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Adaptation and indigenous knowledge as a bridge to sustainability

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The concern for sustainability is a phenomenon sweeping across the globe. It is developing a momentum that makes it difficult to be considered to be a mere passing enthusiasm. Furthermore it is a movement that is operative at multiple levels; from local community groups to professional research teams, and politically at all levels right up to the United Nations. Moreover it is a phenomenon that is however not overtly ideological, as there is a multiplicity of ways in which it is being developed. The term sustainability appears to arise in the attempt to define what is an already existing intuitive concern. Indeed, attempts to define sustainability have foundered on the many rocks of the multiplicity of approaches and activities (Atkinson et al. 2007). What can perhaps be stated safely is that there is a phenomenon able to be termed sustainability which inspires multiple ideals, guiding principles and regulative concepts providing meaning, purpose and hope. The phenomenon is associated with horizons for the future that are believed in.

Reflections on the phenomenon of the sustainability movement need to deal with the relatively recent strength of the movement, yet that it also appears to be an innate and universal phenomenon among cultures. It is possibly this tension that has led to sustainability conceptually to become linked to adaptation within a flux of socio-ecological systems. Such adaptation can be recognised as innate and universal, while exhibiting at particular periods relatively greater significance, depending on the intensity of the need for change. So whilst sustainability has and will always be a concern for all cultures in all periods, the uniqueness of our present global situation has made it into a powerfully visible movement. But does this mean that it is only now in the present sustainability movement that the innate and universal phenomenon has become reflexively recognised for the innate and universal role it has? In this chapter we argue that this is not the case. Indeed we argue something closer to the reverse, namely that the present dominant global culture based on a capitalist economic system emphasizing capital accumulation of resources and the consumption of them, is the substantive cause for the dire need to adapt, and that this has arisen due to loss of awareness of the need for sustainability. Moreover the cause of the loss is due to a presumption of superiority, borne of colonial expansion by the cultures now forming the dominant global culture.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2009

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  • Current Trends in Human Ecology
    Anthropology, sociology, and ecology come together in this book, where the unifying goal of theorizing and practising interdisciplinarity in human ecology is shown by, closely tracking examples of current trends and developments. This book is a harvest from the XV International Meeting of the Society for Human Ecology, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 4-7, 2007. This volume ends by indicating several lines of thought and of analyses on current subjects, as follows: sustainability in different cultural contexts and perspectives, methods towards approaching sustainable systems, and current global concerns. Those include agriculture in tropical areas (slash-and-burn practices), climate change, and nature and human behavioural patterns, among others.
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