Keeping track of nature : interdisciplinary insights for participatory ecological monitoring
Staddon, Samantha Clair
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Participatory ecological monitoring aims to bring together conservationists and members of the public to collect scientific data about changes in nature – in species, habitats, ecosystems and natural resources. Given that such monitoring not only concerns measures of nature but inherently the participants doing the measuring, it is as much to do with social processes as it is to do with ecological ones. By drawing on detailed ethnographic work from the community forests of Nepal, this thesis aims to explore some of the social dimensions of participatory monitoring and of its consequences for socio-ecological regimes. Current debates in political ecology, development studies and nature-society studies provide the theoretical basis for the investigation. The novelty of the thesis lies in its extensive empirical data, which allows it to explore current understandings of participatory monitoring. The thesis establishes the following tentative theoretical findings. It firstly draws attention to the importance of the informal, often unconscious ways in which we all observe changes in nature and of the need to recognise such ‘local monitoring’ in relation to participatory monitoring. It draws attention to the situated nature of practices of monitoring and the heterogeneity of people involved, suggesting that this has consequences for how costs and benefits arising from participatory monitoring are distributed amongst participants and beyond. It argues that without attending to such consequences, participatory monitoring may serve to (re)produce social inequalities which are the basis for marginalisation and that it may become embroiled in local power struggles. The thesis argues that whilst participatory monitoring may provide useful data on changes in nature, that this information will not automatically influence decision-making over nature conservation or the use of natural resources. A multitude of other factors are important in such decision-making and the ways in which these relate to and potentially constrain the effectiveness of participatory monitoring are discussed. The thesis finally offers a typology with which to better understand the complexity amongst participatory monitoring projects – based on who and what they are for – and with which to approach the conflicts and inconsistencies they present. The thesis concludes that without a careful consideration of their inherent social dimensions, participatory monitoring projects will ultimately fail in attempts to both improve the condition of nature and the lives of societies that depend on it, for the two are intimately connected. Interdisciplinary studies such as this are therefore seen to offer great potential to participatory and community-based approaches to conservation and natural resource management more widely.