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Going beyond “it depends:” the role of context in shaping participation in natural resource management

Susan Baker, Sustainable Places Research Institute and School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
F. Stuart Chapin III, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks


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Public participation is increasingly advocated in natural resource management to meet a spectrum of instrumental to normative goals. However, the success of participation in achieving these goals is highly variable, depending on both societal and institutional contexts. Whether participation realises its benefits or succumbs to its pitfalls is shaped by dynamic interactions operating among three contextual dimensions: participatory rationales (instrumental to normative), institutional fit of different levels (types) of participation (information delivery to partnership to delegation), and social structures (such as cultural context, social capital, and power distribution). Some levels of participation may support the existing power hierarchy, others benefit organized stakeholder groups and special interests, and still others foster deliberative democratic outcomes. We argue that wise choice of levels of participation in particular contexts shapes the balance of participation’s benefits and pitfalls.

Key words

deliberative democracy; inequity; institutional constraints; instrumental values; normative values; participation; social structures;

Copyright © 2018 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