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What are 'received wisdoms' and why are they common on environmental issues in the third world? Illustrate your essay with specific examples.

"Received wisdoms" are defined by Schubert as "the global discourses on, and the western imagination of, buzzwords such as "land degradation", "desertification" and "woodfuel crisis".  They are wisdoms or knowledge that is assumed, wrongly founded or exaggerated and then used to make policy, or intervene in a particular practice; information that is not necessarily true or correct, but is used in policy making and is used as justification for the intervention by outside bodies for environmental maintenance and transformation.  Received wisdoms may represent poor people's understandings and experiences of environmental change but may not necessarily be accurate.

This may be better explained by giving an example of a belief, that because people are poor, they are uneducated about the environment around them and how best to manage it; they are therefore incapable of managing their environment and natural resources, or are not able to take care of the environment at the same time by providing enough food and resources to sustain themselves.  In other words, there is a large gulf between certain global environmental concerns and poor people's livelihood concerns.  One belief is that the poor impact these environments even more and to a more disastrous degree with their rapid and untamed population growth.  Other well-known narratives include the "Tragedy of the commons" Desertification, soil erosion and biodiversity loss.

Fairhead and Leach state that it is not ignorance which sustains the views of degradation in Kissidougou or Machakos, but the "continual production of supportive knowledge" that is presented by policy makers and bureaucracies.  They site Foucault to illustrate why this supportive knowledge is continually presented: "What has taken place... is the production of effective instruments for the formation and accumulation of knowledge - methods of observation, techniques of registration, procedures for investigation and research, apparatuses of control. All this means that power, when it is exercised through these subtle mechanisms, cannot but evolve, organise and put into circulation a knowledge, or rather apparatuses of knowledge".

This essay has sought to show that received wisdoms are wide widespread beliefs that are not necessarily true when all the evidence is considered.  In parts of Africa, received wisdoms regarding deforestation and soil erosion have been proved by Fairhead and Leach among others to be inaccurate and in some cases to show the opposite of what is commonly believed through the dominant narrative.  By presenting deforestation as a problem created by local people, bureaucracies have justified removing local farmers control over natural resources but these narratives about the causes of deforestation in West Africa illustrate how the dominant wisdom that evolves is not always accurate.  The findings of Fairhead and Leach's studies have strong implications for the future, including studies of climate change, as well as, maybe most importantly, shaping new conservation and forestry policies.

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