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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2007  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-21

Introduction: The Politics of Engagement between Biodiversity Conservation and the Social Sciences


1 Department of Anthropology and Project Officer, Centre for International Cooperation, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa
2 Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK.

Correspondence Address:
Bram Buscher
De Boelelaan 1081c-Room Z121, Amsterdam 1081 HV, The Netherlands.

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In scientific endeavour related to biodiversity conservation, the perspectives of the natural sciences have long been dominant. During the last several decades, however, social science research has steadily gained mo­mentum. The major achievement of the social sciences has been to investigate and emphasise the 'human side' of biodiversity conservation, ranging from local issues around social exclusion from protected areas and dependency of 'local people' on natural resources to more abstract issues of environmental governance and political ecology. But social science research is itself also a social process and its practices, assumptions and outcomes therefore deserve continuous critical reflection. The paper contends that when it comes to the en­gagement of the social sciences and biodiversity conservation the concept of 'politics' has tended to have negative connotations. However, we argue, like anything social, politics should not automatically be seen as negative. This ac­ceptance could considerably improve relations between different actors and we therefore urge all those involved in the debate, especially social scientists, to take two crucial steps: first, the creation and acceptance of practical spaces for critical political engagement and second, the concomitant need for actors to scrutinise and reflect more consciously on their politics of engagement.


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