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Human Ecology

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 727–737 | Cite as

Reappraising the Concept of Biocultural Diversity: a Perspective from South Africa

  • Michelle Linda Cocks
  • Freerk Wiersum
Article

Abstract

Biocultural diversity has been conceptualised as the sum of the world’s differences regarding biological diversity at all levels and cultural diversity in all its manifestations, and their interactions. The concept is often framed in the context of conservation as a retention versus loss model by emphasizing the religious and spiritual values of the natural environment and the positive interactions between traditional indigenous people and conservation of natural ecosystems and indigenous species. On the basis of our research amongst the ‘non-traditional’ amaXhosa in South Africa, we argue that this interpretation is too narrow and that the concept needs to be reappraised in order to capture the dynamic, complex and relational nature of bio-cultural diversity relations. We conclude that the concept involves a complex of human values and practices related to the three main dimensions of biodiversity at landscapes, species and genetic levels. It is not only related to the conservation of wild species in culturally venerated natural ecosystems, but also to human creativity in creating hybrid nature-culture systems, including the incorporation of biodiversity in the human domain through the creation of human-modified landscape elements and agro-biodiversity. The biocultural values and practices are subject to various dynamics in relation to socioeconomic change. Some lose their importance as a result of modernization, but others endure even in urban conditions.

Keywords

Biodiversity conservation Cultural and spiritual values Cultural practices Cultural landscapes Agrobiodiversity Domestication 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the various comments and suggestions of Kris van Koppen, Susi Vetter and the anonymous reviewers on various drafts of this manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anthropology Department, Rhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

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