Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

172 E Diversity of landscapes and ecosystems

anthropology, ethnology and human ecology. The

relationship between nurture and nature has always

been an issue in psychology and is currently gaining

renewed attention as a result of the arguments in

behavioural biology (eg biological basis of people’s

preference for natural stimuli).

Like all living beings, humans are a product of biological

evolution. However, of all species man has

traditionally always been given a special position

because he has unique physical and psychological

properties as a result of his ‘biological endowment’.

Through intelligence, long-term memory and the

ability to speak he is able to order his world by

imposing his own categories, to interpret it and act

accordingly, and also to transmit this knowledge to

his offspring.

Although in the past it was usual to consider

humans (unlike animals) as cultural beings as

opposed to part of the natural world, our modern

insight into the interaction of nature and culture no

longer allows such a dichotomy. Much rather, we

must clarify the processes and activities by means of

which, and the extent to which, nature and culture

are related to each other. The former view has been

superseded and today we do not see nature as a

world ‘untouched’ by man, left to itself that is

‘strange’ because of its autonomous laws, but as a

world constructed and appropriated by mental and

physical human activities.

In the tradition of the Russian school of cultural

history (Leontyev, 1973) appropriation is understood

to be man’s interactive coping with his environment,

by means of which man changes or defines his environment

for his own purposes, thus making it into a

human environment (Kruse and Graumann, 1978;

Graumann and Kruse, 1990). This is a dialectical

process: in the extent to which man, whether as a

species or an individual, appropriates something

from his environment and thus makes it his own

(humanum) by processing or use, ie into an object

that ultimately mirrors human activities, it will reflect

back on to man as a changed environment. Man who

has such an impact on his environment also changes

in the process.

This makes it clear that the term ‘appropriation’

refers to two distinct processes that coincide here:

one is the historical process of appropriation of

nature (its raw materials and forces) and resultant

products, which leads to extremely different philosophies

and practices over many generations in different

cultural and ethnic groups (eg mediaeval societies

in Europe). The other inherent process is biographical

and individual learning that starts afresh

for every life history. The subject of the first process

is humankind, differentiated according to peoples,

tribes and their various cultures and languages. The

subject of the second process is the individual who

has to learn the achievements of his or her culture


Appropriation certainly takes place in a historical

and culture-specific perspective through the conversion

of nature into culture through work: converting

slopes into rice terraces, removing stones and soil to

build houses, developing transport routes on water

and land, breeding plants, domesticating animals, but

also appropriation of other humans and peoples

through conquest and subjugation. One essential

part of this process is the symbolic appropriation of

nature, by depicting it artistically and naming its parts

linguistically (categorization). In this symbolic

appropriation, differences in religion, myths, general

beliefs and knowledge play a key role. Closely linked

to symbolic appropriation is value formation. This is

culture-specific, giving rise to the problem that valuations

of natural and cultural assets and states of

affairs (material culture), and the attitudes and

stances taken with respect to them, are so divergent

from one culture to another that intercultural communication

often becomes difficult, if not impossible.

E 3.5.3

Reappraisal of indigenous and local cultures:

importance in the context of biosphere policy

New interest in indigenous societies

A (negative) example of cultural appropriation is the

way in which representatives of western cultures

once relied on their own systems of beliefs and knowledge

about indigenous cultures (Box E 3.5-1), even

classing them as inferior (‘primitive’, ‘naïve’, entirely

based on subjective opinion). Only in recent times

has new interest been expressed in the knowledge

and practices of these peoples, most of whom live in

tribal societies. Around 5,000 such groups exist,

encompassing a total of 200–300 million people, frequently

living in rural or semi-natural areas with high

biological diversity, half of them in China and India.

There are various reasons why that is the case.

• Since the 1960s it has been increasingly recognized

that the consumption of energy and resources that

go hand in hand with western cultural patterns

and lifestyles, the destruction of ecosystems, and

other processes of degradation, lead to global

environmental problems.

• It is also recognized that many indigenous and traditional

societies have succeeded in conserving

the biosphere or managing it sustainably. In the

process, they use practices that are supported by a

complex interaction of knowledge, philosophies

and religious belief systems developed over long

periods of time.To what extent can this knowledge

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