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Cultural capital

The term ‘cultural capital’ is used in the sense presented in the work of Berkes and Folke (1994) who make a distinction of a complex capital system with three components: Human-made, Cultural, and Natural Capital. Cultural capital refers to factors that provide human societies with the means and adaptations to deal with the natural environment and to actively modify it. The authors claim that they use the term ‘culture’ in the general anthropological sense of a set of rules for a society, recognising the existence of many distinct societies. It implies commonality, providing a basis for collective action within that group. As a cultural specific phenomenon, the diversity of ways to deal with the environment is a significant part of cultural capital, and, they assure, perhaps as important to conserve as biological diversity.

The concept also includes people’s views of the natural world and the universe and their cosmology; environmental philosophy, values and ethics; and local and personal knowledge of the environment, including traditional ecological knowledge. Further, it includes, citing Ostrom (1990), the organisation of human societies by the evolution of various kinds of resource management institutions (formal and informal, governmental and non-governmental).


Berkes, F. and Folke, C. (1994) Investing in cultural capital for sustainable use of natural capital , in A. Jansson et al. (eds.) Investing in Natural Capita, Washington, DC: Island Press.

Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action . New York: Cambridge University Press.

Further reading:

Berkes, F., Folke, C. (1992) A systems perspective on the interrelations between natural, human-made and cultural capital. Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

This glossary entry is based on a contribution by Bernardo Aguilar

EJOLT glossary editors: Hali Healy, Sylvia Lorek and Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos

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