• Resilient Networks and and the Historical Ecology of Q'eqchi' Maya Swidden Agriculture

      Downey, Sean S.; Lansing, J. Stephen; Lansing, J. Stephen; Kuhn, Steven L.; Park, Thomas K.; Sheridan, Thomas E.; Wilk, RIchard R. (The University of Arizona., 2009)
      Despite the fact that swidden agriculture has been the subject of decades of research, questions remain about the extent to which it is constrained by demographic growth and if it can adapt to environmental limits. In this dissertation I analyze ethnographic and ethnohistorical evidence from the Toledo District, Belize, and suggest that Q'eqchi' Maya swidden agriculture may be more ecologically adaptive than previously thought. I use social network analysis to examine farmer labor exchange networks from a chronosequence of five villages where swidden is used. Results suggest that changes in land-use patterns, network structure, and reciprocity rates may increase the system's resilience to changes in the forest's agricultural productivity. I develop a novel interpretation of labor reciprocity that highlights how unreciprocated exchanges, when they occur within the context of a social network, may limit overexploitation of a common property resource. These results are then interpreted in the context of panarchy theory; I suggest that the structural variability observed in labor exchange networks may explain how Q'eqchi' swidden maintains its identity under changing environmental conditions - a definition of resilience. Thus, the resulting picture of Q'eqchi' swidden is one of socioecological resilience rather than homeostasis; dynamic labor exchange networks help maintain a village's social cohesion, ultimately limiting pioneer settlements and slowing overall rates of deforestation. A historical and demographic analysis of market incursions into southern Belize supports this conclusion.