Beyond the debate: Exploring the underlying values and assumptions of biodiversity conservation in protected areas

Leon-Charl Malan (2008)

This dissertation examines the current disagreement among scientists and scholars about best practices for biodiversity conservation in protected areas. There is no clear consensus among the scientific community about the most effective approach to conserve biodiversity and several conflicting positions form part of an ongoing debate in the field. Most disagreements and conflicts are based on differences in the underlying values and assumptions of the parties involved in the conflict. The more we know and understand those underlying values, the more constructive the dialog, and the more likely acceptable policy decisions will be developed. This study, presented in three parts, uncovered some of the major discourses and perspectives that exist in the exchanges in literature. I used discourse analysis and Q-methodology, and then applied a policy sciences framework to suggest practical application. The first part of the study is a discourse analysis of eight works representing the breadth of strongly held opinions about biodiversity conservation and the roles of human inhabitants. The results of the discourse analysis identified some dimensions of the conflict that were used in the interpretation of discourses in the subsequent Q-study.



The second part of the dissertation explored the underlying values and assumptions in biodiversity conservation using Q-methodology. A total of 275 definitive statements were extracted from a survey of the literature and then categorized according to the dimensions identified in the preceding discourse analysis. Twenty two participants, all actively involved in conservation in protected areas, and some authors of the statements used in the procedure, sorted 48 statements on a scale of -5 (Most unlike my point of view) to +5 (Most like my point of view). Following a Q-methodology analysis of the data, three distinct discourses emerged: a Social Justice perspective that emphasizes the need for a fair and just process, a Concern for Biodiversity perspective based on the need to protect biodiversity from human impacts, and a Biodiversity Across the Landscape perspective based on a need to conserve biodiversity beyond protected areas with a concurrent concern that existing free market mechanisms are not adequate to protecting biodiversity. Though there were clear differences in the underlying assumptions of the three perspectives, there were also some areas of agreement, which raises the potential for dialog and collaboration.



The final part of the dissertation was an application of a policy sciences framework to illustrate how the different discourses would lead to different perceptions of problem identification, social processes and decision processes. Some directions for future research based on my findings are both practical (e.g., apply Q-methodology to help understand and resolve biodiversity conservation conflict; develop capacity in negotiation and conflict management) and conceptual (e.g., more research on poverty alleviation; more research to demonstrate the economic value of biodiversity conservation). The results of the Q-study suggest that a dialog among stakeholders involved in conservation efforts, based on common understanding of underlying assumptions uncovered in the Q-study, could lead to advances in developing more effective, innovative and creative conservation approaches.

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