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Ecosystems services research in action: reflexively valuing environments in the South Pacific

Chelsea E. Hunter, Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University
Matthew Lauer, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University


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Ecosystem services (ES) are heralded as an approach that communicates across disciplines and between researchers and resource managers, encouraging more environmentally sustainable human behavior. However, most studies presuppose that “values” are ontologically distinct from “ecosystem services” without examining what this framing enables and occludes about human and other-than-human relations. Through a reflexive research approach, we conduct a conventional photo elicitation ES survey among four groups in Moorea, French Polynesia, while also eliciting respondents’ evaluations of the survey method, and documenting the method in action as participants interacted with it. Photo elicitation results suggest that fishers valued the subsistence fishery while scientists favored habitats, yet all stakeholders were concerned about the role of economic activities in contributing to environmental degradation. Yet, survey participants had difficulties with interpreting the photos of ecosystem services as intended, an indication that the ES framework commits to a nature-culture dualism and displaces other ways of ordering human and other-than-human relations, particularly those present throughout the Global South. We argue that ecosystem services research is best treated as a situated practice where researcher and research participants jointly produce intended and unintended results and outcomes.

Key words

cultural ecosystem services; nature-cultural dualism; Pacific; reflexive methods

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087