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Des Anciens aux Modernes ? Transmission des usages, des savoirs et des représentations du territoire en Amazonie (Brésil/Guyane) – USART

Submission summary

The 'traditional communities' of the Amazon region consist of social groups whose way of life is characterized by an intimate knowledge of the environment. Facing the problem of deforestation in tropical forests and its negative consequences (global change, CO2 emissions, loss of biodiversity, etc.), various governments have considered the consolidation of these 'traditional communities' on their lands -by the juridical attribution of land use or property rights - to be an attractive solution for the preservation of environment, biodiversity and cultural diversity. As a result, the territories allocated to traditional communities have grown in a spectacular way: more than 1 million of km² for indigenous peoples and about 240 000 km² for other 'extractive' groups in the Brazilian Amazon and at least 34 000 km² (the size of the Amazonian National Park) in French Guyana. These specific and collective land rights which are granted to traditional communities are based on the recognition that there is a special link existing between these communities and their environment. This link can be defined as a 'territorial knowledge', that is, a system of notions and representations of the environment. This 'territorial knowledge' usually contains specific socio cultural mechanisms to able a common management of natural resources in order to avoid overuse and individual appropriation. In general, this territorial knowledge is adopted by younger generations through different ways of 'traditional' transmission. However, most of the 'traditional communities' today are confronted with a rapid social change. Even in the most isolated regions, traditional communities have been changing their territorial and social habits in order to adapt themselves to the restrictions and/or the possibilities that recently opened up to them. This change manifests itself especially among the youngest generations, who show signs of different behaviour compared to the older ones. But this process should not only be interpreted as a loss of knowledge. It also implies a transformation of practices and representations, in the form of a constant re-interpretation of former knowledge which in a way proves to be resilient. This means the capacity of the studied territorial systems to integrate perturbations into their functioning while maintaining its structure. In this context, the main issue lies in defining the essential characteristics or functions of the territorial knowledge that are preserved in the process and to identify new spatial practices or representations that would indicate a rupture of the old model. The USART project's proposal consists in studying how territorial knowledge is transmitted and transformed between older and younger generations in some of the traditional communities. It will focus on the scientific verification of some of the project's underlying hypothesis, such as for example, the supposed change from an interiorised perception of the territory towards a more pragmatic perception, eventually induced by external actors in charge of the 'management' of the territories allotted. For its analysis, the project intends to carry out case studies in six different localities that have been chosen in order to represent a diversity of traditional communities in French and Brazilian Guyana. Territorial knowledge of individuals of the older and younger generations will be collected, mapped and compared, in collaboration with the local population. At the same time, social mechanisms at work in connection with the territory, especially the ones aiming at transmission of knowledge, will be studied. In doing so, the USART project will present an innovative strategy of associating methods of anthropology and geography into a pluridisciplinary study approach.

Project coordinator

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


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Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 0 Months

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