Sustainability scientist to give anthropologist view of globalization at the local scale

Feb 19, 2012

The modernization of isolated villages brings about a change in human information flow patterns that not only destroys the social fabric of the community, but also the economy and the landscape, according to Sander van der Leeuw, a Senior Sustainability Scientist at Arizona State University's Global Institute of Sustainability.

Van der Leeuw, an archaeologist and specializing in the long-term impacts of human activity on the landscape, studied the consequences of the construction of roads after World War II in Epirus, a region dotted with rural villages that is shared by Greece and Albania. He looked at how information were changed by the building of roads and how the mindset of the people in the villages was transformed as a consequence, leading to major transformations in the economy and the social life of the population.

"The roads brought the villages into the modern word, which is essentially a process," said van der Leeuw, who will give an anthropologist's view on how globalization works at the local scale during a session at the annual meeting of the on Feb. 19.

"What happened is that initially, the information network in those very close-knit communities was centered on the village, leading to a very homogeneous 'information pool.' Once there were roads, little by little new connections were made between people in the villages and people in the nearby larger town. That changed ideas. Suddenly people saw an advantage of learning things in the town and bringing that back to the village," van der Leeuw said.

"There was a long-term stable equilibrium in the villages. But once the roads were built each village was confronted by a choice: 'Do I go the urban way or do I stay rural?' and that had an impact on the choices people made in how the inhabitants managed the landscape."

In one example, van der Leeuw pointed to a village that initially had a settlement on top of a hill and a settlement in the valley.

"Initially, people thought of themselves as living on top of the hill and going down in the winter to the valley. After a number of years, they thought of themselves as living in the valley and going up into the highlands. As a result, they weren't so present on the highlands and their goats had less time to eat the young plants of trees and thorny bushes on that landscape, so that within a few years the vegetation changed and the flocks couldn't get through the vegetation anymore because they would get stuck in the thorns with their wool. So the landscape closed," van der Leeuw said.

"At the same time, out-migration of the younger generation left fewer people who were able to be shepherds, which also contributed to people focusing on the valley. They started changing the kinds of animals they were raising, replacing sheep and goats by pigs, because pigs don't need to be herded."

As a result, when asked whether the were suffering from environmental degradation, they responded that, in effect, they did: trees were now growing on the hills, which had not happened since time immemorial, said van der Leeuw.

"What you see here is how tiny things, and in particular the opening up of a rural isolated community to the world's system, completely changes the society, the subsistence, the vegetation, other aspects of the environment. You can see how a whole system completely shifts simply by tying it into the world system," he said.

Van der Leeuw developed some of these ideas while directing a major research project for the European Union that studied from a complex adaptive systems perspective – the first of its kind. He is dean of ASU's School of Sustainability and a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. He also is a co-director of Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative at ASU.

Explore further: Understanding the economics of human trafficking

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

International scientists set boundaries for survival

Sep 23, 2009

Human activities have already pushed the Earth system beyond three of the planet's biophysical thresholds, with consequences that are detrimental or even catastrophic for large parts of the world; six others ...

Fully automatic software testing

May 16, 2011

University of Twente researcher Machiel van der Bijl has developed a system that eliminates the need to test software manually. The system not only facilitates quick and accurate software testing, but it will also save software ...

Bees are good informers

Sep 09, 2011

Honeybees can do far more than simply pollinate plants or make honey. The busy creatures also make excellent environmental monitors. This has been demonstrated by Wageningen UR bee researcher Sjef van der Steen. He used ...

Baboons make sweet discovery in South Africa

Jan 13, 2011

(AP) -- When it comes to grabbing fruit off trees, baboons don't monkey around. Now their speed at gobbling up quickly ripening fruit has led to a discovery of what is believed to be a new type of tangerine.

IEA backs renewable energy

Nov 23, 2011

Renewable energy resources are growing very fast but countries still must be vigilant to ensure that they continue to expand, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Understanding the economics of human trafficking

21 hours ago

Although Europe is one of the strictest regions in the world when it comes to guaranteeing the respect of human rights, the number of people trafficked to or within the EU still amounts to several hundred ...

Affirmative action elicits bias in pro-equality Caucasians

Jul 25, 2014

New research from Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business indicates that bias towards the effects of affirmative action exists in not only people opposed to it, but also in those who strongly endorse equality.

Election surprises tend to erode trust in government

Jul 24, 2014

When asked who is going to win an election, people tend to predict their own candidate will come out on top. When that doesn't happen, according to a new study from the University of Georgia, these "surprised losers" often ...

User comments : 0