5713 - Understanding/Destruction: The cognitive roots of land use change in the Amazon

Understanding the relationship between state and international decision making, local social transformation, and land conversion in Amazonia is imperative to projects promoting tropical forest conservation, sustainable use, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. One possible site for studying these disparate forces is at their nexus, in the local patterns of ideas and values of the smallholders who actually wield the chainsaws and plant the cash crops. However, the various roles these sometimes contradictory “global” ideas have in affecting local patterns of understanding the forest have not been adequately accounted for, but may have significant impacts on individual land use decision making. The Ecuadorian Amazon lies at the heart of such
competing global concerns, ranging from “modernization,” “development,” and “market integration” on the one hand, to concerns over the negative effects of “resource extraction,” “deforestation” and “climate change,” on the other. Using both participant-observation and the formal elicitation of environmental knowledge and value orientations to create distributional profiles of local environmental "epistemological frameworks," this paper seeks to understand how land use strategies are bound up with competing and overlapping complexes of environmental knowledge, beliefs, and values for individual stakeholders. The research site is Sacha Loma*, Napo Province, Ecuador, an isolated but rapidly modernizing indigenous and colonist community on the banks of the Napo River. The goal of this work is to enrich current understandings of forest land use in terms of cultural knowledge and its relationship to power and modernity by understanding individual human cognition as a mediating factor in these relationships. Understanding these dynamics is imperative for scientists, environmental advocates, and policy makers currently attempting to shape the future of Amazonian land use.  


Keywords: Amazon, Land use, conceptual change

Author: Shenton, Jeffrey (Vanderbilt University, Austria / Österreich)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575