An ecology of 'harm' and 'healing': Agricultural intensification and landscape transformation in the Western Himalayas

Greenberg, Brian L.

     Many centuries of intensified cultivation in the Kangra valley of India's Western Himalayas have transformed the region's landscape and ecology. Using fieldwork and documentary evidence, this thesis illustrates how traditional agriculture was capable of bringing about such far-reaching alterations. The framework for the is explanation of ecological change combines local ideas about the 'harm' and 'healing' inherent in mountain cultivation, with an historical account of the lengthy process of agricultural intensification. Archaeological and botanical data help to illustrate the scope of ecological changes driven by non-commercial subsistence agriculture.
     While the thesis assembles evidence on behalf of this interpretation, it also tries to position its assessment in terms of some important alternative histories. Primary among these are local points of view, which tend to underplay the scope and magnitude of historical ecological changes. The thesis also contrasts its understanding of the pre-colonial roots of ecological change with that of the dominant post-colonial environmental discourse on South Asia. The latter usually asserts that pre-colonial subsistence systems were inherently 'balanced', and that ecological changes are the result of colonial administration or the commercialization of agriculture. The present thesis also locates the interpretive preferences of these alternatives in terms of their political and ideological commitments.
     A basic understanding in this thesis is that there is accumulating evidence of global environmental deterioration. This evidence has forced a fundamental overhaul of many received notions about the inherent fertility, stability, and resiliency of nature. Underpinning the assessment of culture and agriculture offered in this thesis is the idea that a reconsideration of the moral and material precedence accorded to people vis a vis nature is long overdue. The ecological study of culture and agriculture undertaken in the present thesis evaluates human ecological relationships without an exclusive focus on human welfare. With these considerations in mind, I have tried to adopt a socio-ecological perspective which uses a broader definition of human 'social' relationships: one which incorporates our relationships with the non-human world.

Fogelson, Raymond