Long-term Sustainability through Place-Based, Small-scale Economies:
Approaches from Historical Ecology

  1. R-09
  2. FS
  3. PR
  4. FR①
  5. FR②
  6. FR③

2016

PL Photo Project Leader

HABU Junko

RIHN

Born in Kawasaki City, Japan, Junko Habu received her BA (1982) and MA (1984) from Keio University in Tokyo and PhD (1996) from McGill University in Montreal. She is the project leader of the Small-Scale Economies Project and a Professor at RIHN as well as also a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. As an environmental archaeologist, she has excavated a number of prehistoric Jomon sites and historic Edo period sites in Japan and conducted fieldwork in North America. Her books include Ancient Jomon of Japan (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and Evaluating Multiple Narratives (Springer 2008, co-edited with Fawcett and Matsunaga).

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Project Researchers at RIHN
ADACHI KaoriProject Researcher
SHINKAI RikaProject Researcher
TAKEHARA MariProject Research Associate
KOBAYASHI YukoProject Research Associate
OJIKA YukariProject Research Associate
TOMII NorikoProject Research Associate
Main Project Members
IKEYA KazunobuNational Museum of Ethnology, Japan
SASAKI TsuyoshiTokyo University of Marine Science and Technology
FUKUNAGA MayumiThe University of Tokyo
HOSOYA AoiOchanomizu University
YAMAGUCHI TomikoInternational Christian University
YONEDA MinoruThe University of Tokyo
AMES, KennethPortland State University, USA
ALTIERI, MiguelUniversity of California, Berkeley, USA
BALÉE, WilliamTulane University, USA
CAPRA, FritjofCenter for Ecoliteracy, USA
FITZHUGH, BenUniversity of Washington, USA
KANER, SimonSainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, UK
LIGHTFOOT, KentUniversity of California, Berkeley, USA
NILES, DanielRIHN
OWENS, Mio KatayamaUniversity of California, Berkeley, USA
PALLUD, CélineUniversity of California, Berkeley, USA
SAVELLE, JamesMcGill University, Canada
WEBER, StevenWashington State University, USA

Objectives and Background

Figure 1 Mechanisms of Long-term Culture Change

Figure 1 Mechanisms of Long-term Culture Change

This project examines the importance of place-based, small-scale and diversified economies for the long-term sustainability of human societies. Our working hypothesis is that a highly specialized subsistence strategy can support a larger community for a short period, but a decrease in subsistence and food diversity makes the production system and its associated community more vulnerable in the long-run. In particular, this project proposes that high levels of diversity, networks, and local autonomy, all of which are strongly correlated with the scale of the system, are the keys to long-term sustainability of socioeconomic systems. Archaeological, historical and paleoenvironmental studies are used to test this hypothesis (Longue-Durée Group). Ethnographic and ecological studies of contemporary small-scale food systems and communities engage ongoing academic and popular discussion of the scale and methods of alternative food systems (Contemporary Society Group). In combination, these studies of the past and present point to the future, as the research process also involves the development of implementation and public outreach programs that promote place-based, small-scale, and diversified food production (Implementation, Outreach and Policy Proposal Group).

We realize that there are many additional factors that affect the dynamics of subsistence/food diversity, the scale of a food production system, and its long-term sustainability (see Figure 1). Correlations among these factors will also be examined when testing the main hypothesis.

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Small-scale economies and global environmental challenges

For the purposes of this project, a “small-scale economy” is defined not solely on the basis of the absolute size of the economic unit, but rather in terms of the relative scale of food production within a given socioeconomic context. Our definition of small-scale economy addresses the range of networks that enable food production, distribution, and consumption in a given locality without precluding links to the outside economy. We are particularly interested in relatively small-scale food production with the following characteristics: 1) goals not limited to the pursuit of short-term efficiency and profits; 2) production for local markets rather than domination of the world market; and 3) readily available information about the producers.

Geographic focus: North Pacific Rim

Figure 2 Main Research Areas

Figure 2 Main Research Areas

Geographically, our project focuses on the North Pacific Rim. In particular, we have identified northern Japan, with its solid archaeological record and its importance to contemporary food production in Japan, as the core area of our field research. The west coast of North America, with its rich traditions of ethnographic and ecological investigation among native populations, as well as active contemporary food/agriculture movements, will provide our main comparative case studies. The two regions share a number of biogeographical characteristics, including climate, vegetation, fauna, and high levels of seismic and volcanic activity. There are also cultural ties with significant historical depth as a result of the eastward migration of anatomically modern humans from Asia after the late Pleistocene. Historically, many of the residents of the North Pacific Rim depended on rich marine and terrestrial resources, including salmon, herring, acorns and other wild food resources.

Research activities and findings

Photo1 Archaeological Excavation, Triquet Island in British Columbia, Canada

Photo1 Archaeological Excavation, Triquet Island in British Columbia, Canada

Photo 2 Acorn Processing Workshop with Wukchumni Yokuts people in California

Photo 2 Acorn Processing Workshop with Wukchumni Yokuts people in California

Longue-Durée Group: Results of our analyses of prehistoric Jomon Period data from northern Japan are consistent with our hypothesis that over-specialization leads to vulnerability in a socioeconomic system. New data from Jomon sites also aid in the development of a new understanding of Early-Middle Jomon chronology and vegetation, which is important in determining the role of climate change in the long-term shifts in past subsistence-settlement systems. Contrary to the Jomon data from the Japanese archipelago, comparative studies from California and the Northwest Coast of North America suggest that increased subsistence diversity positively correlates with long-term sustainability of complex hunter-gatherer societies. The role of social networks in system resilience is also being explored across multiple regions.

Contemporary Society Group: As corollaries of our main hypothesis, this group investigates: 1) the positive role of small-scale and diversified production systems in relation to the environment and its changes through time; and 2) whether social networks associated with small-scale and diversified production increase the resilience of local communities, especially in times of disaster. Fieldwork has been conducted with traditional communities, including rural farming/fishing communities in Japan and indigenous communities in North America, and alternative food producers, including organic farmers. Results of our research so far indicate the importance of traditional subsistence practices in maintaining resilient socioeconomic systems within local landscapes/seascapes along the North Pacific Rim. Our studies have also revealed critical historical differences between Japan and North America. For example, Japanese contemporary small-scale food production systems tend to be rooted in rural communities that have never fully accepted large-scale operations, while small-scale food production movements in North America have emerged either as a resurgence of indigenous movements or in response to dominant large-scale operations.

Implementation, Outreach and Policy Proposal Group: On the basis of the research results of the Longue-Durée Group and Contemporary Society Group, this group conducts action research to convey the importance of long-term perspectives to various stakeholders through public lectures and popular books, to promote sustainable fisheries, agriculture and forestry through seminars and classes, and to work together with local and indigenous communities to find the intersection of traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) and scientific knowledge. Activities of this group include eco-literacy programs with both children and adults, seminars to develop community gardens, university classes about urban organic farming, and workshops to promote the use of traditional environmental knowledge and food processing methods.

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