated relevant community theories such as the interactional field theory of community (Wilkinson 1991).

Although migration and community are intuitively viewed as reciprocally related research areas, the theoretical and empirical linkages between the two remain underdeveloped (Brown 2002). Incorporating a community perspective into the migration scholarship advances our understanding of social, economic, and environmental causes and consequences of migration. Additionally, community is a key element of natural resources management, particularly in small town and rural settings. Local communities play a fundamental role in environmental conservation and efforts toward social, economic, and ecological well-being. Since environmental conservation is directly linked to the health and sustainability of the natural resource base, exploring the community concept in the migration and environment research provides a good opportunity for productive synthesis.

There are varying levels of theoretical and empirical consistency regarding the concept of community in both migration and environmental conservation studies. Nearly all types of community definition involve social interactions, common ties, and a shared place (Hillery 1955; Wilkinson 1991). The interactional conceptualization of community provides a coherent theoretical framework for synthesizing research on migration, community, and the environment. According to interactional theory, community is an emergent process among people who share a common territory and interact with one another on various matters reflecting common needs and interests (Wilkinson 1991). Based on this interpretation, community interaction can be conceptualized as a key mediating variable in the relationship between migration and the environment. …

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