Using Ethnographic Methods to Enhance Collaborative Research Toward Sustainability in Mountain Environments

Authors: Catherine Tucker*, University of Florida
Topics: Mountain Environments, Sustainability Science, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: mountain social-ecological systems, ethnographic methods, sustainability, traditional knowledge, climate change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Stones Throw 1 - Granite, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Much of our current research to examine and mitigate social-environmental and climate change challenges in mountain environments relies on rapid appraisal methods, technical innovations and remote sensing. While these methods provide invaluable data, this paper argues that ethnographic methods can add key insights to improve understanding and scientific rigor. Participant observation and long-term engagement with residents of a research site can reveal critical information that may otherwise be missed. For example, many autochthonous and traditional populations, such as those in remote mountain locations, have place-based knowledge that might have adaptive utility for future sustainability (Gonzalez 2001, Berkes 2008). Such traditional knowledge is declining as mountain peoples adopt current technology or hear that their practices are backwards. If people feel their knowledge is disparaged, they are unlikely to share it during rapid appraisal encounters. Even where traditional knowledge is valued, examining its implications for future sustainability requires ongoing collaborations among local actors and scientists. In this context, the discussion explores how and why ethnographic methods can enhance a range of research endeavors. It will draw on examples of mountain research to explore contributions of ethnographic methods to a range of endeavors, such as (1) recuperation and assessment of traditional knowledge, (2) transdisciplinary and science-to-action projects, (3) modeling change processes, (4) developing climate smart agriculture, (5) and improving management of ecosystem services and natural resources. In the process, ethnographic approaches can develop trust and ongoing relationships that are integral to open exchange of knowledge and potential discoveries of innovative pathways toward sustainability.

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