Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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Why Do We Value Diversity?


04.06.2011 – 05.06.2011

Location: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich

Gary Martin (RCC), Diana Mincyte (RCC), Ursula Muenster (RCC)

Program – English (pdf, 700 KB)

Conference Report - English (pdf, 181 KB)

A Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Biocultural Diversity in Global Context

The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society will host a workshop to examine the concept of biocultural diversity and explore the social, cultural, political, economic, and ecological implications of its definitions and uses.

Biocultural diversity is currently one of the key concepts employed in a number of scholarly fields and advocacy practices including community development, conservation science, sustainability, food sovereignty, human rights, democratic citizenship, cultural survival, and transformative education, to name just a few.

Unlike earlier scholarly work in environmental sciences that tended to emphasize biological diversity, current advocates and scholars argue that the variation within ecological systems is inextricably linked to cultural and linguistic diversity. As a result of this shift in perspectives, the notion of biocultural diversity has become a fundamental concept that seeks to integrate "nature" and "culture" and is widely evoked in conservation, development, resource management, and other contexts. Nevertheless it is a highly contested discourse.

In this workshop, we are interested in reflecting on how, why, when, and where biocultural diversity has emerged as a key criterion in defining the health and well-being of socio-ecological systems, and considering future directions in its development and use.

We recognize that diversity is being portrayed and commoditized in more reductive ways as a genetic resource, as intellectual property, as cultural exoticism, and in niche marketing. The commoditization and mobilization of diversity in global economic relations raises new concerns about the relationship between practices of conserving biocultural diversity, and local and global pursuits of justice, equality, self-determination and sustainability. It is time to expand our examination of the concepts and values of diversity and re-assess the power relations and transnational networks involved.

We envision the workshop as a space for an open dialogue, enabling a cross-disciplinary exploration of biocultural diversity and its relationship to other fields. We are inviting fifteen to eighteen colleagues from different disciplines and institutions to gather for two days of formal and informal conversations in Munich, guided by selected readings, as well as 1,000 word position papers and responses written by the participants and circulated prior to the meeting. The contributions will be edited into a collection for publication. The participants will also be asked to reflect on how to develop and sustain an interdisciplinary dialogue and network on biocultural diversity in policy and practice.

The themes to be explored during the sessions include, but are not limited to:

  • What is the history of the concept of biocultural diversity? How did it become a common value?
  • What models of biocultural diversity exist and how do they travel?
  • What notions of culture and nature does the concept of biocultural diversity imply?
  • What political institutions are involved in promoting biocultural diversity?
  • What is the role of states, non-governmental organizations, and other collective actors?
  • What is the relationship of biocultural diversity to other manifestations and representations of diversity?
  • Who benefits from conservation of diversity and who loses?
  • Whose voices and knowledge are valued and represented under the sign of diversity?
  • What does conserving diversity do? How do different scales of diversity interrelate?
  • What is diversity good for? Who is it good for?