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The Cultural Context of Biodiversity

Seen and Unseen Dimensions of Indigenous Knowledge among Q'eqchi' Communities in Guatemala

By Petra Maass

Publication Year: 2010

How are biological diversity, protected areas, indigenous knowledge and religious worldviews related? From an anthropological perspective, this book provides an introduction into the complex subject of conservation policies that cannot be addressed without recognising the encompassing relationship between discursive, political, economic, social and ecological facets. By facing these interdependencies across global, national and local dynamics, it draws on an ethnographic case study among Maya-Q'eqchi' communities living in the margins of protected areas in Guatemala. In documenting the cultural aspects of landscape, the study explores the coherence of diverse expressions of indigenous knowledge. It intends to remind of cultural values and beliefs closely tied to subsistence activities and ritual practices that define local perceptions of the natural environment. The basic idea is to illustrate that there are different ways of knowing and reasoning, seeing and endowing the world with meaning, which include visible material and invisible interpretative understandings. These tend to be underestimated issues in international debates and may provide an alternative approach upon which conservation initiatives responsive to the needs of the humans involved should be based on.

Published by: The University of Akron Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

Many thanks are due to numerous individuals and institutions who have contributed to the various stages of my research and the final texture of this thesis. Above and beyond the privilege of being freely admitted to participate in the lives of indigenous farmers and their families in several peasant communities ...

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pp. xiii

At the end of March 2003, while helping a Q'eqch


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pp. xiv

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1 INTRODUCTION – from global to local

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pp. 1-16

In the context of global political governance, environmental issues have become increasingly prominent in the past two decades. Among other major international agreements that have been reached in the 1990s, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) paid particular attention to the protection of the ...

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2 THE GLOBAL CONTEXT – international policies and local environments

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pp. 17-34

In recent decades, environmental issues have become increasingly recognised in international politics. In particular, the effort to protect the ›global commons‹ became a major theme of contemporary debate. Since the late 1980s, conservation and sustainable development appeared as key concepts in contemporary ...

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3 THE DISCURSIVE CONTEXT – conceptual approaches from anthropology

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pp. 35-108

While the previous discussion introduced the issue of biodiversity conservation and the role of local and indigenous cultures and resource use patterns therein based on the political discourse, the present chapter turns to the field of academic discourse. Even before the 1990s with the arising of large UN conferences, ...

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4 THE LOCAL CONTEXT – national policies and indigenous communities

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pp. 109-144

While the previous chapter drew together recent discursive threads, this chapter turns to the local context, which is conceptualised as an enlarged frame of spatial and temporal scales in which findings of the field investigation are embedded. Leaving behind the frames of global and discursive discussions, it intentionally sets ...

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pp. 145-248

Drawing on a wide scale of framing contexts, the following sections move to the focal point of the study and document a selected range of indigenous knowledge expressions. The local context is understood in the sense of a universal frame in which knowledge matters and is formed by phenomena that are physically ...

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6 CONCLUDING REMARKS – from local to global

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pp. 249-254

In the past two decades, biodiversity conservation has become a highly prominent issue of environmental discourse in international and national fora. Fifteen years after the negotiations in Rio, the CBD has become one of the most important instruments guiding the sustainable use and protection of the global natural resources. ...

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pp. 255-256

At the end of my last stay in the Guatemalan lowlands, I had a conversation with an informant in San Benito about the meaning of life. We shared our ideas about what is of major importance to us regardless of different cultural backgrounds. I asked the farmer with whom we had been working for a long time: ...


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pp. 257-280


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pp. 281-283

E-ISBN-13: 9781935603344
E-ISBN-10: 1935603345
Print-ISBN-13: 9781931968805
Print-ISBN-10: 1931968802

Page Count: 300
Illustrations: 49 photos
Publication Year: 2010