Just Conservation Futures

The First CONDJUST/IGSD Advanced Postgraduate Workshop

There is a moment when you are completing a PhD, or shortly afterwards as you work on post-doctoral research, when you suddenly begin to see the bigger picture of your research. The broader questions it raises, the contribution it could make, what your thesis means, all becomes clearer. It’s often gradual, a dawning realization, but it is still a rather magical moment. When you ask someone how their thesis is going at such moments, you sometimes get rather long answers  And when you ask a roomful of such people to talk about their research, then, well, just imagine what can happen.

The CONDJUST/IGSD Advanced Postgraduate workshop set out to do just that. We wanted to find some of the brightest minds working on different aspects of conservation justice, to bring them all into one room, and then light the touch paper. This was the second such collaboration between IGSD and ICTA and given the success of earlier workshops we had high hopes for this one.

We (Rosaleen Duffy and myself) set a broad remit in the workshop call. We named the gathering ‘Just Conservation Futures’ and invited researchers whose work would advance our understanding of what just wildlife and biodiversity conservation means and how it might be achieved. Approaches could include, inter alia, philosophies of justice, data justice, planning for fairer conservation futures, more-than-human approaches, anti-racism, new drivers of injustice, understanding enduring obstacles to justice and so on. We were particularly keen to hear from people who are working on new dimensions of justice and injustice.

The workshop was over-subscribed. Over 2000 people downloaded the invitation (!). Fortunately not all of those applied, but still, narrowing down a shortlist, and then a final group of 12 was hard. We set up a reserve list, but everyone offered a place accepted the invitation. Expenses-paid trips of this sort are rather popular.

We convened in September 2023 at ICTA. The format for each participant was the same. They circulated papers / chapters several weeks in advance which we shared with invited discussants. Each paper was then presented by its author, discussed by two discussants, and then the room opened for questions. Presenting can still be a daunting experience, but the atmosphere was constructive. Part of the joy of this experience is to have so much quality attention on your work, and to see the broader themes and issues developing. And there were many networks to build and connections to be made.

The speakers followed different themes. With respect to popular engagement with / resistance to conservation Munib Khanyari, presented recently published work which reported how he and others in the Nature Conservation Foundation were co-designing interventions in high altitude herding communities in the Indian Trans-Himalaya. Harriet Ibbett shared a paper in production that examines how a focus on how conservation rules are administered (as opposed to just more guards and administrators) can affect rule compliance. Emmanuel Akampurira examined histories of elite capture in community conservation in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

On visibility Paul Thung, shared research on how community forestry in Indonesia depended on particular types of visibility, while creating other forms of invisibility. Theodore Stanley shared research on carbon forestry in the Scottish highlands, and how particular regimes of visibility allow certain types of carbon to become more visible, without necessarily sequestering more carbon, or producing ecologically valuable landscapes.

Two presentations were concerned with people’s relations with specific animals. Rosa Deen’s work on the ‘choreography’ between people and wild dogs in the uMkhuze Game Reserve in South Africa presented a rich environmental history of evolving relations. Ella-Kari Muhl presented her participatory work on sea otter return in Haida Gwaii, in the Pacific Northwest, sharing a sea otter’s perspective to explore how a First Nation (Haida) people are responding to the social-ecological transformations this key stone species will bring. Lele Pizarro Choy took a step back from particular species to look at how people in different parts of Peru, and in different wildlife markets there, understand and experience (illegal) wild animal trade. What makes a wild animal wild? 

Finally, four presentations concerned different forms of violence. Ismael De La Villa argued that accumulation by appropriation and accumulation by conservation in Brazil should be seen as conjoined processes. Ivan Ashaba presented his extraordinary work on the intimate details of law enforcement and violence in Uganda. Eleonora Fanari introduced the concept of ‘Participatory Security’ as found around the Kaziranga National Park in India. Cebuan Bliss examined how potential forms of violence against animals are governed (or not) through processes of rewilding in Africa and Europe.

As you can imagine, the discussants had a lot to do, and a huge thanks to Francis Masse, Philile Mbatha, Susan Boonman-Berson, Jessica Hope, Hal Fischer and Rosaleen for all the work that they put in. It is a privilege to get that sort of quality attention on your work.

But the academic presentations and discussions were not the end of the affair. Throughout the summer all participants had been working hard with the wonderful Tim Ralphs, to develop 10 minute stories illustrating different aspects of their research. On the last night of the workshop, on a stage in Barcelona’s edgy Nau Bostik space, all performed their work. The story-telling event was amazing. Everyone brought such energy and commitment to the task. We dressed up for it too. Even the scanty supper did not detract from the occasion, such was the convivial spirit running through the event. And all the stories were filmed, you can see them all via this youtube link.

My thanks to all the organisers, to Marie de Maetzu and the ERC for funding this event, and to the participants for the energy, experience and brains they brought to it. I look forward to the next one .