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Open Access Publications from the University of California

World Cultures eJournal

UC Irvine


The World Cultures eJournal welcomes articles, data, and comparative research material dealing with any aspect of human behavior. Publication of any comparative database, regional or worldwide, will be considered. Submissions of programs and teaching materials are welcomed, as are communications on research, coding, sources, and other materials of interests to comparative researchers.

Special Issue: Primary Food Producers, Climate Change, and Cultural Models of Nature

Giovanni Bennardo, Editor.

Climate change is one of the most challenging issues we collectively face as it threatens the survival of our species. Extensive action must be implemented worldwide to minimize its potential and disastrous effects. Primary food producers’ daily and close contact with the environment makes them most directly affected by climate change. They will likely be asked to implement whatever new and/or radical remedial policies are proposed. Before carrying out any strategies directly impacting these populations, it would be prudent to understand their Cultural Models (from now on, CMs) of Nature.


Introduction: Primary Food Producers, Climate Change, and Cultural Models of Nature

Climate change is one of the most challenging issues we collectively face insofar as it threatens the survival of our species. Before long, extensive action will have to be implemented worldwide to minimize its potential and disastrous effects (such actions have already been initiated in the last two decades). The populations keenly aware of and most at risk from the effects of climate change are obviously those whose livelihood depends on daily contact with the changing physical environment. Primary food producers best represent these populations: farmers, fishermen, herders, and hunter-gatherers. Of course all humans are at risk and we will eventually be obliged to change our behavior to make our presence on the planet sustainable (see Moran, 2006, 2010). However, primary food producers’ daily and close contact with the environment makes them most directly affected by climate change. Besides, they will likely be asked to implement whatever new and/or radical remedial policies are proposed. Before carrying out any strategies directly impacting these populations, it would be prudent to understand their Cultural Models (from now on, CMs) of Nature.

Scholars, policy makers, and lay individuals who actively conduct research on and pursue solutions to climate change, a challenging species-survival issue, should benefit from the articles included in this Special Issue. The research results can foster sound policies not only based on de-contextualized scientific notions, but grounded in the local knowledge of the people directly responsible for adopting changes and possibly helping to create solutions.

The Moon Makes Yams Grow: Tongans (Polynesians) and Nature

Local populations perceive a number of changes in their environment due to climate change and explain them using the knowledge they have and the beliefs they hold about their world;  a Cultural Model (CM) of Nature. This CM is a major component of local knowledge and it plays a fundamental role in the perception and interpretation of any phenomena related to changes in the environment, including climate change. This work is about the preliminary results from the analyses conducted on data collected in the Kingdom of Tonga, Polynesia, in search of a Tongan CM of Nature. Tongan communities are deeply affected by changes in the climate such as weather unpredictability (including increasing number of typhoons and length and occurrence of dry and wet seasons), the raising level of the ocean waters, and the variability of fish supplies.

Lithuanian Farmers, Nature and the Ties that Bind

Three questions that should be answered in order to understand the reason for writing and the potential importance of this and other studies in this special issue of World Cultures are: What is a cultural model? Why is it important to understand farmer’s cultural models of nature? Are there cultural models of nature particular to farmers? This paper attempts answers with  emphasis  to view cultural model of nature in terms of a functional relationship between nature and farmer. I regard this perspective as an important one because cultural models must be used in real life and studied as such if they are supposed to be anything but butterfly collections for academic discussion. I hope to show that in using their cultural models, farmers draw upon other cultural models that exist at different levels of abstraction and as part of social identities and particular contexts.

Care for the Soil and Live Respectfully: A Cultural Model of Environmental Change in Andean Northern Ecuador

This paper proposes a hypothesis for a cultural model in Cotacachi, Ecuador that contains both 1) causality that occurs in nature, and 2) dimensionality of the essence of life. At the foundation of this research—of exploring humans, plants, animals, the supernatural, weather, and features of the landscape/environment—the question was: In the minds of our informants, of what does Nature’s core consist when considering the six domains we chose. In this case, preliminary results suggest that Nature can exist without cities as part of the core, and Nature can exist without the Christian God at its core. This splitting of the spirit world between Christian spirits and Mother Nature (and other spirits), as well as the splitting of humans into urbanites and rural dwellers undoubtedly creates some cognitive dissonance, and may partially be influenced by the common Christian and Western/urban dualisms. However, these differentiations between kinds of spirit worlds and kinds of human worlds also gives the opportunity for people to be able to switch from one life to another, or to identify their existence with the cultural model that is convenient or appropriate at a given time. This perhaps occurs in many or all societies, but may also be indicative of the social and ecological changes these informants are experiencing.

Categories and Cultural Models of Nature in Northern Punjab, Pakistan

The most widespread model of the natural world by Northern Punjabi farmers appears to leverage a powerful supernatural domain, which includes Allah, as a sole God, plus, various non-human spirits or jinn, who can be both benign and malicious, and a bewildering array of spiritually powerful saints, or pir-fakir, to whom individuals can pray and seek some form of intervention. These pir-fakir do not themselves perform miracles, typically, but they are beloved by Allah and are somehow in a position to sway His actions in some people’s favor. For Barlevi Sunni Muslims, this influence continues even after death, which means that the gravesite of powerful pir-fakir themselves become sites of religious worship and devotion.  The remainder of the 'natural' world, including non-human animals, plants, weather and so forth, appear to be part of the benevolent offering from God. There is no evidence to suggest widespread animist models of such things having independent relations to one another, as opposed to being the product of a single deity.

It Was like Velvet: Cultural Nature in Vinigo (Dolomites)

Analyzing the relevant issues concerning contemporary Alpine spaces, Vinigo, Italy could be considered one of such intermediate spaces. Vinigo is a mountain village with an elevation of 1,025 m situated in the Belluno province of the Veneto Region, Italy. It is one of the oldest settlements in the Ladin area in the Dolomites, which have been included in the Unesco World Heritage List in 2009. Local Cultural Models include ‘Causal Model of Nature 2’ although it is difficult to locate the place that animals have in this causal model. Not only today families no longer have active stables but our interlocutors, when asked about the activities connected to taking the animals to the higher fields in the past, focused more around moments of sociality with the elderly or with peers or around the heavy work required by collecting hay (to feed the animals once they were taken back in the village) than about narratives centered on the animals.

Like a Bonsai Tree: Models of Food Production and Nature in the Northern Kanto Plain of Japan

The initial phase of this project attempted to discover cultural models of nature underlying discourses of food production in central Japan. The results show a pattern calling for human intervention for successful farming. Furthermore, the need for human intervention appears to be underscored by a cultural model that raw nature must be ‘humanized’ on relational terms to be cognizant in the local context.

No Easy Talk about the Weather: Eliciting “Cultural Models of Nature” among Hai//om

The Nambian Hai//om case study helps to develop a wider notion of culture as “cultivation”: Cultivation in this sense clearly not only applies to the land (things, materials) or to challenges provided by external natural changes such as climate change. Rather, cultivation – in the sense of creating, maintaining and altering cultural categories and the cultural ways of dealing with causalities – seamlessly involves social relationships and man-made conditions. The Hai//om notion of “environment” prototypically includes elements of the man-made environment and seamlessly merges with elements that in elsewhere are considered to be part of the natural environment. For Hai//om there is no reason for separating two categorical domains from the start in that they are intervowen. Cultural models not only differ in their internal categorizations but also in the way in which any cultural model can be expected to be able to structure and shape the world.

Fishermen’s Concepts of Environmental and Climate Change in Batangas, Philippines

This work is based on six weeks of field research at two separate field sites in Batangas, Philippines from March to April, 2014. The primary goal was to investigate cultural model(s) of nature held by full-time and subsistence fishermen in Batangas, Philippines in a very important marine ecological zone, the Verde Island Passage. Questions driving the research included (a) how do fishermen understand human relationships to various elements in the natural environment including weather, climate, fish, animals, and the supernatural, (b) how and why are the climate and natural environment changing (if they are changing) and (c) how and why is food production (fishing) changing.

People in both communities noted many changes in the natural environment and the weather. Many of these changes have had a direct and devastating impact on their livelihood as fishers and cultivators, especially for full-time fishermen who operate larger fishing vessels. While informants point to human activities that have polluted their fish habitats, especially in Bauan, their understanding of the relationships between climate change, environmental conditions, human activities, and other elements are nuanced and evolving. The tendency to view climate and weather as beyond human agency in general was noted in both field sites. Some recognized that these changes may eventually reach a tipping point at which they are broken beyond repair and/or humans can no longer adjust. Metaphors used to understand and talk about climate and weather changes included (1) the climate/weather as human and (2) climate/weather change as a cycle.