The reflection on human cultures delivers more and more a critical and complex vision that makes it difficult to imagine ourselves counting, describe or analytically decompose cultures. Bypassing questions like “what is a culture”, “which and how many cultures are there”, and “how important is each culture”, anthropology and ethnography give scientific form to the comparative impetus that puts diversities – the many colors of a caleidoscope – in relation and dialogue. This is an open enterprise that drops any aim of completeness and systematicity, in favor of critical reflection on what does it mean to be human and to inhabit the Earth together. By the way, diversity can be studied and understood from different points of view, e.g. borrowing methods and concepts from evolutionary biology in order to reconstruct the world tree of common descent of cultures, with migrations and diasporas, where similarities (inherited or convergent) and differences among peoples got channeled. Meanwhile, however, in face of the insufficiency of analysis, the disappearance of cultural varieties is more and more evident. What’s worst, this happens in parallel to growing awareness of their importance for the survival of our species. Locating, measuring, and contrasting the loss of cultural diversity is a challenge which, for example, the UN have tried to address through the definition of “intangible cultural heritage”. Biocultural diversity, a young and promising field, promotes an integrated approach to the conservation of diversity, comprising cultural and biological aspects.
Serrelli E (2010). L’evoluzione delle culture: come fermare l’estinzione. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra vol. 1. Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 320-333. ISBN 978-88-02-08379-7 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/9928]
…But the tree of languages bears two more messages. The first, universal kinship, reminds that all languages are siblings, close or far relatives, like the peoples who speak them: subgroups with uncertain boundaries in a single, global species. The second, the value of history: every language – like every biological species – is the unique outcome of an improbable series of events. The “instructions” contained in DNA – a common metaphor – aren’t but a small, insufficient, inexhaustive part of a species, just like documents and instructions will never suffice for a language to get back to life. Once a language disappears, once a species gets extinct, something unique that enriched our planet is lost forever.
Serrelli E (2010). Diversità linguistica. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra Atlante vol. 1 (A-L), Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 148-154. Reprinted in Aggiornamento enciclopedico 2011, Torino: UTET-DeAgostini. ISBN 978-88-02-08383-4 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/16656]
Biodiversity shapes cultural diversity. Culture shapes the environment. But according to the biocultural paradigm of the “inextricable link”, such bidirectional co-determination in fact prevents the analytical distinction of the two. We must, indeed, talk about a unified type of diversity: biocultural diversity. The field aims to conserve, defend rights of indigenous people, and obtain political decisions that respect them. A field explicitly “militant”, giving up the conventional academic neutrality to embrace strong ethical commitments concerning human rights, seen in intimate connection with the responsibilities about the natural and cultural heritage of humanity.
Serrelli E (2010). Diversità bioculturale. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra Atlante vol. 1 (A-L), Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 143-148. Reprinted in Aggiornamento enciclopedico 2011, Torino: UTET-DeAgostini. ISBN 978-88-02-08383-4 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/16655]