Authors: Nguyen, Quang Ngoc; S0220454
Issue Date: 27-Mar-2014
Abstract: Discussions and conflicts between communities and authorities on matters of conservation and community participation in nature reserves have been intensively researched in recent years in view of protection and management. In line with this, there is a wide recognition that protected area management does not only require knowledge of the natural conditions and of the necessary technical interventions, but also that there is a need of expertise regarding the social organisation and the facilitation of learning processes of the (political) social and cultural systems involved. Despite this recognition, efforts to stimulate participation of local communities in protected area management in many parts of the world have appeared to be largely unsuccessful. This is particularly the case in many developing countries where local communities are strongly dependent on the available natural resources. Many scholars emphasize that, despite the rhetoric about the substantive values of participatory democracy and integrative approaches, the concrete decisions and practices do not reflect the values, needs or concerns of the wider, and particularly, the local community. The actual decision-making processes are often confined to a dominant coalition of elite participants (on the one hand experts on natural resource management and on the other hand administrative authorities) acting mainly from a technical rationality perspective, thereby importantly neglecting the value of community participation and of the social and cultural aspects of nature conservation. The power relations between these ‘elites’ of nature conservation and the ‘local’ communities provoke many conflicts. ‘How to shape the relationships between these actors’, and ‘how to manage these conflicts’, are more than ever crucial questions for the sustainable management of protected areas. In this PhD we have investigated the issue of participation of local communities in protected area management including the role of power relations in shaping participation through a case study in North Vietnam. In the first chapter of this thesis the concrete case study is introduced: the optimization project of the operational management in the Ngoc Son – Ngo Luong nature reserve, Hoa Binh province, Vietnam. A description is given of the natural, social, political, cultural and economic context of the research site. In the second chapter different theoretical approaches of community participation and of power relationships are presented and discussed. The rhetoric on the management of nature reserves strongly emphasizes the importance of participatory approaches. However, the proponents of these approaches often have naïve thoughts that show a lack of insight in the complexities of the workings of power and the meaning of power relations in participatory processes. The literature reveals very different approaches to the understanding of power, whereby the works of Habermas and Foucault play an important role. Their writings are compared and contrasted to provide a rich understanding of power relations in community participation. Based on a review of different typologies and frameworks analysing participation and power relations, we chose the concrete frameworks of Kelly and Gaventa as the theoretical base for the concrete research on participation and power. After the presentation in chapter three of the concrete methodology of the field research, in chapter 4 a first analysis of the concrete participation processes in the Ngoc Son - Ngo Luong case is given. Departing from Foucault’s suggestion to consider resistance against particular activities and measures as a starting point to research power relations, an analysis is made of the concrete acts of resistance of the local community against the concrete management activities in this area. A description is given of how the growing distrust of local communities vis-à-vis the management of the Ngoc Son – Ngo Luong nature reserve is translated and articulated in various concrete strategies and actions of resistance. In chapter five an analysis is presented based on Kelly’s framework. It distinguishes between seven dimensions that help to analyse the participation processes (context, goals, scale, stage, who, capacity, methods), whereby these dimensions also mutually interact and are all influenced by power relations. This power appears in various forms and at different moments. Thereby attention is also given to formal and informal, private and public dimensions. Chapter six specifically presents an exploration of the three forms of operational power distinguished by Gaventa: visible, hidden, and invisible power. These three forms are analysed in connection with scale and space. The analysis shows that the way power operates is ultra-dynamic, subtle and diffuse, and that these three forms do not operate separately. A description is given on how the management board of the NSNL NR used different (also political) resources and strategies to exclude particular stakeholders, to control the agenda and the discussion, and to control and influence the opinions of stakeholders. On the basis of these analyses, and against the backdrop of discussions about power relations in the context of participation, chapter seven goes deeper into the crucial finding resulting from the intensive field research: namely that in the researched area there was also a ‘community-forest’, with very specific rules, enabling very particular (cultural) practices and interactions, also between the local community and the managers (‘rangers’), that disturbed and suspended the power relations operating outside this space. Moreover, this community forest appeared to be much better protected than the rest of the nature reserve. Foucault’s concept of ‘heterotopias’ was on the one hand used as a heuristic framework to further analyse the workings of the community forest and on the other hand to interpret the observations. It is our contention that the space of the community forest actually functions as a space created by the local community itself, whereby the local culture and knowledge creates a resource for adequate nature conservation, whereby fixed forms of interaction are interrupted and particular power relations are at least temporarily suspended. In this way, also strong educative moments can emerge as the basis for learning processes that create opportunities for various stakeholders to shape different relationships and cultural practices as resources. In line with these observations, the community forest can be regarded as a “space of suspension and learning”, in other words, as an important educational space. We conclude that it is important to move beyond the dominant rhetoric concerning the participation of local communities, and to engage in in-depth research on the way concrete power dynamics operate in specific, concrete contexts. It is also important to pay particular attention to the spatial and cultural aspects that play a role. In addition, attention and sensitivity should be developed for the spaces often created unexpectedly by local communities (such as the resistance and the community forest in our case) in order to either continue, or re-create other practices of nature conservation management.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Education, Culture and Society
Education and Society

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