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Social Taboos: "Invisible" Systems of Local Resource Management and Biological Conservation

Johan Colding and Carl Folke
Ecological Applications
Vol. 11, No. 2 (Apr., 2001), pp. 584-600
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/3060911
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3060911
Page Count: 17
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Social Taboos: "Invisible" Systems of Local Resource Management and Biological Conservation
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Abstract

Social taboos exist in most cultures, both Western and non-Western. They are good examples of informal institutions, where norms, rather than governmental juridical laws and rules, determine human behavior. In many traditional societies throughout the world, taboos frequently guide human conduct toward the natural environment. Based on a survey of recent literature, we synthesize information on such taboos. We refer to them as "resource and habitat taboos" (RHTs). Examples are grouped in six different categories depending on their potential nature conservation and management functions. We compare RHTs with contemporary measures of conservation and identify and discuss some key benefits that may render them useful in partnership designs for conservation and management. We conclude that many RHTs have functions similar to those of formal institutions for nature conservation in contemporary society but have not been sufficiently recognized in this capacity. We suggest that designs for conservation of biological diversity and its sustainable use in developing countries focus more on informal institutions, like social taboos, because they may offer several advantages compared to conventional measures. These include non-costly, voluntary compliance features implicit in the taboo system.

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