In the face of biocultural decline, and in a world that is globalized and increasingly interconnected, a deeper understanding of biocultural diversity can contribute to local and global sustainability. This is one of the take-aways from a publication published in Global Sustainability. Photo: P. Malmer

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Being biocultural

Why biocultural diversity can contribute to both local and global sustainability

Story highlights

  • Biocultural diversity is the notion that biological and cultural diversity are dependent on each other, and that biological diversity is managed, conserved, and created by different cultural groups
  • A deeper understanding of this can contribute to local and global sustainability, researchers argue
  • The authors call for a biocultural paradigm to be more broadly adopted by academia, practitioners and policy makers

Humans are now the main force and source of changes to our planet. From genes, species, ecosystems, landscapes and seascapes, to languages, practices, traditions, artistic expressions and belief, value, and knowledge systems, these diversities are facing rapid modifications and, most importantly, rapid loss.

Biocultural diversity, is the notion that biological and cultural diversity are dependent on each other, and that biological diversity is managed, conserved, and created by different cultural groups.

In the face of biocultural decline, and in a world that is globalized and increasingly interconnected, a deeper understanding of biocultural diversity can contribute to local and global sustainability.

To strengthen the relevance, centre researcher MariaTengö, along with colleagues from Mexico and South Africa, have published a paper in Global Sustainability that articulates the different dimensions of biocultural discourses and their relevance for addressing sustainability challenges from the local to the global.

The article is part of a special issue on the Programme on Ecosystem change and Society.

The adoption of the biocultural paradigm by academia, practitioners and policy makers may catalyze the joint construction of relevant knowledge, sustainable practices and policies by different social actors.

Maria Tengö, co-author

Biocultural discourses – from academia to policy

In their study, the authors highlight four arenas where the paradigm has been commonly applied:

1. Social-ecological systems and sustainability science

2. anthropological and ethnobiological discourses, largely represented in academic settings

3. Indigenous movements and political ecology

4. intergovernmental platforms, mostly policy context

Through their analysis, the authors draw on the four areas to get a more coherent understanding of how the biocultural paradigm could help push the discourse forward.

As Tengö explains, “The multiple biocultural discourses reflect the diversity of socio-cultural positions, communities of practice, and political orientations involved in their construction and application. Some tensions between these stances are inevitable and can provide meaningful challenges for further dialogue and political changes.”

Specifically, Tengö and her colleagues emphasize an emerging understanding of the biocultural paradigm with the following components:

• A way of defining world, or ontology, that recognizes diversity of cultural embeddedness in nature

• A way of thinking about the world, or epistemology, that takes a holistic or systems thinking approach

• A political and ethical approach that recognizes the role of values, rules and norms, including local governance systems.

Furthermore, Tengö highlights the importance of applying a thoughtful biocultural approach in the policy making arena:

"The lack of biocultural approaches in the formulation of top-down policies by governments operating at all scales may lead to the implementation of culturally inappropriate actions, which can result in unproductive and even harmful processes, generating the loss of control over place, resources, knowledge and practices."

From local landscapes to international policy

Biocultural diversity is often applied to describe local phenomena – traditional knowledge about farming a particular plant species, or indigenous medicinal practices.

While the biocultural paradigm has been used in international policy arenas, such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the authors believe it is decisive to global sustainability for at least four reasons:

1. Global sustainability strongly relies on diversity, and biocultural processes generate and maintain diversity

2. Putting focus on the connections between nature and human well-being, shifting the attention in sustainability debates from economic development to cultural values that guide non-instrumental relationships with nature

3. It is a useful approach for also addressing social justice aspects of sustainability

4. Global sustainability depends on the enactment of culturally pertinent policies that can be articulated across governance levels and actors.

The authors call for a biocultural paradigm to be more broadly adopted by academia, practitioners and policy makers as a way to push relevant knowledge to the forefront of sustainability practices and policies.

"Biocultural discourses hold great transformative potential because it allows for greater emphasis on the connections between cultural and biological diversity, human well-being, social justice and the formulation of culturally pertinent policies," they conclude.

Citation

Merçon J., Vetter S., Tengö M., Cocks M., Balvanera P., Rosell J.A., Ayala-Orozco, B. 2019. From local landscapes to international policy: contributions of thebiocultural paradigm to global sustainability. Global Sustainability 2, e7, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1017/sus.2019.4

Tengö’s research sets out to understand how positive connections between people and nature matter for moving towards trajectories of ecosystem-based management for human well-being.

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