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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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ARTICLE
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 95-104

A Theory of Flagship Species Action


Conservation Governance Lab, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Paul Jepson
Conservation Governance Lab, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.161228

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The flagship species approach is an enduring strategy in conservation. Academic discussion on flagship species has focussed on two dimensions: on what basis should they be selected and how have they been put to use. Here we consider a third dimension, namely the manner in which flagship species act and have the capacity to galvanise and influence conservation outcomes. Drawing on concepts from the social sciences, viz. affordance, framing, and actor-networks; we discuss examples of flagship species to propose a theory of flagship species action. In brief, our theory posits that a flagship species is one with traits that afford the assembly of relatively coherent networks of associations with ideational elements located in pre-existing cultural framings. These associations give rise to opportunities to align with deep cultural frames, contemporary cultural phenomena and political economy such that when a conservation action is introduced, forms of agency cause the species and human publics to change. The species becomes re-framed (or reinvigorated) as a cultural asset speaking for a wider nature, publics and political agendas. Further our theory posits that species with traits that enrol in idea networks incorporating human fears, will have limited flagship capacity. This is because the ability of the representations produced to align with frames incorporating collective aspirations is constrained. In terms of applied conservation practice, our theory suggests that: a key criteria for selecting potential flagship species is presence in existing cultural frames, that effective deployment of flagship species requires an understanding of the species' cultural associations, and a species ability to galvanise action may be limited to certain times and places. Furthermore, once deployed conservation interests will never have full control over the flagship species: it may act in uncertain and unexpected ways.


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