Skip to content

Cocks: What is Biocultural Diversity?

by on October 24, 2011

Michelle Cocks emphasizes the link between biodiversity and human diversity through three central claims. As a foundation, Cocks argues that, “the concept of culture must be understood as a dynamic process of transcultural exchange with constant rearticulations of tradition resulting in the persistence of certain cultural practices among any group of people” (Cocks, 2010). This statement, rich in technical anthropological jargon, simply means that culture needs to be seen as a force that is continually modified as groups of people build on old traditions and accommodate to changing environments.

Cock’s first claim is that certain key concepts, such as “indigenous” and “local”, need careful attention. These two categories of people are often portrayed as “exotic” and either maintaining perfect balance with their environment or otherwise in need of dire change. Cocks emphasizes the trend in recent publications as taking a middle ground on this continuum by emphasizing the need for coordination between traditional knowledge and scientific conservation measures.

Her second claim is that the concept can be used beyond the realm of “indigenous” and “local” people. She illustrates how many other communities maintain similar connections to their environments and are equally impacted by environmental change. She promotes a re-definition of culture which could encompass urban communities who maintain cultural practices in relation to the environment.

Her final claim is that the implications of biocultural diversity theory extend across varied social and cultural groups. She argues for the development of community-based natural resource management because conservation techniques grounded in cultural and religious values are often more sustainable that those rooted in policy measures.

Cocks provides a unique perspective within the greater realm of academic discourse on the topic of biocultural preservation. Most articles published in this field focus only on socio-environmental change as it pertains to indigenous populations. Cocks fills a gap within this field by arguing for a more holistic view of nature-culture interactions that encompass more varied communities.

Cocks’ emphasis on the “place and belonging” that is derived through forestry in urban-based communities is closely tied to Escobar’s argument for the “defense of the construction of place” (Escobar, 2001). Additionally, this article draws on arguments presented in Mazarella’s article about the relationship between culture and globalization. As Mazarella (2004) argues that globalization spreads culture, Cocks similarly shows how expanding globalization and urbanization create a need for culture to be seen as a multidimensional force. Similar to the TEDtalk by Wade Davis, Cocks argues that the ethnosphere of biocultural diversity extends farther than our super-imposed labels of “indigenous” and “local” populations.

While I agree that a holistic perspective on culture is necessary, this article makes me nervous that some could portray her argument as undermining the connection of indigenous peoples to their lands. Where can we find a balance between traditional knowledge and scientific conservation methods? How can coordination between these groups be facilitated? When multiple cultural communities share a natural environment whose values hold priority? Is Cocks’ perspective a critique on prevalent theory? How could her ideas be implemented in practice?

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

3 Comments
  1. I actually felt the same way when I read this article. Something about it made me slightly uncomfortable and I couldn’t tell if it was just my interpretation or something about the Alcorn article which I read immediately beforehand. I don’t think that Cocks is trying to undermine the connection between native people and their land though, I think she is trying to fight for the fact that you don’t necessarily have to fit this “indigenous” mold in order to be connected to the environment. She gives the example of the medicine healer who lives in Washington DC to support this argument. Although this woman doesn’t fit the “local” stereotype, she is still very connected to her past.

    I think that your question about whose values hold priority when there are many cultural communities in existence is a tough one because humans are all tied to the environment but on a grand scale, I don’t feel that many people appreciate that bond. So if there is a certain culture that is keeping an environment healthy, why interfere? Alcorn argues that some conservationists, though they have good intentions, could harm an environment that didn’t need their help in the first place. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  2. alannadore permalink

    I also agree that her methods for arguing in favor of a more holistic approach to culture could allow some to see her as undermining or not giving native people’s nature-culture connection enough of an importance. As I was reading I felt that though she had good points, such as her argument in favor of the development of community-based natural resource management, some other aspects of her argument didn’t seem to fit. Her explanations of how urban people have a similar connection to land as indigenous people we a hard argument to support, and I don’t think she did so well enough to prove her point fully. I think that her idea is an interesting one; that we can change the concept of biodiversity by changing how we view our current biodiversity existence in relation to the gap between indigenous and urban populations, however, I think that her argument is difficult to support, because it is true that in places where native people are strongly involved in culture there is a great amount of biodiversity. I think that her argument does a good job in making the reader think about how it would be possible or probable to bridge the gap between traditional and newer scientific methods in order to facilitate a positive outcome for biodiversity. However, I think her argument doesn’t necessarily give the reader a concrete idea of how we can actually go about doing so.

  3. Sean Butler permalink

    I believe that traditional knowledge is important, but should not overshadow modern scientific methods. I agree that a holistic approach to conservation is necessary because the purpose is to conserve areas that are beneficial to people. I don’t think she is undermining indigenous conservation methods, but rather pointing out the fact the we cannot rely only on indigenous people for conservation. I also agree with her ideas on developing community-based natural resource management because of the fact that conservation policies do not allows appropriately apply to all areas. Locals and indigenous people likely have decent knowledge about sustainability, but given the fact that the world is ever changing (sometimes drastically due to globalization and the like) we must be able to adapt in terms of our conservation methods.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: