Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Bourdieu in the North: Practical Understanding in Natural Resource Governance

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Bourdieu in the North: Practical Understanding in Natural Resource Governance

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In the Northwest Territories (NWT) of Canada environmental governance is beset by a level of complexity that would likely astound many analysts of energy economies. Federal custodianship of most natural resources in northern Canada is often at odds with territorial government responsibilities, Aboriginal comprehensive land claims, (2) and most recently Aboriginal self-government of social services, lands, and natural resources. (3) The product of this federal-territorial-Aboriginal relationship is a matrix of land-claim based collaborative management (co-management) boards in areas with settled land claim agreements, and federal/territorial government led management boards in areas without land claims. In such thorny environs, singular sets of rules, intended to govern a large expanse of territory and diverse ecological niches, are bound to fail (Ostrom 2007). An unintended result of relying on policy panaceas is that natural resource management (NRM) analyses often avoid understanding environmental governance as arising from and shaped by social practices and power relations in resource conflicts, contested property rights, and political-economic strategies.

With increasing mineral, oil, and gas development in the western Arctic Sahtu region of the NWT, communities, governments, and environmental organizations have all raised concern about environmental protection and resource conservation. The general approach to sustainable economic development in the NWT is through conservation and land use planning. In this essay I examine an Aboriginal community's experience of a structured yet dynamic sociocultural response to a significant per iod of transformation in the context of NRM planning and comanagement around Great Bear Lake. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork on northern watershed management and protection of Aboriginal cultural landscapes, I refine the notion of practical understanding to explain the ways both government resource managers and community leaders challenge and negotiate one another's conceptions of environmental governance in a dual process of cooperation-conflict. Utilizing Pierre Bourdieu's conception of social practice I suggest that a diffuse, or less determinist, theory of social practice may help explain how power relations are interwoven throughout yet applied differentially in NRM governance.

BOURDIEU'S LOGIC OF SOCIAL PRACTICE

Pierre Bourdieu's theoretical explication of social practice is a mode of practical engagement with the world. It is a way of seeing the world with potential for reproduction and transformation by considering the relationship between an individual's interests and that of the actions of others within structured social contexts. Practice theory helps explain the struggle for power through the subtleties of meaning, the strategic use of resources, and the influence of history or practical experience on one's habitus in the context of social change. Practical action comprises the relationship between structural conditions of existence and subjective experience within those conditions, and how individuals position themselves or are manipulated into a given position or circumstance. Social context is instilled in both individual cognitive/mental and corporeal/ bodily structures, which in turn creatively act on the world through strategies (as feel for the game) to reproduce or, under certain conditions, change external social structures. Practice is thus a way of seeing the world and potential for transformation by considering both interests as well as that of the established orders of the social world. Bourdieu's contribution is unique in that his theory of social practice is situated within embodied practical and lived experiences of time, critically addressing modes of power and domination within social fields, all the while explicated through a set of powerful theoretical and empirical tools. With increasing exploration and application of Bourdieusian social theory in North America (Sallaz and Zavisca 2007), practice theory has seen little application to environmental governance, specifically northern natural resource governance where power, land, and culture collide and collude. …

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