Cultural Change and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: An Empirical Analysis from the Tsimane' in the Bolivian Amazon

By Reyes-García, Victoria; Paneque-Gálvez, Jaime et al. | Human Organization, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Cultural Change and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: An Empirical Analysis from the Tsimane' in the Bolivian Amazon


Reyes-García, Victoria, Paneque-Gálvez, Jaime, Luz, Ana C., Gueze, Maximilien, Macía, Manuel J., Orta-Martínez, Martí, Pino, Joan, Human Organization


Introduction

As indigenous peoples around the world are increasingly exposed to Western cultural and economic norms and patterns, interest has grown in the consequences of globalization for the well-being of such indigenous societies, their worldviews, and their traditional ecological knowledge (Godoy et al. 2005a; Lu 2007; Maffi 2002). Traditional ecological knowledge has been defined as "a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relation of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment" (Berkes, Colding, and Folke 2000:1252). Current research widely acknowledges that traditional ecological knowledge is dynamic and constantly changing (Berkes, Colding, and Folke 2000; Gómez-Baggethun and Reyes-García 2013) and recognizes that the speed and intensity of change in traditional knowledge systems varies across societies (Gómez-Baggethun et al. 2010; Reyes-García et al. 2013a) and knowledge domains (Reyes-García et al. 2013b). However, there is also agreement that, over all, bodies of traditional ecological knowledge are decreasing (Reyes-García et al. 2013a; Zent and Maffi 2010). Given the important potential contribution of traditional ecological knowledge to development and the conservation of biodiversity (Berkes and Davidson-Hunt 2006; Toledo 2002), the fact that such knowledge is in decline calls for research on the causes of these trends.

From previous research, we know that the drivers of traditional ecological knowledge change are complex, multifaceted, and partially contextual. Some of these factors include ( 1 ) the influences of schooling, loss of local languages (Maffi 2005; McCarter and Gavin 2011; Reyes-García 2010), and religious conversion (Cook and Offit 2008; Tang and Tang 2010); (2) changes in land use (Gray et al. 2008; PanequeGálvez et al. 2013; Pérez-Llorente et al. 2013); (3) integration of local communities into market economies (Godoy et al. 2005a; Reyes-García et al. 2005); (4) loss of access to resources through conservation programs and other management regulations (Gómez-Baggethun et al. 2010; Ruiz-Mallén and Corbera 2013); (5) development aid work and mechanization (Stone 2007); and (6) climate change (Eakin 2000; Morton 2007). While those factors are often intermingled, it is important to try to disentangle the pathways through which they influence traditional knowledge systems.

In this article, we contribute to this body of research by analyzing the association between traditional ecological knowledge (proxied by plant use knowledge) and cultural change (proxied by individualand village-level indicators of changes regarding traditional beliefs and values). Cultural change refers to the individual and supra-individual processes that take place when individuals from different cultures interact and to the subsequent changes in their worldviews and/ or in the original cultural patterns of either or both groups (Berry 2008; Redfield, Linton, and Herskovitz 1936; Rudmin 2009). Psychologists and sociologists have studied the process of cultural change among immigrant people (Berry 1980, 2008; Rudmin 2009) and anthropologists among indigenous peoples, who face different challenges than immigrant populations as they have often been involuntarily driven to cultural contact on their own land. Initial studies of cultural change among indigenous peoples mostly referred to this process as "acculturation," and conceptualized it as lineal and unidirectional (e.g., Herskovits 1958; Linton 1940). Furthermore, the assumption was that the process would lead to the "modernization" and "development" of indigenous peoples, with the subsequent disappearance of the indigenous groups as distinctive social entities with rich cultural traditions and heritage (see de la Peña 2005). Most scholars now depart from this view, moving to more complex theoretical models of cultural change that emphasize hybridization and orthogonal cultural identification, (i. …

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