Seeing beyond the frames we inherit: a challenge to tenacious conservation narratives.

Published online
22 Mar 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Chignell, S. M. & Satterfield, T.
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Natural and social scientists everywhere are struggling to understand how to proceed in the face of continued biodiversity loss and the injustices brought upon people living in and around conservation landscapes. This has resulted in increasing calls for critical reflection on the narratives driving conservation research and practice. Narratives can be understood as part of a larger process of "framing" within an intellectual community, which includes the way studies are defined and discussed. Identifying, reflecting on and even destabilizing entrenched frames can be helpful for understanding when and where our diagnosis or understanding of a problem fails. However, we also need to understand the scholarly processes that create and reify some frames (and not others) over time. We address these needs by developing a mixed-method approach that integrates qualitative frame analysis and quantitative science mapping to identify the origins of the dominant frame and trace its reproduction in the scientific literature over time. We demonstrate this approach using the case of the Bale Mountains, an internationally recognised centre of species endemism in Ethiopia. Our results show the enduring influence of the perceptions and values of a few early conservation scientists working with limited data. This led to erroneous assumptions and conclusions that, in some cases, were corrected by later research, but in many cases were not. This was a function of the social and intellectual structure of the scientific network, minor but consequential decisions in data interpretation and specific citational habits. Synthesizing these results, we identify several linked mechanisms that helped the dominant frame retain its tenacity and may also be at work in other contexts. We close with a discussion on how others might apply our approach and how future scientific research and conservation practice could proceed differently.

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