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Here's a state of things
Local Ecologies
Grand Histories
Modern Predicaments
What next?

Local Ecologies
Grand Histories
Modern Predicaments
What Next?

Essay Assignments for Unit 2, Local Ecologies

Due electronically to the instructor at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 18

Write on one of the following topics:

A) There is a general and rather unexamined idea that minority livelihoods from the upland mixed zone are more sustainable than Han livelihoods in the intensive zone, because they have ideologies that see people and nature close to each other, rather than seeing people and nature as separate. Is this true? Or was their livelihood sustained longer because they had smaller populations and thus used resources less intensively? Or perhaps because they were not subject to pressures of state extraction such as most Han villagers were?

B) Compare Mongols' ideas about pastoral landscapes, described in Dee Williams's work representing the pastoral zone, with Akha and Nuosu ideas about upland landscapes, described in Sturgeon's and Harrell's work. Is there some sort of similarity between them, in contrast to Han landscape ideas? If so, what is similar between the land ideas of the "non-Hans," and given that their landscapes are so dissimilar to each other, why are the ideas similar? Does it have to do with their being non-state peoples?

C) There is a general principle in studies of intensification and resilience that the more intensive an agricultural system, the more it sacrifices several buffers against disturbances: biodiversity (including patch and species, and perhaps even genetic diversity), institutional flexibility, surplus, even cultural values of planning for the future. In addition, this argument goes, such intensive systems were over-dependent on infrastructural and institutional buffers to overcome the loss of ecological buffers. But Han Chinese agricultural systems were some of the most intensive anywhere on earth, and still, they were sustained for thousands of years. How do you resolve this apparent contradiction?

D) To what extent do the communities in all three agricultural zones of East Asia, as described in your readings for this section, experience the phenomenon described as "lock-in" described in the preface to the Policy Forum on resilience and sustainability, or the "rigidity of structure" that Simon Levin describes on page 228 of his article in that forum? How do lock-in and rigidity manifest themselves differently in the socio-ecology of the three zones?

Essays should be between 1500 and 2000 words in length, not counting bibliographic references. You may use any style (footnotes, endnotes, or embedded author and date) for references, as long as it is clear where you have gotten your information. Quotations should always be referenced, as should any information that is taken explicitly from a given source.