Biocultural Diversity and the Problem of the Superabundant Individual

Spencer Wood Schaffner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The emergent biocultural perspective challenges longstanding separations between nature and culture, encouraging fields that typically separate categories such as “humans,” “animals,” and “the environment” to consider them together. As Luisa Maffi has written, “Historically, the biological sciences have tended [to see] nature as exclusively moulded by biological evolutionary processes, and as existing in a ‘pristine’ state, unless and until humans encroach upon it for purposes of development and natural resource exploitation” (2010, 13).

This paper deals with the subset of work on biocultural diversity that quantifies cultural and biological elements in order to map and compare them across regions (Stepp et al. 2004). These maps reveal that cultural and linguistic diversity are covariant with biological diversity, ultimately helping to link arguments for linguistic, cultural, and environmental conservation. Biocultural diversity conservation projects, as they are called, make the goal of conservation explicit (Maffi and Woodley 2010).

In this paper, I suggest that two forms of misalignment in the emergent biocultural frame need to be addressed. My first suggestion is a call for more sophisticated taxonomic calibrations so that categories such as “ethnicity” and “species” do not become wrongly equated. The second suggestion calls attention to the dangers of overly aligning the conservation of human diversity with environmental management strategies. My purpose, then, is to suggest two ways in which the biocultural frame can integrate more sophisticated forms of alignment in order to fulfill its promise of maintaining biocultural diversity worldwide.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-46
Number of pages6
JournalRCC Perspectives
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2012


  • cultural diversity
  • environmental management
  • ethnolinguistics
  • environmental conservation
  • species diversity
  • culling
  • humans
  • biodiversity conservation
  • language


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