Skip to main content Accessibility help

Terms of empowerment: of conservation or communities?

  • Michael A. Petriello (a1), Lauren Redmore (a1), Aby Sène-Harper (a2) and Dhananjaya Katju (a1)


In this era of socially-oriented biodiversity conservation and resource management, practitioners and scholars all too often invoke unclear and imprecise claims of empowerment to describe changing relations between people and resources. Empowerment is an important indicator of conservation success and social transformation. Yet, when scholars and practitioners fail to adequately conceptualize empowerment, they run the risk of undermining the importance of local involvement and capacity building to achieve biodiversity conservation. Here we explore the many ways empowerment has been conceptualized in conservation. We root our commentary in the history of the use of empowerment in conservation from these diverse perspectives. We then present examples of different meanings, measurements and outcomes ascribed to empowerment. We conclude with suggestions for harnessing empowerment for the benefit of conservationists and communities alike. Because empowerment has the potential to improve resource management outcomes and local livelihoods, we recommend building an adaptive empowerment assessment framework to assist with its deployment where it is most needed. Although empowerment goals in conservation can guide practitioners and scholars to engage with communities in transparent, meaningful and lasting ways, conservation needs a critical approach that builds from an appreciation of the nuances underlying the purpose and power of empowerment for conservation.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Terms of empowerment: of conservation or communities?
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Terms of empowerment: of conservation or communities?
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Terms of empowerment: of conservation or communities?
      Available formats


Corresponding author

(Corresponding author) E-mail


Hide All
Adams, W.M., Aveling, R., Brockington, D., Dickson, B., Elliott, J., Hutton, J. et al. (2004) Biodiversity conservation and the eradication of poverty. Science, 306, 11461149.
Adger, W.N., Brown, K. & Tompkins, E.L. (2005) The political economy of cross-scale networks in resource co-management. Ecology and Society, 10, 9.
Agrawal, A. & Chhatre, A. (2006) Explaining success on the commons: community forest governance in the Indian Himalaya. World Development, 34, 149166.
Almudi, T. & Berkes, F. (2010) Barriers to empowerment: fighting eviction for conservation in a southern Brazilian protected area. Local Environment, 15, 217232.
Alpert, P. (1996) Integrated conservation and development projects. Bioscience, 46, 845855.
Alsop, R. & Heinsohn, N. (2005) Measuring Empowerment in Practice: Structuring Analysis and Framing Indicators. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3510. [accessed 10 April 2008].
Armitage, D., Berkes, F. & Doubleday, N. (eds) (2007) Adaptive Co-Management: Collaboration, Learning, and Multi-Level Governance. UBC Press, Vancouver, Canada.
Bennett, N.J., Roth, R., Klain, S.C., Chan, K., Clark, D.A., Cullman, G. et al. (2017) Mainstreaming the social sciences in conservation. Conservation Biology, 31, 5666.
Berkes, F. (ed.) (1989) Common Property Resources: Ecology and Community-Based Sustainable Development. Belhaven Press, London, UK.
Berkes, F. (2004) Rethinking community-based conservation. Conservation Biology, 18, 621630.
Berkes, F. & Adhikari, T. (2006) Development and conservation: Indigenous businesses and the UNDP Equator Initiative. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, 3, 671690.
Boudreaux, K.C. (2010) Community Conservation in Namibia: Devolution as a Tool for the Legal Empowerment of the Poor. Working paper no 10-64. Mercatus Center, George Mason University, Arlington, USA.
Brandon, K.E. & Wells, M. (1992) Planning for people and parks: design dilemmas. World Development, 20, 557570.
Budhathoki, P. (2004) Linking communities with conservation in developing countries: buffer zone management initiatives in Nepal. Oryx, 38, 334341.
Carr, E.S. (2003) Rethinking empowerment theory using a feminist lens: the importance of process. Affilia, 18, 820.
Chambers, R. (1983) Rural Development: Putting the Last First. Pearson Education Limited, London, UK.
Chambers, S. (2007) Minority empowerment and environmental justice. Urban Affairs Review, 43, 2854.
Dressler, W., Buscher, B., Schoon, M., Brockington, D., Hayes, T., Kull, C.A. et al. (2010) From hope to crisis and back again? A critical history of the global CBNRM narrative. Environmental Conservation, 37, 515.
Ellis, F. & Biggs, S. (2001) Evolving themes in rural development 1950s–2000s. Development Policy Review, 19, 437448.
Elwood, S.A. (2002) GIS use in community planning: a multidimensional analysis of empowerment. Environment and Planning A, 34, 905922.
Fawcett, S.B., Seekins, T., Whang, P.L., Muiu, C. & de Balcazar, Y.S. (1984) Creating and using social technologies for community empowerment. In Studies in Empowerment: Steps Toward Understanding and Action (eds Rappaport, J., Swift, C. & Hess, R.), pp. 145172. Haworth Press, New York, USA.
Foucault, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977. Pantheon Books, New York, USA.
Fox, H.E., Christian, C., Nordby, J.C., Pergams, O.R., Peterson, G.D. & Pyke, C.R. (2006) Perceived barriers to integrating social science and conservation. Conservation Biology, 20, 18171820.
Fraser, E.D.G., Dougill, A.J., Mabee, W.E., Reed, M. & McAlpine, P. (2006) Bottom up and top down: analysis of participatory processes for sustainability indicator identification as a pathway to community empowerment and sustainable environmental management. Journal of Environmental Management, 78, 114127.
Gadgil, M., Olsson, P., Berkes, F. & Folke, C. (2003) Exploring the role of local ecological knowledge in ecosystem management: three case studies. In Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change (eds Berkes, F., Colding, J. & Folke, C.), pp. 189209. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Garnett, S., Sayer, J. & Du Toit, J. (2007) Improving the effectiveness of interventions to balance conservation and development: a conceptual framework. Ecology and Society, 12, 2.
Ghai, D. (1994) Environment, livelihood and empowerment. Development and Change, 25, 111.
Giacomelli, S., Gibbert, M. & Viganò, R. (2018) Community empowerment for managing wild boar: a longitudinal case study of northern Italy 2001–2008. Ecology and Society, 23, 12.
Gilmore, M.P. & Young, J.C. (2012) The use of participatory mapping in ethnobiological research, biocultural conservation, and community empowerment: a case study from the Peruvian Amazon. Journal of Ethnobiology, 32, 629.
Hennink, M., Kiiti, N., Pillinger, M. & Jayakaran, R. (2012) Defining empowerment: perspectives from international development organisations. Development in Practice, 22, 202215.
Kabeer, N. (1999) The Conditions and Consequences of Choice: Reflections on the Measurement of Women's Empowerment. Discussion Paper 108, UNRISD, Geneva, Switzerland.
Kellert, S.R., Mehta, J.N., Ebbin, S.A. & Lichtenfeld, L.L. (2000) Community natural resource management: promise, rhetoric, and reality. Society and Natural Resources, 13, 705715.
Kull, C.A. (2002) Empowering pyromaniacs in Madagascar: ideology and legitimacy in community-based natural resource management. Development and Change, 33, 5778.
Lenao, M. & Basupi, B. (2016) Ecotourism development and female empowerment in Botswana: a review. Tourism Management Review, 18, 5158.
McLaughlin, K. (2016) Empowerment: a Critique. Routledge, New York, USA.
Murphree, M. (2009) The strategic pillars of communal natural resource management: benefit, empowerment and conservation. Biodiversity and Conservation, 18, 25512562.
Nilsson, D., Baxter, G., Butler, J.R.A. & McAlpine, C.A. (2016) How do community-based conservation programs in developing countries change human behaviour? A realist synthesis. Biological Conservation, 200, 93103.
Oldekop, J.A., Holmes, G., Harris, W.E. & Evans, K.L. (2015) A global assessment of the social and conservation outcomes of protected areas. Conservation Biology, 30, 133141.
Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the Commons: the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Pollnac, R.B., Crawford, B.R. & Gorospe, M.L. (2001) Discovering factors that influence the success of community-based marine protected areas in the Visayas, Philippines. Ocean & Coastal Management, 44, 683710.
Rihoy, L. & Maguranyanga, B. (2010) The politics of community-based natural resource management in Botswana. In Community Rights, Conservation and Contested Land: the Politics of Natural Resource Governance in Africa (ed. Nelson, F.), pp. 5578. Earthscan, New York, USA.
Roe, D., Mayers, J., Grieg-Gran, M., Kothari, A., Fabricius, C. & Hughes, R. (2000) Evaluating Eden: Exploring the Myths and Realities of Community-Based Wildlife Management: Series Overview. IIED, London, UK.
Romano, S.T. (2017) Building capacities for sustainable water governance at the grassroots: ‘organic empowerment’ and its policy implications in Nicaragua. Society and Natural Resources, 30, 471487.
Scheyvens, R. (1999) Ecotourism and the empowerment of local communities. Tourism Management, 20, 245249.
Sodhi, N.S., Davidar, P. & Rao, M. (2010) Empowering women facilitates conservation. Biological Conservation, 143, 10351036.
Souto, T., Deichmann, J.L., Núñez, C. & Alonso, A. (2014) Classifying conservation targets based on the origin of motivation: implications over the success of community-based conservation projects. Biodiversity and Conservation, 23, 13311337.
Stephanson, S.L. & Mascia, M.B. (2014) Putting people on the map through an approach that integrates social data in conservation planning. Conservation Biology, 28, 12361248.
Stevens, S. (1997) Conservation through Cultural Survival: Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas. Island Press, Washington, DC, USA.
Thrupp, L.A. (1989) Legitimizing local knowledge: from displacement to empowerment for Third World people. Agriculture and Human Values, 6, 1324.
Twyman, C. (2000) Participatory conservation? Community-based natural resource management in Botswana. The Geographical Journal, 166, 323335.
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) (2005) The Wealth of the Poor: Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, USA.
Wali, A., Alvira, D., Tallman, P.S., Ravikumar, A. & Macedo, M.O. (2017) A new approach to conservation: using community empowerment for sustainable well-being. Ecology and Society, 22, 6.
Walpole, M. & Wilder, L. (2008) Disentangling the links between conservation and poverty reduction in practice. Oryx, 42, 539547.
Western, D. & Wright, M.R. (eds.) (1994) Natural Connections: Perspectives in Community-Based Conservation. Island Press, Washington, DC, USA.
Yoder, J.D. & Kahn, A.S. (1992) Toward a feminist understanding of women and power. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 16, 381388.


Terms of empowerment: of conservation or communities?

  • Michael A. Petriello (a1), Lauren Redmore (a1), Aby Sène-Harper (a2) and Dhananjaya Katju (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed