Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Conservation: Linking Ecology, Economics and Culture

Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Conservation: Linking Ecology, Economics and Culture

Article excerpt


This is an ambitious book. Its bold tide alone portends much material, and the heated debates it has to summarize make its work difficult. The unproductive split between strong conservation activists and the human rights lobby has made interdisciplinary approaches to conservation hard. Indeed the authors contend that "even writers who sincerely strive for balance end up stacking the deck one way or the other" (p. xiv). Their goal, therefore, is to provide a uniquely even-handed account of the main debates in the conservation of natural resources, which will make interdisciplinary learning and clear debate possible.

The result is, in many ways, a treat. It is wonderfully written. The prose is clear and well structured; complex concepts or complicated histories are fully comprehensible. It is also calm and reasoned, ably tackling most fraught debates with a good blend of common sense and unarguable logic. It is also incredibly rich, by far the best available for diversity of case material. The text is well illustrated with detailed boxes, good pictures and clear, legible figures and tables.

The book comprises eleven chapters. The first three introduce the arguments examined, histories of conservation, and examine changes in ecological thinking behind changing conservation thinking. The bulk of the text is devoted to six substantive chapters on burning issues in conservation debates-the role of self-interest, indigenous peoples, collective action and local use in conservation, as well as insights from political ecology and the influence of international policies and economic approaches. The final two chapters examine diverse solutions, both common and innovative, to conservation dilemmas.

The quality of discussion is almost universally strong. Frequently the authors' achievement in these pages is to refocus attention away from unproductive contentions to much more interesting, and more productive, questions. The high point is the chapter on self-interest, which examines conservation behavior from an evolutionary perspective. For anyone interested in evolutionary anthropology, this is a must. Other strong points are the discussion on collective action, ecological theory and the final examination of different attempts to address conservation problems. The authors repeatedly go right to the cutting edge, particularly with respect to ecological issues. They rightly observe that evaluations of communitybased conservation have not really monitored their ecological outcomes, and that the crucial ecological comparisons between traditional parks and new conservation measures (pp. 50 and 240) on the impacts of hunting (p. 95) and collective action (p. 129) have yet to be undertaken.

Yet there are weaknesses. Despite the centrality of protected areas to this book (p. xv), its data on protected area establishment are seriously dated; the substantial recent revisions to the World Database on Protected Areas are absent (http://sea. More seriously, given its intended scope and even-handedness, there are some surprising omissions. There is no mention of the role of ideology and myth in shaping conservation policy; Cronon (1995), Adams and McShane (1992), and Brockington (2002) are not in the references. It does not engage with recent disagreements about poverty and conservation, and, astonishingly, there is no mention of the controversies surrounding the role of international conservation organizations or the problem of accountability in non-governmental organizations (Jepson 2004). This is part of a wider silence on the role of civil society in affecting the social changes upon which conservation depends. …

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