Desire, cows and resilience : Investigating motivations to steward a bio-cultural refuge in Northern Sweden

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Stockholm Resilience Centre

Abstract: In Sweden, centuries of agricultural modernization have marginalized locally adapted food cultures and food production systems. Yet in some places these practices and cultures survive, even in areas that lack conducive circumstances for agricultural production. These places are called bio-cultural refugia. Dominant agricultural practices are based on the production of only a few species which reduce biodiversity and the resilience of landscapes. Bio-cultural refugia provide important alternatives and pathways toward sustainable agricultural development, but are currently conceived of as living museums and are not well-connected to markets. This study investigates a re-emerging bio-cultural refuge in Northern Sweden, which revolves around an endangered native cattle breed, traditional recipes and an open landscape. It is unclear how bio-cultural refugia emerge or can persist. Recent literature on human adaptive capacity in social-ecological systems explains how sustainability outcomes depend on the dynamic interrelations of opportunities, abilities and desires. In this thesis I empirically investigate the role of desires to stewardship practices through a discourse analysis with roots in psychoanalytic theory. The aim of the thesis is to add to the understanding of how and why a bio-cultural refuge can emerge and persist in the Global North. I find that desires expressed by stewards in the bio-cultural refuge is mostly directed to people, and not to achieve ecological sustainability for its own sake. The most commonly articulated motivation is to care for people in the village by developing the local economy, contradicting a general conception of stewardship originating in pro-environmental values. Nevertheless, the informants do steward a bio-cultural refuge. This is explained by the coincidental opportunity to buy the native cattle and existing subsidies to keep them, and by abilities such as farming- and cooperation skills, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. Stewardship of bio-cultural refugia is crucial for biosphere resilience. In order to maintain and develop existing bio-cultural refugia we must start to re-imagine what they can mean not only for ecologies but also for society and people, as they hold important knowledge on energy efficient food production. By creating opportunities that resonate with people’s needs and desires in particular places it may be possible to attract new stewards for bio-cultural refugia, and to (re)produce the ecological knowledge that is necessary for a sustainable and resilient future

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