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Cultural diversity and conservation


  • J. Peter Brosius, is Professor at the Department of Anthropology, and Director, Center for Integrative Conservation Research at the University of Georgia. He is past President of the Anthropology and Environment Section, American Anthropological Association, and in 2005 he was awarded the Lourdes Arizpe Award in Anthropology and Environment. His research in environmental anthropology focuses on the cultural politics of conservation at both local and global scales. He is a member of the coordinating committee of the Advancing Conservation in a Social Context initiative, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Email:

  • Sarah Hitchner is a Post-doctoral Research Associate at the Center for Integrative Conservation Research at the University of Georgia. Her dissertation fieldwork, conducted in Sarawak, Malaysia from 2006–2009, focused on collaboratively documenting the landscape history of the Kelabit Highlands. Her dissertation, “Remaking the landscape: Kelabit engagements with conservation and development” analyses such topics as collaborative research methods, community mapping, participatory geographical information systems and technology transfer; community-based ecotourism; trans-boundary conservation initiatives and the political ecology of conservation practices. Email:


“The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity”. Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt

The biocultural perspective, a direct result of the crisis narrative regarding cultural and biological extinctions, overemphasises the homogenising effects of globalisation and fails to recognise processes that actively produce diversity. Cartographic visualisations depicting overlapping zones of biological and cultural diversity simplify complex realities and provide little guidance for policy and practice. Moving beyond this perspective requires problematisation of essentialist notions of culture, analysis of the politics surrounding the production of knowledge, and acknowledgement of the anthropogenic nature of landscapes often deemed “pristine”. The biocultural perspective is reviewed within the context of recent trends in conservation, from community-based conservation to the more recent “Strategic Turn” in conservation. To define a new perspective linking cultural diversity and conservation, the authors argue that we need a new politics of knowledge that: (a) moves beyond notions of TEK as the only valid form of local knowledge that can be integrated into conservation planning, (b) examines how local perspectives are translated between scales, and (c) creates new linkages between local knowledge and the policy domain. This new politics of knowledge can help make visible multiple actors, multiple forms of agency, and multiple regimes of credibility and can elucidate the ways in which knowledge about cultural diversity and biological diversity is produced, circulated, and incorporated into decision-making.