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Power and Conflict in Adaptive Management: Analyzing the Discourse of Riparian Management on Public Lands

Jennifer S Arnold, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Florida
Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, School of Human Development and Organizational Studies, University of Florida
Wendy-Lin Bartels, Florida Climate Institute, University of Florida


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Adaptive collaborative management emphasizes stakeholder engagement as a crucial component of resilient social-ecological systems. Collaboration among diverse stakeholders is expected to enhance learning, build social legitimacy for decision making, and establish relationships that support learning and adaptation in the long term. However, simply bringing together diverse stakeholders does not guarantee productive engagement. Using critical discourse analysis, we examined how diverse stakeholders negotiated knowledge and power in a workshop designed to inform adaptive management of riparian livestock grazing on a National Forest in the southwestern USA. Publicly recognized as a successful component of a larger collaborative effort, we found that the workshop effectively brought together diverse participants, yet still restricted dialogue in important ways. Notably, workshop facilitators took on the additional roles of riparian experts and instructors. As they guided workshop participants toward a consensus view of riparian conditions and management recommendations, they used their status as riparian experts to emphasize commonalities with stakeholders supportive of riparian grazing and accentuate differences with stakeholders skeptical of riparian grazing, including some Forest Service staff with power to influence management decisions. Ultimately, the management plan published one year later did not fully adopt the consensus view from the workshop, but rather included and acknowledged a broader diversity of stakeholder perspectives. Our findings suggest that leaders and facilitators of adaptive collaborative management can more effectively manage for productive stakeholder engagement and, thus, social-ecological resilience if they are more tentative in their convictions, more critical of the role of expert knowledge, and more attentive to the knowledge, interests, and power of diverse stakeholders.

Key words

collaboration; conflict; critical discourse analysis; dialogue; facilitation; livestock grazing; public participation; riparian management, social learning, stakeholder engagement

Copyright © 2012 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