The importance of special contexts and historical contingency in explaining the mechanism of human-environment interactions is being increasingly emphasized by human geographers. However, their studies lack appropriate theories and an operational framework to apply a “contextualization” epistemology to explain human-environment interactions. Based on the theory of event ecology, this study establishes a new framework and illustrates it by presenting a case study of the world heritage site of the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (HHRT). This case study demonstrates that in the HHRT, although it is overwhelmingly believed that the sharp increase in the numbers of restaurants and hotels resulted in increased water usage and, consequently, a decreased amount of water for irrigation, in fact, the dry local terraces were mainly caused by continuously decreased precipitation, the planting of water-consuming crops in forests and deforestation in recent years. These factors were not objectively considered primarily because the unbalanced opportunities for residents to participate in tourism led to significant conflicts in the local community. Thus, the locals exaggerated the contribution of tourism to the dry terraces because they wanted the outsiders pay more attention to these conflicts. This study suggests that the new research framework can effectively avoid presupposition and presumption caused by the prior cognition among researchers and local people to objectively recognize the causes of changes in human-environment interactions. In addition, this study demonstrates that it is necessary to analyze the mechanism for changes in human-environment interactions in detail from the perspectives of local political, economic, and social contexts to enhance the sustainable development of cultural landscape heritage sites.
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