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The effects of development interventions on coevolved practices in biocultural landscapes
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0265-5356
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Baht, a festive porridge prepared for the Persian New Year in the Pamir Mountains is made from a sweet variety of red wheat, Rashtak, which grows only in the high reaches of its most remote valley. The relationship between ecology and culture in landscapes like the Pamirs runs deep, with everyday practices and rituals having co-evolved with the harsh environment over millennia. Such tightly intertwined biocultural landscapes are, however, often among the world’s poorest and thus are particularly subject to external development interventions. This paper investigates the effects of a particular development intervention, the introduction of an improved wheat seed, on everyday traditional practices and the rituals that maintain them. The intervention contributed towards the near extinction of Rashtak, along with many other traditional seed varieties. Using Norgaard’s coevolutionary framework we analyse the changes in relations between ecology and society resulting from diverse community responses to the intervention. We observe that rituals, which emerge from successful everyday practices, can provide a valuable entry point to understanding co-evolutionary processes in biocultural landscapes. Through participatory observation in two villages, specifically around the practices of food preparation, we examine contrasting responses to the introduced seed in the context of larger-scale development in the region. Our findings show how in one village, Rashtak has been lost but the ritual of baht remains, though the daily practices and social-ecological relationships linked to the ritual have been strongly altered. In the other community, the new ‘improved’ seed was only cultivated on small areas of land in a process of trial and error and farmers maintained their traditional varieties alongside the new seed. Thereby, the rituals around baht remain deeply rooted in social-ecological relationships that have been maintained over the years. The paper describes innovative individual responses to development interventions in everyday life in both communities and finds that some can be important sources of resilience. For example, in the community that lost Rashtak, along with many other local seeds, the knowledge around how to cultivate the land is maintained in a ‘harvest dance’ choreographed and taught be a local school teacher. Rituals, as a repository of social memory, can play an important role in development processes whilst maintaining important social-ecological relationships for future resilience. A deeper understanding of coevolutionary processes in a landscape may help develop approaches for identifying and harnessing endogenous responses to local, regional and global change and help empower more appropriate and effective development pathways.

Keyword [en]
biocultural, development, everyday practice, Pamir mountains, ritual, agricultural biodiversity
National Category
Other Natural Sciences Other Social Sciences
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145663OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-145663DiVA: diva2:1133711
Funder
EU, FP7, Seventh Framework Programme
Available from: 2017-08-16 Created: 2017-08-16 Last updated: 2017-08-18Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Development and Resilience: Re-thinking poverty and intervention in biocultural landscapes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Development and Resilience: Re-thinking poverty and intervention in biocultural landscapes
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The practices related to the growing, harvesting, preparation, and celebration of food over millennia have given rise to diverse biocultural landscapes the world over. These landscapes – rich in biological and cultural diversity – are often characterised by persistent poverty, and, as such, are often the target of development interventions. Yet a lack of understanding of the interdependencies between human well-being, nature, and culture in these landscapes means that such interventions are often unsuccessful - and can even have adverse effects, exacerbating the poverty they were designed to address. This thesis investigates different conceptualisations of persistent poverty in rural biocultural landscapes, the consequences of these conceptualisations, and the ways in which development interventions can benefit from, rather than erode, biocultural diversity.

The thesis first reviews conceptualisations of persistent poverty and specifically, the notion of a poverty trap (Paper I), and examines the consequences of different conceptualisations of traps for efforts to alleviate poverty (Paper II). Paper I argues that the trap concept can be usefully broadened beyond a dominant development economics perspective to incorporate critical interdependencies between humans and nature. Paper II uses multi-dimensional dynamical systems models to show how nature and culture can be impacted by different development interventions, and, in turn, how the degradation of both can undermine the effectiveness of conventional poverty alleviation strategies in certain contexts.

In the second section, the thesis focuses on the effects of, and responses to, trap-like situations and development interventions in a specific context of high biocultural diversity: the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. Paper III advances a typology of responses to traps based around the mismatch of desires, abilities and opportunities. Observing daily practice provides a way to study social-ecological relationships as a dynamic process, as practices can embody traditional and tacit knowledge in a holistic way.  Paper IV examines the diverse effects of a development intervention on the coevolution of biocultural landscapes and the ways in which everyday practice – particularly around food – can be a source of both innovation and resilience.

Papers I-IV together combine insights from diverse disciplines and methodologies, from systematic review to dynamic systems thinking and participant observation. Paper V provides a critical analysis of the opportunities and challenges involved in pursuing such an approach in sustainability science, underscoring the need to balance methodological groundedness with epistemological agility.

Overall, the thesis contributes to understanding resilience and development, highlighting the value of viewing their interrelation as a dynamic, coevolving process. From this perspective, development should not be regarded as a normative endpoint to be achieved, but rather as a coevolving process between constantly changing ecological and social contexts. The thesis proposes that resilience can be interpreted as the active and passive filtering of practices via the constant discarding and retention of old and new, social and ecological, and endogenous and exogenous factors. This interpretation deepens understanding of resilience as the capacity to persist, adapt and transform, and ultimately shape new development pathways. The thesis also illustrates how daily practices, such as the growing, harvesting, and preparation of food, offer a powerful heuristic device for understanding this filtering process, and therefore the on-going impact of development interventions in rural landscapes across the world.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 2017
Keyword
biocultural diversity, coevolution, development, interdisciplinary, Pamir Mountains, poverty traps, resilience, social-ecological systems
National Category
Other Natural Sciences
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145665 (URN)978-91-7649-909-2 (ISBN)978-91-7649-910-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-09-29, Vivi Täckholmsalen (Q-salen), NPQ-huset, Svante Arrhenius väg 20, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
EU, FP7, Seventh Framework Programme
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 4: Manuscript.

Available from: 2017-09-06 Created: 2017-08-17 Last updated: 2017-09-05Bibliographically approved

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