Revue internationale des sciences sociales Editions spéciales

Cultural Diversity and Biodiversity

Marie Roué, Editorial Adviser, March 2006, Blackwell publishing and UNESCO

Issue 187 - March 2006

Marie Roué, Editorial Adviser

The relations between cultural diversity and biodiversity often seems little more than a vague analogy. They take on a much more specific meaning when biodiversity produced over time by human action is regarded as a manifestation of the diversity of cultures. Cultural diversity is thus an essential basis for worldwide action in favour of sustainable development. But to be able to manage something one must first know what it is. This issue investigates the relations between local and indigenous societies and nature from the Philippines to Benin, from sub-arctic to Melanesia, and from Thailand to France. The articles focus on hybrid objects which are at the same time natural and cultural, and stand at the limit between the domestic and the wild: Local varieties and breeds, localized production processes, and landscapes modified by societies which qualify as both natural and cultural. The relations between cultural diversity and biodiversity also make it necessary to ground sustainable development in the voices of those concerned. The articles in this issue are therefore polyphonic: they combine the voices of the Saamis, Karen, Ifugao, Benin, and Cévenols as indigenous peoples, researchers, and politicians, with the voices of environmental anthropologists and sociologists.

Most of the authors in this issue participated in the workshop, "Biological diversity, cultural diversity: issues relating to local knowledge" organized by Douglas Nakashima and Marie Roué within the framework of the international conference, "Biodiversity, science, and governance" held at UNESCO from 24-28 January 2005.


NGOs in the Governance of Biodiversity

Issue 178 - December 2003

By Marie Roué, Editorial Adviser

Since the traditional ecological knowledge of local and indigenous peoples was written into Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biodiversity, their role in management of their natural resources has achieved international recognition. However, it is as difficult for people far removed from centres of power to be heard in national and international arenas as it is for the arenas themselves to relate to them and to grasp their knowledge.

The role of environmental NGOs and some of their power as mediators of local knowledge derive, no doubt, from precisely this paradoxical situation: recognition by national and international bodies of a knowledge that lies beyond their direct reach.

However, mediation in the exchange of traditional knowledge also reveals tensions and ambiguities in the relation between the interests of biodiversity and of indigenous peoples. When they share a place with NGOs, developers and other interested parties, profoundly different views and practices with respect to nature are deployed.

The governance of biodiversity raises difficult and inescapable issues of participation and accountability. This issue sketches some paths for future research by comparing encounters between the indigenous and the ecological that have taken place in a wide range of countries and contexts over the past thirty years.

Most of the papers presented here were first presented at a seminar held at UNESCO Paris on 27 - 28 May 2002: NGOs, indigenous peoples and local knowledge: politics of power in the biodiversity domain.



Indigenous Knowledge

Issue 173 - September 2002

In the mid-1990s, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the United States Agency for International Development launched a novel partnership. The International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) sought to bring together university researchers, pharmaceutical companies, non-government organisations and representatives of indigenous peoples into a consortium to identify genetic and biochemical materials that could prove commercially valuable. The venture was also intended to create innovative mechanisms to share with indigenous peoples the anticipated benefits from accurate identification of commercial profitable compounds.

Despite the prestigious names and institutions, results from the initiative remain uncertain at best, and little benefit has reached indigenous peoples.A key reason is that insufficient attention has been given to the basic question of how to think about indigenous knowledge and its relationship to power.

The contributions to this issue consider that question, arguing for greater attention to the contexts in which indigenous peoples live, indigenous knowledge is generated, and interactions between the putative indigenous/local and the alleged scientific/modern occur.

Furthermore, they stress the need for closer attention and deeper appreciation of the political relations for which easy conceptual categories often, inappropriately, come to stand. Such movements in perspective potentially lay the foundations for greater uncertainty in social outcomes and shifts in political relationships: it is precisely on favour of such indeterminacy and changes in asymmetric relations that the contributions are written.

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