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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Monitoring in Tropical National Parks: The Power of Knowledge

1 German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103 Leipzig, Germany; Institut Dissonances, Le Village, 09800 Bonac-Irazein, France
2 German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e; Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
3 Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, UMR 5175, CNRS-Université de Montpellier-Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier-EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France

Correspondence Address:
Ruppert Vimal,
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103 Leipzig, Germany; Institut Dissonances, Le Village, 09800 Bonac-Irazein

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

Monitoring is increasingly recognised as a key instrument for effective nature conservation. It attempts to provide quantitative knowledge to implement conservation actions upon scientific evidence. However, science studies have shown that monitoring is not only a simple technical choice but also carries a cognitive representation of the world and plays a social role. Based on a socioethnographic approach involving 94 semi-structured interviews in seven national parks in tropical Africa and Indonesia, the objective of this study is to analyse the different dimensions of the relation between expertise and power, in the context of postcolonial environmental policies. Drawing on the limitations of monitoring programmes to guide management, this paper shows their unexpected roles and indirect effects. Monitoring appears as a means to provide parks with an effective existence following two dimensions. First, it enacts and contributes to convey a cognitive representation of nature conservation in those areas. Overall, monitoring programmes concentrate predominantly on long term scientific knowledge rather than on pragmatic and action driven knowledge. The majority of programmes focuses on conserving charismatic species and banning illegal activities inside the park rather than on fostering sustainable human activities around the park. Second, the implementation of monitoring programmes gives the parks a material dimension. It provides human, financial, and logistical resources, it controls the parks' activities and structures the parks' governance and administration. Therefore, the day-to-day use of indicators and technical instruments relies less on their ability to drive action than on their capacity to shape power relationships and to produce a social reality. Our findings question the predominant place given to quantitative science and technique in nature conservation and the social conditions under which an evidence based policy can be implemented.

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