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Paper short abstract:
The whole debate on landscape conservation is often trapped in western notions and categories. This argument is here examined by taking into account Batak ecocosmologies and perceptions of landscape and how these are being negotiated in various contexts.
Paper long abstract:
The satellite image of the Earth photographed from space has brought in a new awareness of the ‘finiteness’ and vulnerability of the planet (Robertson 1992, Sachs 1993, Milton 1996), while enhancing the perception that the World can be ‘scanned’, examined and understood from ‘afar’ and ‘above’ (c.f. Ingold 1993). Implicit in the conservationists' doctrine is a moral commitment to rescue the natural world from the ecological catastrophe by establishing a better 'sustainable society'. Yet it is important to recognise that the proponents of this global change is mainly ‘the West’. By appealing to universal human values, environmental NGOs promote a kind of relativism, which generally neglects the epistemology of those peoples they often claim to represent and stand for. As a result, the whole debate on landscape conservation is often trapped in western notions and categories. Similarly, the argument on whether indigenous people are purposely or unintentionally conservationists is also deceiving, since it tends to establish a fixed criteria or definition of who is the ‘authentic conservationist’ (Gray 1991). These arguments are here being examined by taking into account Batak ecocosmologies and the way in which different perceptions of landscape are being negotiated through the interaction between Batak, conservationists and government agencies. An assessment of Batak ethnography reveals that metaphysical presuppositions underlying people’s understanding of ecological imbalance and species decline are based on culturally specific notions of ‘humanity’ and ‘animality’. If in western cosmologies human society is modelled after an idealised notion of ‘nature’, in Batak cosmology the environment is modelled after an idea of society where humans and the majority of non-human beings, are all endowed with the capacity to act as autonomous subjects. Clearly, the inclusion of these perceptions into the global environmental discourse might be difficult or, at least, problematic.
The landscape turn in conservation: non-western perspectives and anthropological insights