Immersion Lecture: Culture, Cognition & the Environment

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Time of Event: 
Tuesday, March 1, 2016 - 08:00 to 08:45
In this lecture on culture, cognition and the environment, Dr. Michael Paolisso presents an overview of the cognitive approach to understanding culture, and its application to environmental challenges. He starts by noting that there are many definitions of culture, and that the cognitive approach to understanding culture uses concepts like taxonomy, cultural domains, prototypes, cultural models and cultural consensus to explain shared human decision-making and understanding. He uses the example of the Pfiesteria outbreak in the Chesapeake Bay as a research project to which these approaches have been applied, and overviews the analytical tool used. He then uses a second example of farmer perceptions of land conservation to explain the cultural model methodology, which uses empirical data to build a schema that highlights shared understanding and motivations of farmers to conserve land. He also uses the example of oyster restoration to elaborate on the culture as distributed knowledge approach, which seeks to characterize within-group variation in cultural consensus and to identify the linkages among different cultural concepts. Finally, he discusses the opportunities and motivations in anthropology for linking culture, cognition and the environment.

Reading List

Gatewood, J.B. 2012. Cultural models, consensus analysis, and the social organization of knowledge. Topics in Cognitive Science 4: 362-371.

Presentation Slides


Michael Paolisso is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the University of Maryland's Department of Anthropology. Dr. Paolisso has conducted short- and long-term fieldwork in the areas of environment and development in Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador, Kenya, Nepal, and the United States. For the past 15 years he has focused his research on the human dimensions of a range of environmental issues confronting the Chesapeake Bay, including management of natural resources, particularly fisheries and agricultural lands, water pollution, restoration, social justice, socio-ecological resilience, and climate change. His Chesapeake research seeks to demonstrate how cultural models of the environment have a direct bearing on the use and management of natural resources, and how cultural models can be used to improve intra- and inter-stakeholder understanding, dialogue and collaboration in addressing environmental issues. His publications include edited volumes, monographs, journal articles and technical reports. He received his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles.


Event type: 
Immersion Speaker
Event Attendance: 
Private Working Group
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