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Protection, politics and protest: understanding resistance to conservation

04 / 07 / 2008, Eldis Biodiversity

This paper presents a framework to understand how conservation is resisted, particularly in protected areas and national parks. Informed largely by James Scott’s concept of ‘everyday resistance’, the paper is based on theories of subaltern politics and a review of thirty-four published case studies. By showing the variety of responses to this resistance, the paper aims to make conservation practitioners more aware of the different forms local resistance can take. The author stresses that, in recent years, international conservation organisations have become increasingly powerful in influencing policy in protected areas, particularly in the global South, bringing a set of ideas that often contrasts to that of local populations. This has coincided with a global growth in the amount of land classified as protected areas. The paper argues that the concept of everyday resistance, although problematic, is still useful for understanding conflicts around protected areas and conservation projects. It provides a way of explaining the relationship between conservation authorities and local populations; why locals are dissatisfied with protected areas, how they react to this, and what determines the nature of these actions. Because resistance is specific to the political, social and cultural context in which it takes place, this paper does not recommend specific steps for developing new approaches to conservation. However, it encourages practitioners to move away from labelling all infringements of conservation regulation as encroachment, and to recognise and address this vibrant everyday politics to produce policy that is better both for biodiversity and for those who live close to protected areas.

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