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Cognitive Dimension of Cultural Transformation: Mental Models and Environmental Behaviour among the Gujjars of Himachal Pradesh, India

Dipankar Chatterjee and Arnab Das


Published: 2016/12/01


The article is based on data generated from fieldwork among the Gujjars of Himachal Pradesh, principally selecting the Sillaghrat panchayat of Chamba district and Gopalpur panchayat of Kangra district. Gujjars constitute a significant segment of the scheduled tribes of Himachal Pradesh. This article examines the use of the cultural consensus model to estimate individual informants’ knowledge of cultural domains. Mental models of the Gujjars differ dramatically among and within populations living in the same area and engaged in more or less the same activities. This has novel implications for environmental decision making and management, including dealing with common problems. The results of this study suggest that differences in the individual knowledge of Gujjars are considerable and are patterned according to age, domain-specific specialization and, to a lesser degree, gender. This article also offers a distinct perspective on models of culture, and a unified approach to the study of culture and cognition. The article argues that cultural transmission and formation do not consist primarily of shared rules or norms, but of complex distributions of causally-connected representations across minds in interaction with the environment. The study explicates that older individuals reveal a systematic awareness of the ecological complexity involving movement and settlement. The data suggest that the emerging patterns of transformation are not due to different stages of development from novice to expert, nor do they seem to be reversible. Rather, they indicate an intricate system that closely links culture, cognition, and behavior. Key words: Mental models, Environmental cognition, Transformation, Modernization, Gujjars, Himachal Pradesh, India

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