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Culture and Resource Conflict

Why Meanings Matter

Douglas L. Medin, Norbert O. Ross, Douglas G. Cox

Publication Year: 2006

In a multi-cultural society, differing worldviews among groups can lead to conflict over competing values and behaviors. Nowhere is this tension more concrete than in the wilderness, where people of different cultures hunt and fish for the same animals. White Americans tend to see nature as something external which they have some responsibility to care for. In contrast, Native Americans are more likely to see themselves as one with nature. In Culture and Resource Conflict, authors Douglas Medin, Norbert Ross, and Douglas Cox investigate the discord between whites and Menominee American Indians over hunting and fishing, and in the process, contribute to our understanding of how and why cultures so often collide. Based on detailed ethnographic and experimental research, Culture and Resource Conflict finds that Native American and European American hunters and fishermen have differing approaches—or mental models—with respect to fish and game, and that these differences lead to misunderstanding, stereotyping, and conflict. Menominee look at the practice of hunting and fishing for sport as a sign of a lack of respect for nature. Whites, on the other hand, define respect for nature more on grounds of resource management and conservation. Some whites believe—contrary to fact—that Native Americans are depleting animal populations with excessive hunting and fishing, while the Menominee protest that they only hunt what they need and make extensive use of their catch. Yet the authors find that, despite these differences, the two groups share the fundamental underlying goal of preserving fish and game for future generations, and both groups see hunting and fishing as deeply meaningful activities. At its core, the conflict between these two groups is more about mistrust and stereotyping than actual disagreement over values. Combining the strengths of psychology and anthropology, Culture and Resource Conflict shows how misunderstandings about the motives of others can lead to hostility and conflict. As debates over natural resources rage worldwide, this unique book demonstrates the obstacles that must be overcome for different groups to reach consensus over environmental policy.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

About the Authors

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xviii

The proper attribution for the above verse is probably lost to history— it has been widespread in the Midwest since at least the early twentieth century. It seems to echo another, much more ancient and widespread, set of ideas based on the four directions: Native American ...

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Chapter One. Contexts

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pp. 1-9

Pretty much everyone is an environmentalist. One fairly recent survey of lay people in the United States indicated that virtually 100 percent of those polled agreed with the statement “We have a moral duty to leave the Earth in as good or better shape than we found it.” One might expect ...

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Chapter Two. Why Meanings Matter:Culture, Concepts,and Behavior

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pp. 10-22

In 1940 the German-born American anthropologist Franz Boas introduced the notion of cultural relativism to the social sciences. The underlying idea was that we should withhold from judging the behavior of members of other cultures and instead should engage in understanding ...

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Chapter Three. The Study of Culture:A Framework for Theory and Methodology

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pp. 23-34

It is hard to do cultural research without having a clear definition of culture in mind. Serious questions come up whenever cultural comparisons are undertaken—for example, how to decide what groups are relevant to study; how to select samples of participants; how to measure whatever it ...

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Chapter Four. Categorization in Cultural Perspective

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pp. 35-43

Since we're going to be talking about how two different groups think about nature, it seems like a good idea to place our work in the context of other work on cross-cultural similarities and differences in categorization of biological kinds. If you’re just interested in intergroup conflict ...

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Chapter Five. Contemporary Setting and Conflicts

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pp. 44-57

There is considerable tension over Native American hunting and fishing rights in Wisconsin. Letters to sporting magazines commonly urge the boycotting of casinos run by Indian tribes until the tribes give up their right to set their own hunting and fishing regulations. Many ...

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Chapter Six. Ethnographic and Historical Background

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pp. 58-67

The Menominee have been in Wisconsin for a long, long time—evidence from the tribe’s oral tradition and archaeological records both provide clear evidence that Menominee residence in the area dates back at least several thousand years (Beck 2002). The name of the tribe in the Menominee ...

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Chapter Seven. The Folk biology of Freshwater Fish

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pp. 68-86

This book is about intergroup conflict over natural resources, mainly fish and game. Even though experts from the two groups included in this study, Menominee Indians and majority-culture sportsmen, more or less agree on their basic values with respect to conservation, they are often in ...

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Chapter Eight. Ecological Orientation

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pp. 87-97

To be successful in fishing, you have to know where certain species are found and usually that means knowing what they are eating; what they are eating often consists of other fish. Are the two groups of experts equally knowledgeable concerning where fish are found and which fish ...

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Chapter Nine. Values, Attitudes,and Practices

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pp. 98-107

By means of studies 1 to 4 we have established that Menominee fishermen tend to use an ecological framework to conceptualize fish. Menominees also commonly express the attitude that every fish has a role to play and are less likely than majority-culture fishermen to think of fish in ...

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Chapter Ten. Intra- and Intergroup Perception of Goals and Values

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pp. 108-119

The studies described in chapter 9 established the existence of substantial agreement between our two groups, and some second-order differences. Majority-culture fishermen were slightly more approving of practicing catch-and-release exclusively

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Chapter Eleven. Fishing: Cultural Changes

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pp. 120-131

Douglas Medin of our research team grew up in Iowa and Minnesota in a typical midwestern hunting and fishing family. Here is his first-person perspective on that time: At least in northern Minnesota in the 1950s and ’60s, it seemed like everyone was fishing for food. Sure, there were lots of ...

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Chapter Twelve. Hunting and Forest Ecology

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pp. 132-144

Our studies of hunting very much parallel our research on fish and fishing. As with fishing, cultural differences in hunting orientation lead to misperceptions and intergroup conflict. Would we continue to find that majority-culture sportsmen misperceive Menominee values when we ...

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Chapter Thirteen. Ecological and Value Ratings

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pp. 145-160

Our research with hunters partially parallels the studies done with expert fishermen. Initially we asked a sample of Menominee and majority culture hunters to name the most important plants and animals of the forest. We used these nominations to select twenty-nine animals and ...

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Chapter Fourteen. Reported and Perceived Hunting Values

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pp. 161-172

In the previous chapter we looked at the ways Menominee and majority- culture hunters rate the importance to themselves and to the forest of certain species. We found general agreement coupled with modest group differences. This is essentially the same result as we reported for the fish ...

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Chapter Fifteen. Why Meanings Matter

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pp. 173-184

Dear Amy: My boyfriend and I are in our early 50s, so we’re not kids. We get along great and are even speaking of marriage. Here’s the problem: I am a true-blue animal advocate. Frank absolutely loves to hunt. He hunts deer, turkey and bear—anything he can. He wants for nothing ...

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Chapter Sixteen. Summary and Implications

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pp. 185-189

IT IS TIME to address ourselves to the potential implications of our research for policy. Along the way, we’ll discuss possible misconceptions concerning our goals and orientation. ...


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pp. 191-201


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pp. 203-212


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pp. 213-223

E-ISBN-13: 9781610443906
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871545701
Print-ISBN-10: 0871545705

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Culture conflict -- Wisconsin.
  • Menominee Indians -- Fishing -- Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin -- Ethnic relations.
  • Wisconsin -- Social life and customs.
  • Nature -- Effect of human beings on -- Wisconsin.
  • Human ecology -- Wisconsin.
  • Menominee Indians -- Hunting -- Wisconsin.
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