Advancing Conservation in a Social Context

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For the past few years, I’ve been part of an interdisciplinary, international group researching conservation and its social complications. The Advancing Conservation in a Social Context (ACSC) initiative is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and administered through the University of Arizona, with support from UGA and members from the US, Peru, Tanzania, and Vietnam.

The ACSC research process has focused broadly on the idea of tradeoffs: the proposition that when something is gained, something else is lost and win-win scenarios are rare if they occur at all. So, when a decision is made to conserve a resource, species, or ecosystem, opportunities are lost in some other domain. I am oversimplifying here since interactions between people and their environment are vastly multifaceted. A key question is, how do we take into account the complexities and conflicts of ecology and society and still make decisions? And, in the above sentence, who is this “we”?

At a meeting of ACSC researchers this week, we are discussing the next phases of the project and one idea is to develop an ACSC blog, with individual researchers contributing posts on various issues surrounding conservation and society. I’m not sure if it will happen or not, but if it does I may try my hand at contributing–since it would tie nicely with my ongoing dissertation research and long-term interests.

A blog has the added benefit of being participatory, at least in theory. If someone blogs about current issues and others with direct interest in those issues respond, then the text changes from a one-way editorial to more of a conversation. From a social science perspective, this may be one way to increase objectivity in research by giving others the chance to “object” to what is being said about them, as Bruno Latour has suggested:

If social scientists wanted to become objective, they would have to find the very rare, costly, local, miraculous, situation where they can render their subject of study as much as possible able to object to what is said about them, to be as disobedient as possible to the protocol, and to be as capable to raise their own questions in their own terms and not in those of the scientists whose interests they do not have to share!

I’m not sure if the idea of an ongoing ACSC blog will fly in the long-term or not. Even if it does, it may be that the group is not yet ready to open the project to the decreased control that a Web 2.0 experience would bring. I’ll keep you all posted as (if) this moves ahead.

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