Putting Culture back into Cultural Ecosystem Services (CES): Valuation Challenges in the Global South

Authors: Pamela McElwee*, Rutgers
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environment, Development
Keywords: ecosystem services, development countries, culture
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Cultural ecosystem services (CES) have been defined as the “intangible and non-material benefits that people enjoy from ecosystems,” and the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment specified several potential categories of CES, including cultural diversity; spiritual and religious values; knowledge systems; educational values; inspiration; aesthetic values; social relations; sense of place; and recreation and ecotourism (MEA 2005). Since the MEA, there has been a large increase in attention to how CES are defined, identified, valued, and conserved in policy and projects. Yet there remain major gaps in our understanding of CES, which this paper will review based on literature and case studies from Southeast Asia. First, most work on CES has not focused on the Global South, and on-the-ground studies of how services are used in culturally specific ways in developing countries remain relatively rare. Second, methodologies that are used to evaluate or value CES in a developed country context (like travel cost methods or social media postings) may not be appropriate elsewhere. Finally, many understandings of ‘culture’ in CES literature refer more to recreational or touristic values, rather than a deep engagement with what the concept of culture means. Issues surrounding cultural practices, such as religion and spirituality, taboos, epistemologies & ontologies, and other fields are rarely invoked in the cultural ES literature, despite calls for the past few years to do so. This paper will review these challenges in the context of several research projects in Vietnam and Burma.

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