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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 : 60-87

New Architecture, Old Agendas: Perspectives on Social Research in Rural Communities Neighbouring the Kruger National Park

1 Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), School of Government, University of the Western Cape, Bellville (Cape Town), South Africa
2 TPARI Fellow, Makuleke CPA-SANParks Joint Management Board, Punda Maria, South Africa
3 ABD, University of Michigan; Research Associate of WISER (Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Correspondence Address:
Barbara Nompumelelo Tapela
PLAAS, University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville 7535
South Africa
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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This article presents a summary of views expressed by individual local people and community 'representatives' on the issue of social research, prior to, during and after the Indaba on Social Research and Protected Ar­eas: Towards Equitable Best Practice and Community Empowerment, held at Skukuza, KNP, from 29 March to 3 April 2005 (the 'Indaba'). Views emerged through a process of 'engagement' between people from communities neighbouring the KNP and social researchers. This article focuses on three key issues discussed namely, 'feedback', 'benefits' and local control over re­search. What emerges is that local people are unhappy about the general lack of feedback by researchers. They question the skewed distribution of benefits from research and assert the need to review the way in which research is practiced. Community representatives, those elected by local people into Kruger National Park Neighbours' fora (akin to tribunes), further argue for a degree of local control over research as a measure to reduce the 'negative' impacts of research on communities. Social researchers, however, express a concern about what local control might mean for the academic freedom of re­searchers, independence of research and the plight of the less influential members of communities. We argue that research ethics and funding ar­rangements must be understandable and agreeable with local interests, and that, as far as possible, research must justify its relevance to local concerns. The ultimate test for engagement is the degree to which commitment to local people's interests becomes a driving force bridging broader conservation and development concerns. Engagement should not be just about using social re­searchers to pull communities into the project of conservationists and their desire to save animals and plants, and big businesses that reap financially from conservation. Communities must come to the discussion not as raw ma­terials for conservation, but as players whose own interests and feelings mat­ter and need attention if a protected area is to mean anything.

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