Beyond participation: how to achieve the recognition of local communities' value-systems in conservation? Some insights from Mexico.
In this article, we explore why conservation schemes that have positive outcomes through the participation of local communities cannot necessarily be deemed as just. It is observed that recognition (understood as inclusion and respect) of local communities' value-systems, a key factor towards environmental justice, is not often achieved in conservation governance. The researchers build argument on the authors' extensive research on four Mexican forest areas and contrast our insights with the literature on environmental justice and conservation. All four cases are characterised by positive conservation outcomes as well as the inclusion of local communities in conservation governance, and as such are typically considered best-practice conservation initiatives in Mexico. Yet, in all cases, our engagement with local community members leads us to believe that their value-systems fail to be recognised in conservation governance. Three main factors appear to hinder recognition: (a) the dominant knowledge-system underpinning conservation action prevails in legal frameworks; (b) financial resources heavily determine power relations in decision-making, and (c) a lack of sensitiveness to local cultural norms affects local stakeholders' capacity to communicate with external actors that design and implement conservation action. The researchers conclude that achieving meaningful recognition of local communities' value-systems requires: (a) developing awareness of the structural political and economic factors impacting on decision-making in conservation, and (b) an epistemological transformation, permeating conservation governance, in which local communities' value-systems are considered one of various legitimate knowledge-systems.