|Ecology in Development: A Rationale for Three-dimensional Policy (UNU, 1984, 59 pages)|
The experience of the development phase, since the 1950s, has contributed greatly to our understanding of the practical possibilities and limitations of our technology, and has brought science and engineering into closer cooperation. But our awareness of the social and cultural dimensions of human situations has lagged behind. Although the social sciences also have made progress in this period, they have had less success in raising the general level of awareness of social and cultural processes than the natural sciences have had in spreading awareness of the biological and physical world. This failure is partly due to the unprecedented rate of social and economic change, and of political disorganization and reorganization, that we have experienced in the aftermath of the Second World War and the arrival of so many new nations on the scene of international politics. The failure is also due partly the reputation (derived from our rationalist heritage) of the social sciences as "soft" sciences, and partly to the fact that they include a number of distinct approaches which, though not contradictory, are not mutually reinforcing.
The social sciences, unlike the natural sciences, break down into a number of significantly different approaches which range from the positivist and behaviourist to the mentalist and idealist. This differentiation has become more conscious in recent decades, and different approaches have displayed different degrees of innovativeness. The question of whether the social scientist is justified in striving to stand outside human society in order to study it with total objectivity has become a divisive issue. Those, probably the majority, who still maintain this positivist stance enjoy better communication with non-social scientists, to whom they can and do provide meaningful data. However, the degree to which these data prove predictive, and therefore usable in projects of application, has been disappointing. Many social scientists (probably an increasing number) accept their basic kinship with their subject matter, renounce the claim to total objectivity, and seek to study human life from the inside. In so doing they often forfeit at least some of their credibility as scientists. But there have been compensating gains (which may be found by the sympathetic reader) in their increasing success in linking the various parameters of our shared human nature and in reconstructing the processes by which ways of thinking are reinforced or transformed (See, for example, Douglas 1970, 1980; Geertz 1973; Sahlins 1976; and Turner 1974). Taken altogether, the human capability for self-awareness appears to have increased significantly in this century.
Can we capitalize on this increased self-awareness? Chapter two above points to the impact on human thought of the intensified manoeuvrings to further self-interest, to increase consciousness, and to find deeper meaning in life. The most practical aspect of this impact should be seen in an increased openness to change in conditions and ideas and an accompanying increase in flexibility in behaviour and thought (which is not to discount the contrasting phenomenon of intensified ethnic and other group conflicts that is an aspect of the manoeuvring).
The three-dimensional approach, which this essay attempts to illustrate, facilitates the complementary and optimal application of the different types of knowledge and understanding that are now available. The recognition of public policy as a yardstick and the political process as its justification ensures that application will approximate as closely as possible to the appropriate public interest though it will no doubt always be imperfect in both design and execution and that the potential moral problems of ecology and development will be subsumed in the larger moral issues of political life. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the rationalist phase of science has been the increase in precision it has afforded; it is now both possible and necessary to set that increasing precision in a larger epistemological context by allowing the autonomous investigation of its social and cultural dimensions.
In each of the cases adduced in chapter three, three processes can be discerned:
natural processes that are assessed by ecologists in terms of
social processes in which different communities and different individuals within them manoeuvre, vie with each other, and manipulate their options to gain advantage in relation to what they perceive as resources, in order to safeguard or improve their standard and style of living; and
cultural processes in which figments of experience are articulated in such a way that they transcend their immediate meaning and for a time serve as conceptual landmarks for human identity and endeavour, before they lose their appeal, and give way to others - symbols thrown up or regenerated stochastically by the interaction of continuing social and natural processes.
Natural processes work according to natural laws; social processes derive from the day-to-day interaction and arrangement between individuals pursuing their various aims in relation to each other; and cultural processes derive from the communication of ideas and perceptions and their transformation into symbols. Each type of process is generated independently, but constrained and instigated by the others. Natural processes (biological and physical) are modified by human activity. Social processes derive from demographic factors and the availability of resources, in turn dependent partly on cultural factors such as the perception of how to use materials (innovativeness) and the attribution of different values to different resources, as for instance in the determination to eat meat or to abstain from it. Cultural factors derive from the day-to-day experience of the social and the natural, which are the raw material from which ideas and symbols are generated and elaborated. "Ecology" became such a symbol in the 1960s and reached the peak of its appeal in the early 1970s.
In the Punjab the natural factors interact in a process of degradation. The negative role of the human factor is taken for granted. But if we look closer, we see instead a situation of disharmony, each element of which nevertheless has positive features. The population is organized into biradari groupings, within which and between which individuals compete in a social process for natural resources, political following, and prestige. Prestige is conceptualized as izzat, the meaning of which interacts in a cultural process in people's minds with other cultural factors such as Islamic and urban values. None of these three processes determines the others or can be entirely predicted on the basis of the other two, but each is conditioned and influenced by the others. The system is organized in such a way that the centripetality and cohesiveness of the social groupings is cancelled out by the way the population has been superimposed on the resources. But once the situation is seen in this new light the idea of harnessing the positive aspects of it is not inconceivable. Izzat is not negative per se; it works negatively in the system as presently constituted.
On the Iranian plateau the natural succession of rangeland vegetation is affected by the continual but fluctuating pressure of grazing. Grazing patterns vary according to the competition for resources in the larger economy and the strategies of local shepherds. Independently-generated changes in food preferences, the relationship of urban to rural values, the cultural perception of shepherding and of nature change the goals of the pastoralists and thus also the patterns of grazing pressure. Once again, none of these processes can be understood in terms only of one or both of the others. Moreover, the dynamics of each of the three processes are sufficiently distinct and autonomous for it not to be feasible for one scientist to do justice to the analysis and explanation of all of them in one situation. Just as they are autonomous, interacting processes, so they require autonomous but interacting advocates in their interpretation.
In the case of pastoralism, it is interesting to note that unlike irrigation - it has attracted numerous ecological studies in various disciplines among which range science and anthropology are perhaps the most conspicuous. In these studies there are two basic themes. In one, pastoralists are blamed for causing ecological damage by pursuing unscientific pastoral strategies. In the other they are shown sympathetically to be well integrated with their environment, while their cultural integrity is threatened by interventions from the larger political economy. Unfortunately, although this literature provides the basis for a new analysis of this development problem, each discipline begs questions that must be answered by the others but does little or nothing to facilitate the trans-disciplinary communication and dialogue that would generate such answers.
In postulating three processes we have cut the cake in a particular way, according to the conceptual lines of division we ourselves perceive. Natural, social, and cultural represent an existing taxonomy, which however is an arbitrary selection from among the possibilities for dividing up the various disciplinary approaches. Despite the predominance of dual, binary, opposing or dialectical conceptualizations in our intellectual heritage, the above threesome is not new. (The social may anyway be best understood as a bridge between natural and cultural.) Moreover, it has been and may be represented in a number of permutations. Foucault (1966) has explicated the biological, the social, and the cultural in history as three models of life, labour, and language, present in every epoch, though differently conceived. For him, their mode of articulation constitutes the discourse of the epoch. Religion holds them together. Reason separates them. Each historically-identifiable change in the mode. of their articulation shows a trend to increased awareness and consciousness. In an applied permutation, the same threesome appears as degradation, productivity, and welfare; in research for development, as disciplinary, administrative, and political. Finally, one can fantasize (after Uberoi) the modern equivalent of the Renaissance man as the embodiment of the three dimensions consisting in (1) the detachment of the scientist, whether physicist, biologist or orientalist; (2) the involvement of the ethnograpber, participating, absorbing, and interpreting; and (3) the commitment of the planner, purposive and deliberate.
In each of these dimensions, ecology has a different meaning. In the first it may be degradation. A mistake arising from the epistemology of the time has been to see this degradation as more real than either the associated problem (derived from socio-centric criteria) of the ratio between demand and availability of resources, which is political and economic, or the appeal of the idea of ecology, which is symbolic. In each dimension the meaning of ecology appears to be absolute, but is in fact relative to a different set of criteria.
In our understanding of each of these dimensions there has been some progress which can be construed as parallel or even convergent. It has been conditioned by the shared experience of accelerating change. In the natural dimension, equilibrium has always been an implicit assumption, and this inhibited the understanding of human impact, which could only be dealt with as exogenous. The fact that the assumption can no longer be maintained has caused a serious problem, because the only available mode of ecological explanation is functional. The result is an intensified investigation of the character and cause of stability in ecological systems (Cf. Holling 1969, 1973).
In the social and cultural dimensions, the experience of change has had similar effects, but with the additional complication that it has sensitized us to the moral implications of knowledge and intellectual endeavour. The need to comprehend processes of change in systematic explanations has generated renewed interest in reconstructing the underlying unifying current of human nature (Cf. Douglas 1980, Levi-Strauss 1963, Chagnon and Irons 1979) and in following the rise and fall of political symbols (See Cohen 1974). On the one hand it is possible to find in our heritage examples of widely-differing conceptions of the relationship between society and nature, which see people in different places and at different times as despots, stewards, or partners of nature (Passmore 1974, 3-30); on the other hand. recent change in environmental perceptions can be explained as the changing projections of our own changing social forms (Douglas 1980).
Progress in the social dimension has mostly developed from the study of the relationship between the social and the cultural. with most investigators exploring the one in terms of the other. (Only Cohen (1974) has argued systematically that they be treated as autonomous and dialectically related.) But the present state of research is such that much could be learned from a dialogue between the (applied) management sciences and the (academic) social sciences in relation to active and passive or conscious (administrative) and unconscious (native) forms of organization, and by more use of analogy from the biological sciences to generate hypotheses, for example on the relationship between the individual and the group or community (from succession theory). or occupational groupings (from niche theory).
In the analysis and interpretation of each of these processes it is important to emphasize the centrality of human activity as tangible day-to-day Lebenswelt experience (that is, what the ethnographer in fact observes, whatever he pretends to study) which mediates between natural and cultural processes. Whether conceived in terms of the problem of control over resources or as praxis, it is always the most immediate problem for public policy. The social is crucial, if only in the sense that nature and culture are related only through praxis, in whatever philosophical framework that is conceived.
It is appropriate to conclude this section by noting that the articulation of our three dimensions tends to be particularly critical in the case of dry lands, because the universe of each process differs most where resources are sparsest and least reliable. For this reason, dry lands have generally been under external political domination, with the consequence that those in ultimate control of them have accorded them low priority and there has been a tendency for them to be opportunistically over-exploited. Interest in the conservation of dryland resources is a relatively recent phenomenon. Ecologically successful dryland communities have tended to be politically independent; unsuccessful ones have been dependent on political centres in less arid areas. The rise of nation states has, in some regions, led to are-drawing of boundaries by which arid areas have either lost or reduced their political independence. Where this has happened, for example in the Sahara and the Sahel, marginalisation has occurred: the arid areas have become economically peripheral and politically dependent on centres in less arid areas, and local strategies of resource use have suffered as a result of the economic influence of external interests. Even where boundaries have not changed significantly, such as in Iran and Afghanistan, the modernisation of communications has changed the relationship between the more arid, sparsely populated areas and the major political centres in such a way that these areas have suffered losses, not only in de facto autonomy, but in the self-confidence and morale on which long-term strategies of resource use must be based. A significant exception to this process in the modern period is seen in the political evolution of the United States, where populations in arid states such as Utah have achieved weighted political representation: the sparseness of their population, and consequent low representation in the House of Representatives, is balanced by equal representation in the US Senate, so that they are better able to resist domination from areas richer in resources and population.
The question of local control of resources in the arid areas of the United States is, of course, somewhat more complex than this because of the federal control of large areas of wilderness. Nevertheless, there does appear to be more local control in the US than is common in arid lands without large rivers. The US conditions may be historically unique, but the lesson they point out is hopeful: if local control is a good ecological recipe, we may be optimistic about the future because our political ideal and the political mood of the age are also in favour of local autonomy (Cf. Smith 1981).
It is now generally agreed that any measure which deals with the social or cultural aspects of a general problem but ignores ecological factors is likely to run into trouble. But still little attention is given to the possibility that the opposite might be equally true. We have argued here that in order to achieve the maximum human wellbeing and ecological viability, not only development but also resource management should be pursued three-dimensionally. To this end. planning should have three coordinated focuses: on ecology and economy; on labour and community; and on participation and meaning. There is a strong temptation to shortchange one or even two of these emphases, because of the perceived immediacy of one (commonly the first), without careful weighing of the other (commonly the social and cultural) grounds for perceiving that immediacy. Whenever a conflict is perceived between the interests of present and future generations in relation to the use of renewable natural resources, there is a tendency always to recommend enforcement now, in order to safeguard resources for the future. But enforcement can be counterproductive in various ways. The maintenance of freedom of thought and action (that is, non-interference) and the encouragement and conservation of local thinking and initiative can be as important for future generations as is the conservation of resources. Above all it behooves the social scientist to identify and promote social traditions which will permit and encourage both, and to pursue them in a dialogue with natural scientists.
How can this be effected? In the end what gets done is a function of the political process. We cannot control that process. We contribute to it automatically, but we could contribute more consciously, more systematically. The contribution of scientific research to the political process is of two types: it derives most obviously from the information we feed into the process, and less obviously - though perhaps more significantly - from the way we formulate the research designs that produce that information. We do not control the results of our research and we cannot predict them. But we do condition them by our research designs, and we could gain much by some careful rethinking of these designs. Revamping the research design paradigm is probably the surest way to achieve tangible results in the relatively short term at the level of scientific contribution to the political process and to policy.
If the results of research are to be fed effectively into the political process, the design of the research must not be politically one-sided. Ecological, social and cultural research must be integrated theoretically in design and in execution, in order to be more acceptable at the stage of application. How could such integration be achieved? if we accept a socio-centric explanation of differences in approach. we must accept all different approaches as potentially valid. We must then regard the differences as complementary, rather than competing, or "right" and "wrong."
Integration is best ensured through some degree of institutionalization, through formal organization. It is true that formal organizations tend to accentuate some of the less desirable features of human nature-divisiveness, defensiveness, and competitiveness. But we must react to this knowledge not by suppressing it and continuing to pursue our competitive interests in the name of science, but by designing a formal structure that will give equal voice not only to different disciplinary approaches to a particular problem, but also to non-scientific approaches among the various people whose interests are involved. We already know that formal organizations such as bureaucracies and businesses are formed for the purposes of transcending various aspects of human nature, since they are designed to achieve what the unaided individual cannot achieve.
The task of the scientist, after all, is to increase information and understanding. Policy decisions belong to the political process, which should be informed by science. If scientific research is organized as democratically as we firmly believe the political process should be organized, we would be able finally to see ecological processes in three dimensions. Democracy in science has to be organized in the same way as in politics. The constituencies must be defined. In this case the constituencies would be scientific disciplines and social groups; because for the former their subject matter and for the latter their social interests are at issue. Then the differences in their interpretations of the problem would be argued out in a forum established for the purpose. The resolution - the strategy for action would then integrate all the points of view on an equal footing. As in any political process there would be winners and losers. Democracy seldom provides an ideal government. But it is the surest way we know of representing all the scientific and social interests relevant to a particular issue (Cf. Spooner 1982a: p. 409).