A current focus of centre research is on the implications of property forms of poorer regions of the world. Property rights are central to how social and technological factors influence development, by structuring how people manage their resources and provide for their essential needs. Linking people to the environment, rights in resources secure the basis on which cultural and biological diversity is maintained. Changes in systems of agrarian property are both symptom and cause of environmental decline and poverty. Rural communities are involved in complex claims and conflicts over resources, and at worst face an inexorable process of dispossession.
A central question we address concerns the effects of different property systems on the use and conservation of resources and on the capacity of rural people to escape from poverty. Which forms of property are associated with better food production methods, fuller employment, more equitable systems of distribution, and more effective ways by which rural people manage their affairs? Can transformation in property enable peasant farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers and urban dwellers to manage rapid population growth, deepening poverty, unsustainable extraction of resources, and environmental degradation?
Such questions concerning society and technology, the economy of the environment, spill over the boundaries of particular disciplines. STANDD has a transdisciplinary profile of researchers concerned with the environment and sustainability, community institutions, food systems, domestic economy, land tenure, indigenous knowledge, and the provision of basic needs for adequate community health, nutrition and education.
STANDD includes participants from the Faculties of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Arts, Law, Management, Medicine and Science at McGill. They have experience working in numerous regions of the developing Third and Fourth Worlds, including Eastern Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Oceania and the Canadian North, and have worked in a variety of overlapping team projects. Participants examine the interplay between technological innovation, institutional change and the genesis and diffusion of knowledge and information in the process of development.
Agenda 21, set forth in 1992 at the World Summit in Rio, called for the protection of the earth's biodiversity even as we seek to support a growing human population. This mandate, in the context of the current review of land policies by international agencies, lends a timeliness to STANDD's program of research.
Research is currently being pursued by centre staff and graduate students in many regions of the developing world, including China, India, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Costa Rica and Brazil, with funding from SSHRC, NSERC, FCAR, CIDA, IDRC, NRC and other foundations and agencies. These projects tend to fall within three axes of research at STANDD:
Property systems and resources
We seek to understand how forms of property affect the use and management of resources. Which aspects of communal, private and state property are associated with which environmental, economic and social outcomes. A STANDD working group on land tenure and common property conflicts convenes a seminar on land tenure. In a variety of field projects, attention is focused on the interrelations between state property (state enterprises, parks and reserves, forests), common property (village and community managed) and private property (commercial enterprises, individual farms). We focus on questions of environmental management, focusing on arid and semi-arid environments, forest preservation, soil erosion and the management of water, vegetation and pasture resources. Close links are maintained with relevant institutions in the developing world, the Arid Lands and Resource Management network in Eastern Africa (ALARM), in Nairobi, and the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) in London.
Participants have wide experience investigating the organization of local institutions and their functioning: which control territory, which exercise administrative functions (such as villages or groups) or which manage resources and perform particular economic and political functions (i.e., self-help groups, cooperatives, grazing schemes, irrigation councils, organized dissent groups, religious groups, etc.). When are intermediate-level institutions effective and fair in local administration, in pursuing collective tasks or managing resources, and when do they appear less effective than government, state corporations, private enterprises or individual private holdings? Is there an optimal fit between functions and institutions?
Indigenous knowledge and community needs
Under what kinds of property systems and forms of local organization are basic needs most effectively provided? Property forms underpin a community's subsistence and indirectly affect states of health and illness. STANDD members have experience understanding how local knowledge and institutions influences nutrition, health care and family planning. Knowledge, of indigenous or external origin, shapes the response of domestic groups to crisis, and this in turn is influenced by institutionalized channels of diffusion. Basic notions of person, self, family and community, and of body, mind and society, affect local understanding of human needs and interests. These ideas provide a cognitive framework within which local peasant, pastoral, urban and refugee communities address questions of nutrition, health and reproduction.
The centre is housed in the New Chancellor Day Hall building on the McGill University campus. It includes both substantial office space for the members as well as sophisticated computer facilities. Through its FCAR support, STANDD is able to provide funding for fieldwork and conferencing and generous technical support for research activities.