Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Matthias Ruth
Chapter 4: Understanding culture and environment dynamics using cultural consensus analysis
A focus on human dimensions is a critical component of contemporary research on a wide range of environmental problems, including climate change, resource degradation, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration, pollution reduction and the unsustainable harvest of terrestrial and marine resources (cf. Janssen and Ostrom 2006). Included in this growing body of research on human dimensions and environmental change are approaches to study the influence of cultural knowledge, values and behavior (cf. Medin et al. 2006). Implicitly or explicitly, culture is widely recognized by researchers as a central element of human adaptation, valuation and management of the environment. ‘Culture,’ however, can mean many things to environmental researchers, policy makers, advocates, and the public. Often culture is defined generally as the shared beliefs, values, behaviors, materials and technologies that identify a group (for example, Amish culture). This general definition is not without value, but it lacks theoretical specification that leads to systematic understanding of how environmental knowledge and behavior becomes shared (or not), and how such knowledge changes with different forms/degrees of environmental degradation, conservation, pollution and management (Ross 2004). Within the subfield of environmental anthropology, researchers employing a cognitive approach use theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of culture that lead to systematic research on the generation, communication and implementation of shared group- and individual-level environmental knowledge, values and behaviors (Atran et al. 2005; Ross 2004).
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