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Back | Programme Area: Environment, Sustainable Development and Social Change

Parks, People and Professionals: Putting "Participation" into Protected Area Management

This paper is a critique of current protected areas management systems: it argues that the present style of conservation has neglected the needs and aspirations of local people, their indigenous knowledge and management systems, their institutions and social organizations, and the value to them of wild resources. The dominant ideology underpinning this conservation has been that people are bad for natural resources. Policies and practice have sought to exclude people and so discourage local participation. As a result, social conflicts have grown in and around many protected areas, and conservation goals themselves have frequently been threatened.

This paper asserts that conservation itself needs rethinking. In the dominant “positivist-rationalist” paradigm, professionals assume that they know best and so can analyse and influence the management of natural resources in the ways they desire. This approach is generally highly reductionist, taking into account only the presence of a particular species or total species diversity as indicators of value. But this preservationist ideology fails to take into account the growing body of empirical evidence that local people have long influenced natural systems in ways that improve biodiversity together with their livelihoods. Many apparently “primary” forests or habitats did in fact support large numbers of people in the past, whose actions significantly influenced what remains today.

The author argues that it is necessary to find ways of putting local people back into conservation. Only certain types of participation will result in sustainable conservation. Alternative systems of learning and interaction will help this process of participation and contribute to more sustainable management of protected areas. The paper concludes that for this vision to succeed, a “new professionalism” is required, as well as supportive national and international policies.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Feb 1995
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD