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Ethnoecology is the scientific study of how different groups of people living in different locations understand the ecosystems around them, and their relationships with surrounding environments.
It seeks valid, reliable understanding of how we as humans have interacted with the environment and how these intricate relationships have been sustained over time.
The "ethno" (see ethnology) prefix in ethnoecology indicates a localized study of a people, and in conjunction with ecology, signifies people's understanding and experience of environments around them. Ecology is the study of the interactions between living organisms and their environment; enthnoecology applies a human focused approach to this subject. The development of the field lies in applying indigenous knowledge of botany and placing it in a global context.
Ethnoecology began with some of the early works of Dr.
In his 1954 dissertation "The Relation of the Hanunoo Culture to the Plant World", Harold Conklin coined the term ethnoecology when he described his approach as "ethnoecological". After earning his PhD, he began teaching at Columbia University while continuing his research among the Hanunoo.
In 1955, Conklin published one of his first ethnoecological studies. His "Hanunoo Color Categories" study helped scholars understand the relationship between classification systems and conceptualization of the world within cultures. In this experiment, Conklin discovered that people in various cultures recognize colors differently due to their unique classification system. Within his results he found that the Hanunoo uses two levels of colors. The first level consists of four basic terms of colors:; darkness, lightness, redness, and greenness. While, the second level was more abstract and consisted of hundreds of color classifications such as: texture, shininess, and moisture of objects also were used to classify objects.
Other anthropologists had a hard time understanding this color classification system because they often applied their own idea of color criteria to those of the Hanunoo. Conklin's studies were not only the breakthrough of ethnoecology, but they also helped develop the idea that other cultures conceptualize the world in their own terms, which helped to reduce ethnocentric views of those in western cultures. Other scholars such as Berlin, Breedlove, and Raven endeavored to learn more about other systems of environment classifications and to compare them to Western scientific taxonomies.
Ethnoscience emphasizes the importance of how societies make sense of their own reality. In order to understand how cultures perceive the world around them, like the classification and organization of the environment, ethnoecology borrows methods from linguistics and cultural anthropology. Ethnoecology is a major part of an anthropologist’s toolkit; it helps researchers understand how the society conceptualizes their surrounding environment i and that it can determine what the society considers "worth attending to" in their ecological system. This information can ultimately be useful for other approaches used in environmental anthropology.
Ethnoecology is a field of
Traditional ecological knowledge
The study of TEK frequently includes critiques of the theoretical division between cultural systems and ecosystems, interpreting humans as an integral part of the whole.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge has traditionally focused on what Western science can learn from these communities and how closely their cultural knowledge mirrors scientific structures. It has been argued that this previous understanding of ecological adaptation could have major influences on our ecological actions in the future.
Local knowledge in western society
Within the discipline of Ethnoecology, there is a clear emphasis on those societies that are deemed "
In this way, ethnoecologies may exist without the bounded notion of the other. For example, social scientists have attempted to understand the markers inner-city youth use to identify a threat to their livelihood, including the wearing of gang colors, tattoos, or protrusions through clothes that may represent or be a weapon. Likewise, concepts are spread about the health and needs of the community as they are related to the area around them. Instilled with recognizing dangers at an early age, and who these threats come from, a set of beliefs are held by the members of the society on how to live in their country, city, or neighborhood. This broadening of the discipline (bordering on human ecology) is important because it identifies the environment as not just the plants and animals, but also the humans and technologies a group of people have access to.
Similarly, social scientists have begun to use ethnoecological surveys in ethnographic studies in attempts to understand and address topics relevant in Western society as well as prevalent around the world. This includes researching the ways in which people view their choices and abilities in manipulating the world around them, especially in their ability to subsist.
Traditional societies often treat medical issues through the utilization of their local environment. For example, in Chinese herbal medicine people consider how to utilize native plants for healing.
Almost 80% of the world’s population utilizes ethnobotanical methods as a main source of treatment for illnesses, according to WHO. In the face of modern climate change, many traditional medicinal practices have been promoted for their environmental sustainability, such as Ayurveda from India.
According to Dove and Carpenter, "environmental anthropology sits astride the dichotomy between nature and culture, a conceptual separation between categories of nature, like wilderness and parks, and those of culture, like farms and cities.". It is inherent in this ideology that humans are a polluting factor violating a previously pristine locale.
This is especially relevant due to the role in which scientists have long understood how humans have worked for and against their environmental surroundings as a whole. In this way, the idea of a corresponding, but not adversarial, relationship between society and culture was once in itself baffling and defiant to the generally accepted modes of understanding in the earlier half of the twentieth century. As time went on, the understood dichotomy of nature and culture continued to be challenged by ethnographers such as Darrell A. Posey, John Eddins, Peter Macbeth and Debbie Myers. Also present in the recognition of indigenous knowledge in the intersection of Western science is the way in which it is incorporated, if at all. Dove and Carpenter contend that some anthropologists have sought to reconcile the two through a "translation," bringing the ethnological understandings and framing them in a modern dialogue.
In opposition to this paradigm is an attribution to the linguistic and ideological distinctiveness found in the nomenclature and epistemologies. This alone has created a subfield, mostly in recognition of the philosophies in ethnotaxonomy. To define ethnotaxonomy as new or different though, is inaccurate. It is simply placing a different understanding of a long-held tradition in ethnology, discovering the terms in which different peoples use to describe their world and worldviews. It is worth noting that those who seek to use and understand this knowledge have actively worked to both enfranchise and disenfranchise the societies in which the information was held. Haenn has noted that in several instances of working with conservationists and developers, there was a concerted effort to change the ideas of environment and ecology held by the native groups to the land, while plundering any and all texts and information on the resources found there, therefore enabling a resettlement of the land and redistribution of the knowledge, favoring the outsiders.
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