Introduction (Sarah Pilgrim and Jules Pretty)

Nature and Culture book coverExcerpt from: Nature and Culture

  • Publisher:¬†Earthscan
  • First published: 2010
  • ISBN: 978-1844078219

Our conceptualisations of the relationship between human societies and nature have historically shaped the way we see the world and our actions towards it. The distinctions between social and natural systems are not universal, and could be described as artificial because the two are closely interrelated. Even when considered as a dichotomy, it is clear that nature and culture converge on many levels that span values, beliefs and norms to practices, livelihoods, knowledge and languages. As a result, there exists a mutual feedback between cultural systems and the environment, with a shift in one often leading to a change in the other. The importance of this interaction is increasingly recognised, even in industrial societies and in urban areas where people are increasingly disconnected from their natural resource base. Human societies have, after all, engaged with nature through adaptive and co-evolutionary processes for thousands of generations. This connection with nature is reflected in all cultures today by our long history of developing regimes and rules in various attempts to protect or preserve natural places.

This continuum manifests today in the form of sacred sites, national parks and nature reserves. This chapter will define biological and cultural diversity and go on to discuss four key bridges linking them: beliefs and worldviews; livelihoods and management practices; knowledge bases and languages; and social institutions and norms. It has been suggested that the difference in worldviews and cosmologies of nature between cultures stems from a difference in need and purpose. This chapter will include case studies examining how different cultures interact with biodiversity and how, in turn, nature has shaped their worldviews, knowledge and practices, particularly timely with the environmental shifts expected to occur with climate change. Finally, it will define the aim of the book (to determine the common drivers that exist between biological and cultural diversity loss, and suggest policy responses that could target both in a novel integrative approach to conservation) and give a brief overview of each chapter, mapping the way for readers.