Contested Nature: Promoting International Biodiversity with Social Justice in the Twenty-First Century

By Brockington, Dan | Journal of Ecological Anthropology, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Contested Nature: Promoting International Biodiversity with Social Justice in the Twenty-First Century


Brockington, Dan, Journal of Ecological Anthropology


Contested Nature: Promoting International Biodiversity with Social Justice in the Twenty-First Century STEVEN BRECHIN, PETER WILSHUSEN, CRYSTAL FORTWANGLER, AND PATRICK WEST (EDITORS) STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF NEW YORK, ALBANY, 2003 321 PP. $59.50 HARDCOVER, $19.95 PAPERBACK

In 1991 West and Brechin published Resident People and National Parks in the hope it would "stimulate and mobilize a more deeply felt concern, a conversion of thinking from blind ecological imperative to more honest recognition of painful moral dilemma, and a sincere desire to rectify the injustice of the past." Contested Nature is a fitting successor to this book, addressing these same issues in a more comprehensive and systematic fashion with four theoretical chapters and case studies from around the world. It touches upon diverse aspects of current conservation dilemmas including exclusion and eviction, the institutional difficulties of complex conservation organizations, private conservation areas, ecotourism, the reification of communities, community level conflicts, deforestation, bio-prospecting and more. As its title suggests, the works in the volume are geared towards identifying the shortcomings of international conservation, while seeking to influence policy and practice in ways that promote biodiversity with social justice. A chapter on complex organizations and governance regimes suggests specific strategies for achieving this vision.

Contested Nature is an authoritative statement of the current position of writings on social science and conservation and 1 strongly recommend it to researchers, practitioners and students. Written in an accessible and engaging style it is full of new ideas and accounts of the latest practices and problems that will form a valuable compendium for people wrestling with these problems, if Resident People and National Parks was a 'bible' for some activists (to quote a consultant working with the IUCN) then perhaps they now have an old and new testament.

But, with apologies to its authors, I wish to use the opportunity of this review to make some wider reflections on the field as a whole. Contested Nature, as the current state of the art, prompts a number of ideas as to where we can go from here. The first concerns engagement. 1 fear that the ideas presented in ContestedNaturewill not influence the policy and practice of international conservation as much as it ought to. In part this is because it does not engage with natural science literature. With less than 3% of its citations in serious scientific journals it characterizes the field by preaching an engagement with conservation scientists it does not itself practice.1 This lack of integration works in other ways. The editors' major contributions which came out in Society and Natural Resources in 2002 have no citations on the Web of Science, which means they have not yet been noted by natural scientists. That sort of material is too good not to come out in natural science journals.

The second concerns analysis. The book clearly argues that devolution is a necessary but insufficient step for locally rooted conservation. So now we need to ask for whom does devolution 'work' and what does it achieve? Indeed perhaps the real question here is how does democracy work/operate at different scales? Democratization is generally thought to be a good thing, but the practice of democracy is remarkably varied, it covers a plethora of forms of government. We require, in our writings about conservation and society, a greater awareness of the variety of forms democracy can take, and is expected to take, in the societies in which it is being encouraged.

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