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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: May 2015

18 - Conservation conflict transformation: the missing link in conservation

from Part III - Approaches to managing conflicts


Conservation conflicts are an increasing threat to many species of wildlife around the world (Madden, 2004; Michalski et al., 2006). As we have seen earlier in this book, conservation conflicts often serve as proxies for underlying social conflicts, including struggles over group recognition, empowerment, identity and status (Coate and Rosati, 1988; Burton, 1990; Satterfield, 2002; Madden, 2004; Dickman, 2010; Madden and McQuinn, 2014). Such complexity undermines the receptivity of diverse stakeholders to find common ground that would benefit both people and wildlife. As a result, conservation goals are adversely impacted (Madden, 2004; Redpath et al., 2013). Moreover, conservationists’ lack of explicit capacity to transform these social conflicts further compromises the broader goals of conservation and limits their ability to find resolution and commitment on the substantive issues. Even where stakeholder engagement is acknowledged, recommended or conducted (e.g. Treves et al., 2009; Barlow et al., 2010, Redpath et al., 2013; Box 9), such well-meaning efforts often do not address the full suite of underlying social and psychological conflicts at play, nor do they create the necessary social conditions for positive, transformative change. For instance, if the act of bringing stakeholders together to address wildlife impacts or conservation solutions does not also provide a sufficient process for genuinely improving relationships among individuals, building trust and empowering people early, increasing equitable and inclusive decision-making among stakeholders, even palatable decisions on substantive issues may ultimately be rejected by key stakeholders.

In our work we have adapted an approach to conservation from a niche within peace-building: conflict transformation (CT). At its core, CT conceptualises current disputes as opportunities to constructively change the underlying relationships, decision-making processes and social systems that can serve as a foundation for sustainable conservation action (Lederach et al., 2007; Madden and McQuinn, 2014). In this sense, a CT orientation recognises conflict as a natural, and potentially constructive and creative, part of human interaction. Hence, the transformation of conflict implies that the goal is not necessarily to end conflict, but to harness its ebb and flow as a means to sustain dynamic problem-solving within a given context (Deutsch, 1973; Lederach, 2003).

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