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Biodiversity and Sacred Sites: Vernacular Conservation Practices in Northwest Yunnan, China

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Biodiversity conservation strategies around the world have been criticized when the goals of international organizations clash with the needs and traditions of local people. While the characterization of global conservation initiatives as a clash between scientifically-informed environmental policies and indigenous knowledge may retain discursive value in explaining the interaction of contending epistemologies, it is nonetheless an over-simplification of a dynamic, complicated and sometimes opaque and contradictory process. This paper sheds light on some of the conservation programs in southwest China as a case where these seemingly distinct knowledge regimes lie not in stark contrast, but in fact coexist within a localized discourse on biological and cultural diversity. In the example of the sacred site tradition of northwest Yunnan, disparate knowledge regimes have been negotiated and reinterpreted at the local, and even individual level to form dynamic and unique motivations for a conservation ethic. In this negotiation of indigenous and global epistemologies, classic distinctions separating global and local interests prove erroneous, or at the very least, unnecessary.

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Affiliations: 1: RSEA, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA, USA


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