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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 332-344

How Stakeholder Co-management Reproduces Conservation Conflicts: Revealing Rationality Problems in Swedish Wolf Conservation

Environmental Communication Division, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden

Correspondence Address:
Erica von Essen
Environmental Communication Division, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.179881

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Date of Web Publication8-Apr-2016


'Stakeholder' has become the primary category of political actor in decision-making, not least within nature conservation. Drawing from Habermas' theory on communicative action, this article argues that there are democratic deficits to the stakeholder model that promote citizens to remain locked in predetermined, polarized positions. It contends that the stakeholder model must, hence, be scrutinized with respect to its potential role in perpetuating conservation conflicts in modernity. Using the case study of stakeholder-based game management delegations (GMDs) in Sweden, our research identifies four barriers, which tie to the instrumental basis and liberal democratic legacy of the stakeholder approach: 1) strong sense of accountability; 2) overly purposive atmosphere; 3) overemphasis on decision as final outcome; and 4) perceived inability on the part of the delegates to influence science-led decision-making. The article suggests that these democratic deficits preclude the deliberation and contestation necessary to legitimate conservation policy. Indeed, stakeholder rationality causes citizens to become inert, instrumental agents who approach discussion with strategic rather than communicative rationality. We conclude that the deficits of the stakeholder model currently: 1) restrict democratic freedom for citizens; 2) engender a crisis of legitimacy of management; and 3) reproduce the conflict, which in Sweden relates to the conservation of wolves.

Keywords: stakeholder, co-management, conflict, deliberative democracy, instrumental rationality, wolves, legitimacy, Sweden

How to cite this article:
von Essen E, Hansen HP. How Stakeholder Co-management Reproduces Conservation Conflicts: Revealing Rationality Problems in Swedish Wolf Conservation. Conservat Soc 2015;13:332-44

How to cite this URL:
von Essen E, Hansen HP. How Stakeholder Co-management Reproduces Conservation Conflicts: Revealing Rationality Problems in Swedish Wolf Conservation. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2015 [cited 2021 Feb 26];13:332-44. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2015/13/4/332/179881

   Introduction Top

Endeavours to address complexity, conflict, and contestation in nature conservation have increasingly materialized in stakeholder models of co-management (Graham and Ernstson, 2012; Niedzia et al. 2012). This decentralization of decision-making mandate to the affected public has been deemed an especially important feature in cases of reintroduction of controversial wildlife, whose return potently threatens people's lifestyles or livelihoods (Robbins et al. 2010). The following research engages with such a controversial conservation case by focusing on stakeholder co-management of wolves (Canis lupus) in Sweden. While scholarship has extolled the virtues of stakeholder models in providing citizens with a voice on the environment (Armitage et al. 2007; Schwilch et al. 2012), praxis intimates the model potentially entrenches a polarization of preferences and, by extension, reproduces conflict between interest groups (Castro and Nielsen 2001; Graham and Ernstson, 2012). Indeed, as we argue, the reliance on such a model for resolving conflicts in conservation may be unproductive, in part, because any deliberations aimed at achieving a mutual understanding between stakeholders are structurally precluded from taking place.

With this as our point of departure, we contend that scholarship has heretofore failed to diagnose the democratic deficits behind this model. Instead, stakeholder co-management has become the go-to approach for conservation plans, while failure to make strides through this process has been chiefly attributed to communicative breakdowns at the micro-level (Ford et al. 2002; Idrissou et al. 2011), to developments outside of the decision-making process (Luke 2005) or to the politics in the local community (Rastogi et al. 2014). For this reason, there is a need to identify what must be seen as the inherent democratic shortcomings of the stakeholder model to reveal alternative ways in conservation.

We consider the limitations of the stakeholder co-management model and its implications on the wolf conservation conflict in Sweden, following implementation of the EU Habitats Directive. In terms of reproducing existing tensions and attitude polarization among citizens, these limitations include circumscribing the deliberative process in favour of swiftly reaching decisions; adhering to inflexible institutional structures, and, in liberal democratic vein, construing attitudes as private belongings to be defended from the interference of public deliberative processes. The national context of Sweden is chosen because of escalating wolf polemic, distrust toward public authorities that mandate conservation, and illegal killings of the wolf as a practice of dissent. This predicament animates the growing disenfranchisement with the current premises for decision-making (von Essen et al. 2014b; von Essen and Allen, 2015).

To explain the democratic deficits in stakeholder co-management, our analytical framework draws from Habermas' theory of communicative action. Thus, we posit that there is a need to move away from the instrumental process of stakeholder co-management toward the active and meaningful engagement of 'citizens'rather than 'stakeholders' in what is termed'deliberative democracy'in order to neutralize the anti-deliberative inertia posed by predetermined stakes and, with them, a systematically distorted communication. We motivate our normative commitment to deliberative democracy by emphasizing its transformative capacity, its focus on open social dialogue, and centrality of reasoned argumentation (Benhabib 1993).

It is, naturally, worth engaging some of the scholarly criticisms to deliberative democracy before we proceed. Is it the only maxim that can grant the premises for open social dialogue and contribute to the realization of wildlife conservation? Deliberative democracy is often positioned against agonistic democracy as two opposing emancipatory democratic paths to governance (Erman 2009). The agonistic school of thought contests the consensus orientation of deliberative democracy and argues in favour of political dialogue within the realms of conflict and competition to achieve constructive, democratic planning in conservation (Peterson et al. 2006; Mouffe 2009). Pluralistic agonism, for example, emphasizes the acknowledgement of disagreement as a means forward in participation processes. What can be said of these increasingly popular post-structuralist agonistic approaches is that they invariably place emphasis on the 'relational', as opposed to the 'substantive' of conservation plans. Consequently, agonistic democracy in effect divides the arena into discrete stakes to be defended by 'adversaries' from the onset in a competitive spirit in a kind of game. This, we contend, denotes a key democratic deficit built into the stakeholder model.

Furthermore, deliberative democracy accepts common ground in communication while Mouffe's approach, in its rejection of deliberation, under-acknowledges the importance of foregrounding common visions (Erman 2009). Without impugning the merits of this approach in all instances, we contend that partisans of the pluralistic approach obscure exactly that, which needs to be distilled from planning process, namely common recognizable interests (Pettit 1999). Finally, we believe deliberative democracy to be a better conceptual fit for this conservation situation, given that deliberative democracy has as its aim to make visible the norms and values that underpin contesting views (Dryzek and Simon 2006). Therefore, it does not shy away from engaging with conflict and readily embraces plurality, but does so in a more productive and less superficial capacity than agonistic approaches (Benhabib 1993).

Research questions

We develop our critique of stakeholder co-management on the shoulders of deliberative democracy and Habermas' theory of communicative action, by which, the democratic deficits of the model circumscribe the capacity of stakeholders in the Swedish wolf conflict to overcome strategic stakes. The article is, thus, guided by the primary research question: what are the structural barriers to deliberation in this participatory setting?

Having identified these, we show how the barriers promote an instrumental or 'strategic' rationality among participations. This, we contend, will further circumscribe deliberation. This leads us to our secondary research question: what are the cause(s) and implication(s) of this rationality phenomenon?

The identified barriers to deliberation are framed in an understanding of the instrumental rationality of modernity in terms of both strategic individual agency and the institutional framework within which stakeholders operate (Habermas 1962). Hence, there is inertia on two levels cumulatively, and, as scholars suggest, such inertia is more difficult to overcome when it has ensnared processes at the institutional level (Markovitz 2005). Barriers find some parallel in Deetz' (1992) so-called discursive closures in communicative settings, which has been the focus of recent research in participation processes (Vasstrøm, 2013; Ångman, 2013). We explore implications in terms of both, declining legitimacy of authorities and the impact of the rationality, problematic on the concept of democratic freedom. In a deliberative tradition, the latter conceptis contingent on whether one has participated autonomously in the participative process, without having antecedently constituted intentions in one's capacity as stakeholder, exert an 'iron cage' effect on one's rationality (Weber 2001).

The paper commences with a section introducing the Swedish case study of wolf conservation. This is followed by the results from an ad-hoc empirical study of workshop proceedings of three game management delegations (GMDs), which serve as proxies for the stakeholder model. In the proceeding analysis, we discuss these barriers as symptoms of instrumental rationality and their consequences on the wolf conservation conflict. Finally, the paper concludes with recommendations for alternative ways forward to help settle the conservation conflict over wolves with an approach with fora, in which citizens are normatively empowered.

This article offers a critical perspective on a broader turn in governance, that is presently used as a shortcut to local legitimacy for managing authorities to facilitate the implementation of conservation plans, but which is demonstrably struggling to halt polarization among interest groups in many such conflicts (Idrissou et al. 2011). We believe, that a diagnosis of the way, in which these models circumcribes deliberation, animates why polarized opinions and conflict persist despite decentralization. As such, this article makes a significant contribution in offering a more critical analytical understanding of the inveigling concept of stakeholder co-management within public planning and nature conservation in particular.

   Case Study: The State of Swedish Large Carnivore Conservation Top

As part of Natura 2000 and the Habitats Directive, the EU seeks to restore valuable species to their natural habitats across a mosaic-like distribution in their member states. This has included concerted conservation efforts for large carnivores in the Nordic countries. Where wolves were previously hunted to extinction in Sweden and Norway, thriving populations are now under strict EU protection to safeguard the species for future generations (Ekengren, 2012). In Sweden, the threat posed by the reappearance of large carnivores, following the EU Habitats Directive, has resulted in the articulation of hunting, livestock farming, and foraging the woods as components in a 'rural lifestyle', that is rendered impossible in many parts of the country (Pyka et al. 2007; Sjölander-Lindqvist 2009; von Essen et al. 2014b). A majority of Swedish citizens remain positive toward restoring wolves in the country (Sandström et al. 2014) and influential non-governmental organisations actively lobby to safeguard the species' future in the Swedish landscape. Conscientious hunters and many rural residents, however, contest the premise of bringing back a historically feared animal and granting it protected status (von Essen and Allen, 2015). This tension has precipitated resentment and increased social distance between the two camps, to the point where wolf conservation is seen as an issue of class, of rural-urban divides, of education, and of power being displaced from the people to a remote EU parliament (Bisi et al. 2007; Krange and Skogen 2011; von Essen et al. 2014b).

Polarized attitudes on wolf conservation have resulted in crimes of dissent, many of which, threaten the viability of future wolf populations in the Nordic countries (Liberg et al. 2012). Notably, a phenomenon of illegal hunting is the most ostensive indication that hunters view political channels of redress as unjust, incompetent, and illegitimate departures from sovereign will on this issue (von Essen et al. 2014b; von Essen and Allen, 2015). The legitimacy crisis is evidenced above all, that trust in managing authorities has plummeted from strong majorities to reported levels to 44% for the county administrative boards, 37% for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and a low 27% for the parliament (Ericsson et al. 2013). The lowest support over large carnivore conservation is extended to the European Union, at 20% (Sandström et al. 2014). These numbers are part of a significant development, as Sweden represents a country, in which, state institutions and public trust in authorities have generally been high (Holmberg and Weibull, 2011).

The conflict over the current conservation context has reached a national as well as local level in Sweden, as it has in Norway and Finland, wherein the latter, there is now increasing public sympathy toward illegal wolf hunters (Bisi and Kurki 2008; Peltola et al. 2013; Skogen et al. 2013). Questioning Sweden's ability to comply with the European Habitats Directive, the EU commission is following the Swedish co-management of wildlife closely. Thereby, the conservation context has reached even an international level (Holmgren, 2013). Following EU involvement in national conservation, hunters report experiencing marginalization of their world view at the hands of remote outsiders, the political elite, and the environmentally-conscious academic middle class with no basis in rural reality (von Essen et al. 2014b).

As a response to this predicament, wildlife and wolf conservation was decentralized from state authority through the parliament decree (2009:1474) by the Department of Environmental Affairs. In an effort to attain local legitimacy, the task of the new GMDs were stipulated to reach decisions concerning conservation plans, licensed hunting of carnivores in their regions, and issues of reimbursing damages or subsidizing in line with predator damage decrees 2001:724 and 2010:242. Today, the delegations contribute suggestions for the minimum levels for the carnivore population in their respective counties, based on the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency's recommendations and on what the delegations collectively consider possible to accommodate in their counties. The county administrative boards that host these delegations are responsible for dispensing information prior to delegation meetings. However, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency ultimately determines minimum viable levels for large carnivore populations. This configuration effectively classifies the GMDs as structures in co- management, in which, some responsibility is retained by state authorities.

A delegation is comprised of 13-15 mandates decided by the government: 1) five representatives of political affiliation, appointed by the county council; 2) one representative of issues of illegal hunting and game traffic injuries, nominated by the county police authority; 3) one representative of hunting and game management; 4) one representative of nature conservation; 5) one representative of the recreational outdoor interest; 6) one representative of land owners and users of agriculture; 7) one representative of local industry and tourism; 8) one representative of the forestry interest.

The chairman of the delegation is the county governor. Civil servants from the county administrative board also partake in the delegation with administrative functions. If the delegation is not unanimous in a decision, there is a vote that requires a majority of more than half (§12). At the unequal distribution of votes, the county governor holds the casting vote.

It is worth noting that at present, robust evaluations of GMD success are scarce. A growing pool of scholarly contributions have unmasked abiding problems of legitimacy, linked in part to the modus operandi of the fora (Bergliv, 2011; Salenvall, 2011; Hallgren and Westberg, 2014; von Essen and Allen, 2015). Other contributions remain cautiously optimistic toward the stakeholder turn in wolf management (Funnemark, 2010; Johansson, 2011). Indeed, some champion the good work done by GMDs compared to previously centralized management (Matti and Sandström, 2011; 2013). This scattered picture, therefore, calls for more critical investigations on the GMDs.

   Method Top

Our data was recorded as proceedings and discussions by the stakeholders in three GMDs. The GMDs belong to counties in middle and northern Sweden. They are termed delegations A, B and C for confidentiality. The researchers' access to the delegations was obtained through assistance on workshops on the course 'Communicative Support for Predator Management'in 2011. The course constituted part of a joint programme, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, aimed at improving the dialogue among those working with natural resource management in Sweden. The two-day workshops were conducted in conjunction with decision-making meetings, which meant that the delegates had the opportunity to reflect on working practice before and after their meetings. The course format of the workshops meant that qualitative data was obtained through a variety of means that sought to make visible communicative barriers, and successes that one had experienced in one's capacity as delegate: group exercises, plenary discussions, poster presentations and continuous reflections over two consecutive days.

The researcher conducting data collection was on the course facilitation team, with the task of recording sessions. There were multiple persons present who did not directly partake in all discussions; the county governor, two to three civil servants, and the three people on the facilitation team. This relatively high observer-to-participant composition may have exerted a discouraging effect on delegates reflecting freely. However, because the workshops were not then framed as evaluative research, participants might well have welcomed what was a rare opportunity to informally reflect on their roles and experiences in the GMDs.

There are three remaining points that can be laid forward as to the validity of the empirical material in our case study. First, because access to researchers was not permitted during decision meetings, the research must contend with: (1) observations of communication practice among the delegates in the workshop rather than in their undistorted working order; and (2) the delegates' own reflections on working practice in meetings. As stated, because the delegates reflected in either a group setting (with 3-4 others) or in plenary, a limitation could be in that they were not as open to sharing with their colleagues or chairman present.

Second, the findings were collected as a part of the 'Communicative Support for Predator Management'course, leading to a large amount of unprocessed qualitative data. Using these raw findings, however, had the benefit of: (1) a more non-biased collection process at the time; and (2) not having informed the delegates that they were being studied with our problem formulation in mind. This may have helped bypass the researcher-observer effect that would otherwise bear heavily on the data. This did, however, mean that while delegates consented to being studied and recorded, they were unable to give consent on the use and publication of their proceedings ad hoc. This has been addressed by assiduously decoding all material.

Third, considering the limited number of cases reduces the ability of this study to generalise its findings to other GMDs and to other stakeholder co-management models (Yin 2009). It cannot be claimed that the barriers identified by this research apply for stakeholder involvement in general, or for that matter, for all twenty-one Swedish GMDs. However, the findings provide some examples of the way, in which, stakeholder co-management models promote instrumental rationality that reproduces conflict.

Barriers to deliberation linked to instrumental rationality were identified on the basis of four themes that emerged in the process of coding the material. These are: (1) a strong sense of accountability; (2) an overly purposive atmosphere; (3) emphasis on decision as the final outcome, and (4) a perceived restricted ability to influence. The first tier of analysis categorised various deterrents to discussion under one of the themes. When presenting these, we relay general experiences of the GMDs, which we support with delegates' quotations. The second tier of analysis framed these themes in an understanding of the instrumental rationality of modernity insofar as it contributed to a strategic rationality on the part of delegates.

   Theoretical Framework Top

Rostbøll and the negative freedom tradition of stakeholder democracy

To understand the democratic pedigree of a forum, one may helpfully engage with the concept of democratic freedom. This can be apprehended, inter alia, as a measure of how constrained the participant of a dialogue process is in terms of their ability to form opinions based on intersubjective reasoning. A deficit in democratic freedom, by parity of reasoning, entails inflexibility that clouds one's deliberative field of vision. In a guiding thread to this analysis, Rostbøll (2008) contends that deliberative democracy presupposes a multi-dimensional conception of freedom, comprising dimensions of negative freedom, public autonomy, freedom as status and freedom as autonomous opinion-forming. We concern ourselves primarily with the latter as denoting opinions born from reason and not coercion.

Rostbøll argues accordingly, that the stakeholder model adheres to a one-dimensional concept of negative freedom (or liberty). Negative freedom in the liberal democratic view is defined as “the absence of external obstruction to or interference with motion of activity” (Rostbøll 2008: 34). Framed in an understanding of democracy, negative freedom means the non-interference of the individual participants' private interests. The implication of this is that, participation is largely seen as a cost incurred to the individual for instrumental reasons to protect and to promote his preferences and desires. The latter, moreover, are held as apolitical and privately determined belongings to individuals, and not the result of any public, intersubjective process of opinion formation. Drawing from Rostbøll's (2008) argument, we identify this liberal approach to democracy as a deficit of the stakeholder model. Thus, for our purposes, it is one that circumscribes the potential for transformation of opinion, and thereby merely reproduces pre-existing attitudes.

Habermas and the theory of communicative action

In order to determine, first, why there is institutional support for stakeholder thinking and, second, what the theoretical implications of the model are, we turn to Habermas' (1984) theory of communicative action. Within this, he presents a decoupling of society in the form of the lifeworld comprised of values and understandings that develop as a result of sustained intersubjective communication, and the system (comprised of structures and institutions) (Habermas 1962). The latter is dominated by a technical and instrumental rationality. In modernity, he argues, there is an ongoing differentiation between action oriented toward mutual understanding, which takes place in the horizon of the lifeworld, and action oriented toward outcome (Habermas 1984). These two dispositions are denoted by 'communicative'and 'strategic' or 'instrumental rationality'. Communicative rationality forges an important link between reason and intersubjectivity in language. In effect, it entails imposing demands upon the arguments advanced in social dialogue. In instrumental rationality, action is transferred from intersubjective reason to steering media (money, rhetoric, influence, etc.), which makes it possible to condense or completely bypass the deliberative process of reasoned argumentation.

The symptoms of democratic deficit are strategic action on the part of participants and instrumental rationality on the part of the institutions (public institutions and structures) to maintain this current system (Gross, 2010). By depriving citizens of the deliberative process, conservation issues are turned into issues to be managed instrumentally by scientific experts and technocrats (Elling 2008). It is possible, herein, to discern a link between Habermas' and Rostbøll's observations of the notion of instrumentality impairing communicative rationality. Habermas views this phenomenon in terms of contributing to a legitimation deficit, while Rostbøll understands it in terms of compromising democratic freedom for citizens. Further, Habermas espouses the ideal set forth by Rousseau (1762), and emphasised by Rostbøll by arguing that democratic freedom is achieved only insofar as insights and laws have been obtained intersubjectively by citizens, which our premise contends, may be partially precluded in the stakeholder co-management model. By drawing on Habermas' and Rostbøll's frameworks, we make visible the liberal preoccupation of placing citizens in narrow and predetermined categories and ascribing them with a priori interests as stakeholders.

   Barriers to Deliberation—lessons Learned from Three Swedish Game Management Delegation Workshops Top

In the following section, we present qualitative data collected from GMDs that showcases the prevalence of strategic rationality in the proceedings. For analytical clarity, the findings have been grouped under four barriers to deliberation. We treat the barriers of: 1) strong sense of accountability; 2) overly purposive atmosphere; 3) an emphasis on decision as final outcome; and 4) a perceived restricted ability to influence. The delegate quotations that we choose to draw from present the most concise formulations of the barrier under investigation, and those that garnered the most agreement or support (captured by participant observation).

We preface these results by acknowledging that the strong representative (or 'stakeholder') basis of the GMDs often constituted a point of contention among the delegates. For example, a delegate from GMD 'A' professed the challenge of being bounded by one's constituency:

”You can get one or two delegates on your side, those for whom the question is not too relevant. But the large group that I fight against is more difficult. You bring a powerful preconception from home, you then go and discuss. I don't bring forth my original question because this may silence the discussion. It is not a good idea to bring it into the delegation.”

The above statement highlights a normative goal of getting other delegates on your side, and avoiding discussion with those that cannot be swayed to your preconceived cause. It also betrays delegates' perception that such strategic action risks silencing the plenary discussion altogether. Communicative practice was held to work best when one party did not feel strongly or was not particularly knowledgeable about the matter discussed. If such criteria were met, one delegate saw the potential for a 'giving' experience. Tellingly, the purpose of discussion, according to this delegate, was also to display prowess in debate with an opponent, and not to engage in transformative dialogue with a delegate.

With respect to personal power in the delegation, delegates identified some active delegates as “one of those strong delegates” and stated that, “when he says something, [the discussion is] over,” which was attributed to rhetorical prowess, personal credibility, and social status. What was hence revealed is that strategic action in the forum was articulated, not only in the focus of advocating predetermined interests, but also in the personal rhetorical power of select delegates. In the following section, we now summarise the barriers to deliberation as they promoted this strategic rationality in the GMDs.

Strong sense of accountability

Group work and plenary discussions indicated that the lock of an individual stake on rationality was inextricably tied to the responsibility one harboured toward one's constituency. When asked about the degree to which the delegates found the work of the delegation 'responsible', delegates attributed positive qualities to being a representative of an interest organisation or a political party, and that it was “up to them [to produce change]”. One delegate declared proudly that as representative of the hunting and game interest, he was able to speak for some 20,000 hunters in his county. Another delegate said, “There's a positive rush from the people that I represent. They call me up and ask me what's going on.”

Delegates also pointed to a difficulty in separating personal opinion from what they saw as service duty. In delegation 'C', this was identified as the leading problem of their work. A delegation 'A' representative from the police authority stated that he regarded politics in the delegation as being a matter of “loyalty toward the employer.” Furthermore, responsibility in the form of accountability was seen to have a more explicitly negative

”The reindeer herders of [county B] expect me to overcome the predator issue. This is not easy because of laws and more. They perhaps don't understand that you don't have a zero tolerance policy to predators […] it is not easy to explain to those at the far back that nothing is happening.”

This experience was appeared to have been shared by many. A second issue of accountability to one's interest in organisation or political party was raised through another delegate's contribution,

”Delegates don't vote out of their own conviction, but according to what someone else thinks that they should vote […] what do you do if you know your opinion before the meeting, but then change your opinion in the course of the meeting?”

Goals of encouraging discussion were admittedly expressed in all three GMDs, but discussion appeared have incurred mainly for strategic purposes, or as a delegate contended, with the agreement of others “for the sake of those I represent.” A majority of delegates experienced that their interest-organisations placed a high degree of pressure on their representatives to retain their standpoints and to produce desired action back home. In delegation 'C', one declared how compromises between the hard line taken by the constituency and the decision arrived at in the delegation engendered great mistrust. This was connected to a concern that the constituency did not fully understand the extent of actual influence of GMDs on policy.

Overly purposive atmosphere

The relatively few meetings of the GMDs devoted to delivering decisions were named as a factor contributing to a rushed decision-making atmosphere. The sentiment expressed by a majority of participants across the three GMDs was that, in the end stress, resource constraints, and administrative inertia restricted the discussion. All three delegations pointed to a need for more meetings, particularly in troubled times when tensions ran high. One delegate from delegation 'A' also connected the importance of time in rooting the decisions back home.

In delegation 'B', various exercises and reflections revealed that, delegates experienced that the planning done by the civil servants exerted an excluding effect on them. Their a priori agenda rendered the plenary atmosphere less conducive to deliberation. This was exacerbated by a meeting room that was constructed in a “traditionally hierarchical” way. One representative openly observed, “It is large and I don't feel as though it invites discussion.”

Several delegates in delegation 'B' asserted that discussion in general was lacking, and was instead substituted by a one-way dispensing of information by the civil servants. One delegate reflected on the difference in orientation between the old consultative Game Management Committee and the GMDs, “Now it is about decisions… […] [back then] it was just taken to protocol. It was guidance. It is strange now that when we do make decisions, we do not have room for discussion.” On the information that accompanies each delegation meeting, another delegate contended, “You get the information by mail. It's difficult to put forward your own ideas unless we meet together […]. It becomes determined prior to the meeting. We only listen and receive.” Similarly, third delegate addressed the strong information orientation by stating,”It doesn't create room for dialogue. They are so prepared, the civil servants. It's also about the unsure role, what do we discuss?” This viewpoint was further espoused by two other contributions in plenary, “We think that you have such perfect opinions already, so we're afraid to say something. It doesn't sit right, that one wants to contribute but avoids this for fear of doing wrong.”

Additionally, there was some general uncertainty in the workshop over whether or not delegates should have influence at all on the working order of the meetings. To this, a delegate declared to another, as part of a group exercise that, “no, that's up to the civil servants.”

Decision as final outcome

The practice of discussing after a decision had been reached was largely viewed negatively in the GMDs. In delegation 'A', one delegate stated that, she regarded a decision as signifying the end of the discussion in meetings. Another delegate, similarly reflected that, he found it a strange practice to discuss the consequences of a decision after it had been taken. A third delegate, who in the reflection session, identified himself as one of those who had proceeded with the discussion after the voting, apologetically attributed this to his “lack of experience” of meetings, and that he did not know how it worked. This apologetic tone was also apparent in the contributions of a few other delegates, with another delegate conceding that, he “…went on too long at the end.” He defended this faux pas by noting that, whatever was discussed did not pertain to the decision, but was more of a “speaking of” nature, that had no bearing on the final outcome.

In delegation 'B', meanwhile, nothing was explicitly said about a voting outcome, inhibiting discussion. But, here it became clear based on reflections from delegates, that one experienced a general difficulty in giving response and feedback to the contributions of others. They stated that this practice “…impairs the order of the meeting”, and was not a very dynamic way of working. In delegation 'C', lengthy discussions without discernible results were likewise seen as undercutting efficiency. When asked, if they feared that discussion would take too much time out of the meeting, a delegate in delegation 'B' responded, “The county governor often wants to end the discussion more than I do.”

In delegation 'A', the county governor ultimately conceded that she had the tendency to stick to meeting protocol a little too rigorously, and that the feedback is a positive thing with “questions like these” [referring to the inflammatory decision, of where to place wolves in the county]. At this point, a delegate declared that it would be good if one was allowed to vent “the last bit” during the meeting. Much like another delegate, she connected this practice to bringing the decision back to one's organisation. A little later the same delegate admitted, in plenary, to experiencing that the county governor put pressure on the delegation to reach a decision.

In delegation 'C', where one had first identified discussions without robust outcomes as inefficacious, similar admissions over the purposive orientation of the delegations gradually emerged. One delegate observed that immediately upon their creation, GMDs “had to start by making decisions.” One workshop group from the same delegation identified “the impatience of society” as a limiting factor. In addition to this, delegation 'C' noted of the decision preoccupation of their delegation that, “When the decisions are made through voting, you're forced to become more strategic.”

Restricted ability to influence

While one opined that the top-down guidelines from parliament facilitated work, the overwhelming majority of delegates appeared to experience that working within these confines was onerous. One hunting delegate contended of the place of the GMDs in the co-management structure. He said, “We do not have a big say. It is the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency who controls the questions. […] The problem is that scientists rule. And they hide our numbers and tell us that we do not have the right knowledge basis.”

This was espoused by other delegates, particularly those of the hunting interest. In delegation 'A', another, non-hunting delegate expressed the ability to influence, “We don't actually influence the decisions…only the way that they are expressed.” In delegation 'B', the belief was that the top-down guidelines for the delegation needed to be constantly revised but that this was currently unachieved. When asked to identify negative aspects of the GMD as part of a group exercise, it transpired that both, limited mandate and uncertainty of mandate, had the same effect of compromising work in all three delegations. Delegation 'C' was unanimous in regarding the decentralisation of power “from Stockholm” as a positive development, but the delegation was disillusioned over its current actual influence. Another delegate reflected on this disappointment and the inevitable futility of participation, “Sometimes I think [GMDs] are a damn playhouse of tax-payers' money.”

   Discussion of Barriers to Deliberation Top

Our findings indicated clear shortcomings or outright avoidance of discussion on substantive conservation issues. Delegates in 'A', 'B', and 'C' failed to challenge assertions by others with respect to their validity, and to reflect on and better understand decisions taken collectively. This was, in large part, due to the ingrained working structure of the meetings, to which, lengthy feedback without a discernible end, and interrupting what was understood as a classic structure to adhere to, were considered subversive. Findings strongly suggested that it was less about 'what' was said and more about who said it and at what point they did so in the time frame of the meeting. In other words, power, defined here as the ability to bypass the deliberative process (Habermas 1987) rested not in the strength of the argument but in non-communicative and relational media.

Notably, one source of such power was administrative authority, particularly as this had the backing credentialled scientific expertise. In GMD 'A', one also noted how power rested more strongly in some delegates than others, and that a contribution by them could put a decisive end to the discursive process. With this phenomenon, communicative action was arguably hindered, in part, through strategic action by delegates and through authoritative power. In the latter, participants had unknowingly ceded control to the county administrative board, constituting systematically distorted communication (Habermas 1984).

Strong sense of accountability

Failure of communicative rationality also took the form of a sufficiently deep strategic grounding in one's predetermined interest to see little point in pursuing discussion with a delegate, who represented a different stake to one's own interest. Indeed, if interests were seen as irreconcilable, and if the two parties engaged in discussion where both felt strongly about their predetermined causes, one delegate even inferred the uselessness of the endeavour. As such, they sometimes did not bother engaging an opponent with a perceived opposing interest.

Dialogue analysed from proceedings from Delegation 'C', in particular, revealed great distrust of the participatory process from one's constituencies, which was exacerbated when their stance on a conservation point had been compromised. Transformative dialogue constituted a potential threat to one's constituency, and with it, to one's very reason for participation. The strong representative basis of the delegation effectively divided the arena into discrete, strategic units that were fixed in terms of their relative interests. Gergen et al. (2002) state that this bounded representative practice has thereby already circumscribed the possibilities for communicative rationality and deliberation in the forum. This points to an inherent deficit of the way in which the stakeholder co-management model is constituted.

We aimed to ameliorate our findings of the inhibiting effect of strong representation by conducting a survey of the as yet scarce evaluative literature on the GMDs in Sweden. Funnemark (2010), Johansson (2011), and Salenvall (2011) investigations into the working practice of GMDs support that delegates choose to align with their organisation in conflicts between one's personal will (the one formulated autonomously by reason), and the will of the organisation (the pre-deliberative view). This finding is also made apparent through Matti and Sandström (2013), admittedly more positive account of the GMDs as an organ of co-management, where they uncovered strategic internal coalitions between the delegates. Namely, these alliances were based on similarity between agendas and their perceived influence in the forum as opposed to any merit to their argumentation.

If we critically consider the implications of the representative orientation of the stakeholder model on participant rationality, we must necessarily declare that an inherent dilemma is that, delegates' preformed preferences constitute part of what motivates them to engage in participation in the first place (Rawls 1993). While it is easy to criticize this orientation, the stakeholder model does offer the constitutional premises for the legal protection of the citizens. It also ensures prima facie that the political preferences on the commons of society are met, which achieves sovereign authority in ways that simple majoritarianism cannot (Rawls 1971; Nozick 1974; Markovitz 2005). Likewise, to the individual citizen whose self-assessment may be that he or she lacks the communicative competence to pursue a delegate position, representative democracy offers a way to still be heard in the decision-making process (Parkinson 2003). Regardless of the advantages of representative democracy, a corollary of stakeholder models is that, ordinary citizens, who may be more open to reason, are weeded out in favour of rhetorically apt and potentially strategic 'stakeholders'. This occurs on a fundamental level of participation and sets up the stakeholder forum for deficits.

Overly purposive atmosphere

Our findings indicated that time constraints contributed to a tension, in simple terms, between processes of deliberation and efficiency, where the latter tended to dominate in the GMDs. This was particularly problematic in those cases which the county administrative board deem urgent matters (Helling and Thomas 2002). The tensia reportedly reduced the quality of decision. This is supported by Hallgren and Westberg (2014) who identified that the institutional structure of the GMDs, including allotted times and roles for meetings, promoted discursive closures. The county administrative board maintained to be under pressure from other institutions to reach decisions within a short time frame, which we found generated a problematic focus on top-down dispensing of scientific information to delegations in a way which discouraged delegates from engaging in discussions.

The implications of the instrumental orientation to working practice were twofold. First, recourse to scientific expertise and consolidation of control to the county board engendered fewer communicative contributions from delegates. This was evidenced by delegates' uncertainty of their roles in meetings, given how predetermined everything appeared to them, or they were certain that they could not influence what issues were brought to light, the points raised in conjunction with these issues, or the amount of time spent discussing them. The second implication of power being consolidated with the board was that scientific expertise was privileged and alternative forms of knowledge were de facto marginalized. This is continually demonstrated to alienate participants in natural resource management processes (Clausen et al. 2010). As a broader consequence of this, decision-making in this setting becomes progressively divorced from the people (Elling 2008).

Decision as final outcome

In all delegations, mainly elaborated in delegation 'A', delegates appeared heavily committed to adhering to what they perceived as 'standard meeting protocol'. The implications of the adherence to this format were that: 1) on a practical level many discussions were prematurely silenced by voting; and 2) on a more abstract level, the delegations in effect reproduced their private rather than publicly attained opinions through strategic rationality.

For the first point, the commitment to meeting structure meant that the final decision was seen as the natural end to the discursive process. This is problematic for two reasons. First, delegates were denied the reflection needed to anchor a decision in their constituencies. As scholars contend, this stage is critical to social learning and in promoting 'separate deliberations' in organisations (Gundersen 1995; Parkinson 2003). Secondly, if deliberations had taken place prior to making decisions, which was not the case in the GMDs, 'clubbing it' immediately with a decision taken would arguably still reinforce the instrumental atmosphere. The fact that this decision is taken through voting, in issues where consensus is often absent, undermines the deliberative process itself (Salenvall, 2011). Voting without deliberation becomes here a rationalised process whereby, whichever delegate possesses the highest quantity of the non-communicative media, determines the outcome.

For the second point, the current practice of construing voting as the ultimate goal of the delegations is a problematic legacy of the liberal democracy behind the stakeholder model. To clarify this, Elster (1986) points to the fact that deliberation as the essential political act of giving, weighing, accepting or rejecting reasons for a claim constitutes a public act, whereas voting is purely private. With the present structure and practice of many stakeholder co-management fora, one may, for example, enter the forum with a predetermined attitude and see it through to the end, without it being subject to public scrutiny. Retaining this instrumental orientation has the effect of confining preferences in their private realms and failing to expose them to the public act of critical evaluation. This, as we earlier contended with the ideas of Rostbøll, is linked to a liberal theory of negative freedom whereby individuals' preferences are seen as something to be protected from potential transformation.

Restricted ability to influence

Our findings strongly indicated that delegates experienced that working within the confines of top-down directives, as is generally the case in co-management, exerted a restrictive force on the discussion and work of the delegation, which was often a matter of 're-phrasing' decisions rather than collectively arriving at them. Hunting representatives in particular expressed discontentment with scientific experts colonising management through dismissing delegates' assertions on the basis of being emotionally driven concerns or ill-informed, a democratic deficit that is often observed in conservation (Bisi and Kurki 2008; Buijs et al. 2014).

Although it is beyond the scope of this research to assess the extent to which the delegations in our case study were able to exert actual influence on wolf policy, what can be noted is that, the delegations should according to paragraphs 3 and 4 'determine' and 'try' questions that they themselves have worked out, which a delegate from delegation 'B' underscored was not the case. This is corroborated by Bergliv (2011), who demonstrated that some delegates in the GMDs experience that the right to formulate their own rules (principle 7) is not currently granted. Herein, the role of citizens as authors of laws, in effect, becomes annulled. The GMDs have also reported discontentment over decisions being legally appealed and overruled by outside forces, which now occurs annually in the legal obstruction of licensed wolf culls.

Strategic rationality as a result of no deliberative space

We recall from Rostbøll's (2008) ideas that the liberal tradition behind the stakeholder model presupposed that preferences were constituted privately and individually. As such, deliberation, which aims at potentially transforming such preferences, was construed as a threat to one's personal freedom. What the above findings from the delegations demonstrate is that, for this conservation conflict preferences are indeed being constituted privately, and that this does no favours to the conservation process nor to citizens.

To explain this, with the delegations' failure at deliberation, the site for the constitution of attitudes in effect becomes civil society. This also means attitude formation takes place among the like-minded rather than between diverse populations in the society. This is axiomatic as people group with those similar to oneself and distance themselves from antagonistic others, who may undergo simplification, and witness villainism (Gergen et al. 2002). The isolationist orientation of groups of contesting opinions is highly pronounced in the Swedish case, in which, there is now a strong us-and-them orientation between the rural or hunting subculture and 'urban outsiders' (Brymer 1991; Forsyth et al. 1998; von Essen et al. 2014a). In the process of isolating oneself from alternative formulations on wolf conservation, interest groups also develop a shared semantics for feelings of injustice strategically positioned against others. This has been shown to be exacerbated when isolated discourses are brought into the stakeholder forum. Here they lead to accusations and positional bargaining in a way that increases divergence between stakeholders (Idrissou et al. 2011).

Isolated attitude formation necessarily means that preferences are not formed with particular autonomy. Indeed, they are removed from the public to a locus where they are at the mercy of cultural and ideological forces, including social norms, power structures, and a willingness to conform to one's reference group. These forces are able to bypass citizens' critical faculties by proceeding in emotional and social rather than the cognitive-rational conduits associated with deliberative public fora. Rostbøll (2008: 82) contends that, “Preferences need not be classified as “autonomous” simply because they are reflexively formed. Reflexivity does not mean freedom.”

Acting on such pre-deliberation wills does not involve reason or knowledge gained intersubjectively, but has been seen by some political philosophers, such as Rousseau (1762), as a form of slavery. While this is too idealist to assert today, it can be acknowledged that the reduction of the democratic process to the commitment to protecting and promoting private interests represents an insufficient liberal conception of democratic freedom (Rawls 1971; Nozick 1974). This has become about turning away from the unpredictability of other people ('others' in the sense that they are taken to hold opposing interests, even if this is increasingly based on oversimplification). It is, above all, a stoic and apolitical view of personal control and mastership of oneself. By turning away from the danger of communicative action, Rostbøll (2008) argues, the individual is rendered foreign to the possibilities of collective, transformative action.

In summary, the shift to co-management in conservation may be conceded as having brought in societal perspectives to replace previously solely institutional ones. It, thereby, also attempted to bridge the gap between currently isolated interest groups in society. In reality, however, it reproduces the gap. This, we argued, could be traced to the democratic deficits of this model, which prevent a mutually constructive deliberative process by having a series of barriers to discussion. As a corollary of this predicament, we declare that the stakeholder co-management model is currently reproducing a polarisation on views that adds fuel to the conservation conflict it was devised to solve.

Toward a communicative rationality: from stakeholders to citizens

We have advanced the maxim that the stakeholder co-management model is flawed, by discussing its implications on rationality, freedom, legitimacy, and attitude polarisation in conservation conflicts. In line with our theoretical framework, a task for future participatory conservation planning will be to reclaim a stronger appeal to democratic freedom by making the shift from an instrumental to communicative rationality.

In light of the structural barriers identified by this research, the struggle will particularly centre around reclaiming deliberative opportunity from non-communicative steering media like power, voting, and the resources such as time and money. To address the medium of power, civil servants in co-management need to reorientate their involvement from a priori agenda setting to more experimental, facilitating forms of communication.

The above recommendations necessarily beg the question: how is this to be realistically achieved? We are in agreement with a large volume of the literature that change must occur at the institutional level (Simmons 2007). Because our barriers to deliberation often pointed to the discouraging effect of scientific authority, either through the information dispensed by the county administrative board or through the power of such argumentation in conservation matters, the main thing we see that needs to be remedied is that technical-ecological knowledge needs to better align with alternative forms of knowledge. Stated otherwise, processes need to cease the de facto privileging of scientific expertise to better accommodate lifeworld knowledge and perspectives (Simmons 2007). Ecology provides a valuable field to help us better conserve wildlife in the future but, crucially, it is not normative and cannot tell us what the future should look like. This is rather a political and democratic question that requires appropriate democratic premises. Thus, a requisite for arriving at any positions regarding conservations is an open dialogue that makes visible the ethical and moral values that constitute the basis of any conservation goal, such as the number of wolves to be allowed in the county. This makes deliberative democracy an attractive approach above others.

If change is to take place on the institutional level, however, more radical solutions may be required. One such idea is put forth by Mansbridge (1999), who at least on a conceptual level advocates a re-design of the institutional framework to comprise a continuum of deliberative forums to legitimise the decision-making process. In conservation conflicts, these would range from informal assemblies of recognisable political content to the delegation-like configurations of today, which entail more accountability. The benefit to such a network of assemblies would be to alleviate the instrumental basis of the current stakeholder co-management by distributing representation, authorization, and accountability across many deliberative assemblies. Stated otherwise, instrumentality would be a burden shouldered by many, instead of pent up in one forum per county. Such devolution may motivate 'citizen' participation rather than 'stakeholder' participation (Clausen et al. 2010). Perhaps, the biggest obstacles to this approach will be, first, how to protect the deliberative and horizontal approach from powerful strategic interests, and, second, how to bring together the outcomes of such process with the political, legal, and institutional systems of vertical democracy.

Finally, while this paper has been critical of the stakeholder turn in conservation, it is impossible to place the blame squarely on any one component of the system. Critics of communicative action have pointed to the potentially paralysing effects of having to consider every single argument, at least, in administrative institutions like the GMDs in our study (Chambers 1995; Warren 1995). Habermas concedes that pluralistic modern societies have to relax communicative demands, and even allow for some forms of strategic action or weakened forms of communicative action to prevail. This is so because such societies can no longer be socially integrated on the basis of shared cultural norms (Elling 2008). A republican critique of the stakeholder model would plausibly concede the same; that is, that society must now permit some forms of interference that constrain the freedom of citizens, so long as this interference is non-dominating. Given the power of the administration, scientific expertise, and one's constituency in limiting one's democratic freedom, moreover, this non-domination is not achieved. Indeed, however, many pragmatic advantages that motivate stakeholder models, it is arguably at the detriment of the more vulnerable deliberative strand of democracy. In essence, the stakeholder model is unsustainable on the basis of reproducing the same problem that it was formulated to solve. Although now operating slightly closer to the people than before, it represents yet another institution in game management that precludes progress by promoting bounded rationality.

   Conclusion Top

In this study we have identified the need to critically diagnose the democratic deficits of the stakeholder co-management model. Owing to the severity of the wolf conservation conflict in the Nordic countries, the research used the Swedish GMDs as a case study to illustrate how the stakeholder approach failed to increase legitimacy or mitigate the escalating conflict between citizens. We operated with the premise that there were structural barriers to deliberation in the stakeholder model that led delegates in our case study to subordinate communicative attempts to systemic instrumentality. The aim of the research was to determine what these barriers were and, second, to identify the causes and effects of such democratic deficits. The four barriers were:

  1. A strong sense of accountability, by which, allegiance to one's employer and to delivering results in one's constituency discouraged delegates from engaging in dialogue that threatened transforming their positions and thus risking a conflict between one's personal will and the will of the organisation;
  2. An overly purposive atmosphere whereby the top-down, technocratic conduct of the county administrative board had an excluding effect on stakeholders, who would refrain from questioning for fear of being wrong and generally censor their own deliberative efforts;
  3. A commitment to decision as final outcome, through which, reflection on important issues was not welcomed, and through which, the final decision functioned as mere aggregation of private interests that had been determined prior to the stakeholder meeting;
  4. A perceived inability of the stakeholders to influence, whereby some experienced that their work was a matter of re-phrasing SEPA directives.

Through Habermas' theory of communicative action, the presence of barriers to deliberation was understood to constitute a rationalization process in modern society. What was also found was that with circumscribed deliberation, attitudes in conservation conflicts remain unchallenged and untransformed by intersubjective reason. The second implication of the rationalisation is that democratic freedom is not sufficiently achieved, as multi-dimensional freedom is realised only where attitudes are responsive to critical reason, i.e., in deliberative settings.

Finally the article called for change to accrue legitimacy to management and to restore people's democratic freedom by giving them opportunity to deliberate. This is envisioned as constituting a shift from stakeholders to citizens. Since this article has taken an institutionalist position, it argued that change ought to come from the institutional level, through, e.g., a redesign into a continuum of political forums for wildlife, game or natural resource management.

   Acknowledgements Top

We wish to extend our thanks to Lars Hallgren and Lotten Westberg at the Environmental Communication Division of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Without live access to proceedings and data shared from their course Communicative Support for Predator Management, this research could not have proceeded.[71]

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