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Harm and Alternatives: Cultures under Siege

Date Published: 2006

Full Reference:

Bannister, K. and K. Barrett, 2006. “Harm and Alternatives: Cultures under Siege.” In N. Myers and C. Raffensperger (eds.) Precautionary Tools for Reshaping Environmental Policy. Cambridge: MIT Press, 215-239. 


In this chapter, we explore ways the precautionary principle can and should encompass “social and cultural harms.” We use the discipline of ethnobiology as an instructive case to examine issues arising from the documentation and use of traditional knowledge of Indigenous cultures. In particular, we discuss uncertainties and potential harms posed by the appropriation of biocultural knowledge by mainstream society, and the inadequacies of existing legal and moral frameworks to address this problem. Our discussion is grounded in a Canadian context and centered on issues related to First Nations cultures, academic and industrial research, and regulatory efforts. This case study not only illustrates the need to include social and cultural harms under the umbrella of the precautionary principle, but also highlights useful and timely guidelines that are emerging in response to these issues in ethnobiological and related research.

Page last updated: 09/10/2008