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The Nature-Culture Trap:
A Critique of Late 20th Century Global Paradigms of Environmental Change
in Africa and Beyond


Emmanuel Kreike

Global Environment 1 (2008): 114–145

During the late 20th century, the modernization, the declinist, and the inclinist paradigms dominated how environmental change was conceptualized, analyzed, and described. Each paradigm was treated as being exclusive, global and universal in scope. Although the paradigms differed in how they evaluated the direction and outcome of environmental change, a characteristic they had in common was that they framed change in a unilinear Nature-to-Culture fashion and homogenized the agency, process, and outcome of environmental change. A more open-ended approach that is not based on a priori environmental unilinear trends (e.g., deforestation or reforestation) yields a more nuanced understanding of environmental change. Such an approach requires disaggregating the objects and subjects of environmental changes as well as differentiating the process itself, allowing for the identification of multiple (sub-)processes and multiple trajectories of change.
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