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Title: The role of Tibetan Buddhism in environmental conservation under changing socio-economic conditions in China
Author: Woodhouse, Emily
ISNI:       0000 0004 2737 2322
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2013
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The failure of and conflict related to environmental conservation projects can be partly attributed to the lack of attention paid to the social and cultural systems of the people involved. Combining social and ecological methods, and a case study in Daocheng (Tibetan: Dabpa) County, Sichuan Province, this thesis explores how Tibetan Buddhism shapes human relations with the natural environment in the context of social and economic changes under the economically liberalised Chinese state. Using interviews and participant observation, I find Tibetans to be orientating themselves towards the environment by means of local cosmology incorporating gods and spirits in the landscape, ideas of karma, and Buddhist moral precepts. I question the concept of the sacred by highlighting differential ritual attention paid towards local gods, and their uncertain boundaries. Using the concept of authority, I explore how religion, the state, and economic markets are shaping relationships with the environment. Ritual authority lent weight to understandings of local gods, and politicised environmentalist discourse transported through global connections was beginning to give new meaning to the environment. State environmental regulations were reinforced by alignment with religious norms and monastic involvement in forest protection, although there were contested ideas regarding state tree planting policies. The booming trade in caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) has exacerbated resource conflict, and changed consumption patterns and norms on sacred land. Using quantitative recall data from households, I explore access to provisioning ecosystem services contrasting subsistence and market based products. Access was structured according to wealth indicating community heterogeneity, although there was high dependence on caterpillar fungus for livelihoods across all households. Direct use surveys of firewood collection show that representations of local gods did not consistently translate into spatially defined areas of non-extraction, and instead illustrate the dynamic nature of sacred sites interacting with social and political systems through history. I set the case study in its wider geographical and policy context to show that sacred sites exist across Daocheng, but have different histories and ecological constitutions. The wider perspective demonstrates the issue of scale in environmental studies, and the need for conservation interventions that span levels of governance. I reflect on the implications of the research on conservation, highlighting the value of anthropological research for nuanced, collaborative and locally appropriate practice, and I lastly explore opportunities for future work in Daocheng.
Supervisor: Milner-Gulland, E. J. ; McGowan, Philip ; Mills, Martin Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral