"Ancient and Backward or Long-Lived and Sustainable?" The Role of the Past in Debates Concerning Rural Livelihoods and Resource Conservation in Eastern Africa
Summary Attempts by external agencies to intervene in the operation of local resource exploitation strategies frequently include reference to historical arguments. These vary in accuracy and sophistication but are nevertheless rhetorically useful since discussions of economic or environmental sustainability or degradation are substantially strengthened by historical comparisons and precedents. Focussing on examples of indigenous intensive agriculture in eastern Africa, this paper agues that relevant evidence of this sort is often unavailable or far from unambiguous. It is therefore necessary to be critical of the ways in which perceptions of the past are invoked within these discourses, and to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of historical arguments in this regard.
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