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Biodiversity Conservation: A Review of Some Socio-economic and Ecological Issues

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Benton, Ted
Conference: Reinventing the Commons, the Fifth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bodoe, Norway
Conf. Date: May 24-28, 1995
Date: 1995
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/459
Sector: Global Commons
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
global commons
Abstract: "Two British authors (Hambler and Speight 1995) have recently advanced the provocative thesis that science should replace 'tradition' in wildlife conservation. The implication in this is that science somehow is able to provide an objective account of what biodiversity is and how it should best be managed. Against this view, a consensus among social scientists would probably be that 'biodiversity' is a social or cultural construct, as evidenced by its relatively recent emergence as a topic for international negotiation, and the relative ease with which specific versions of the concept can be associated with identifiable economic or political interests. There is no doubt that this can be done, and that it is very important in understanding the conflicts around, and obstacles to biodiversity conservation that these links between identifiable, more-or-less persistent constellations of interests and different ways of conceptualising biodiversity and priorities in its conservation are explored and analysed. At the same time, this should not involve any concession to the currently fashionable view in some social science disciplines that the socially constructed character of a concept implies that its referent is, likewise 'socially constructed.' Of course, the concept of social construction itself stands in need of analysis, but my main point here is to insist on the possibility and the necessity of an approach which recognises both human social and cultural practices and their non-human conditions, means and contexts as real, interdependent and interacting causal orders. Though concepts of biodiversity are, indeed, socially constructed, they make reference to immensely complex realities which exist independently of our thinking about them, have effects on us, and are affected by us in ways which are sometimes recognised, sometimes not, sometimes intended, wanted, or foreseen, sometimes not. To approach the question of biodiversity conservation is to require an unaccostomed collaboration between the disciplines of the 'natural' and 'social' sciences, but to do so in ways which will call for a partial 'deconstruction' of those traditionally defined disciplinary matrices and of their boundaries." "In what follows, I will try to unravel a little of the complexity in the rival definitions of what biodiversity is. I will then offer some suggestions about how and why the conservation of biodiversity has, within the last decade, come to be established as a major issue for international negotiation. Finally, I will try to use some of these suggestions to explore the strategic implications and inner tensions of current international biodiversity conservation, most especially through an analysis of the terms of the global biodiversity treaty."

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