Weak yet strong: The uneven power relations of conservation

18 Sep 2018

Changing behaviour is a central objective of conservation, whether applied to individuals, groups, organizations, corporations or states. Power, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the capacity to direct or influence the behaviour of others’ is therefore an essential ingredient in conservation. Given its importance, the nature and functioning of power has been widely theorized in the social sciences (Gregory et al., 2009). Although there are many ideas about how power works, there is general agreement that it can be both a negative and positive force, and that the ability of one actor to influence the behaviour of another depends on their power relations. This editorial is about the balance of power in conservation, and how this is perceived. Using examples drawn from the pages of Oryx and elsewhere, I identify two widespread but contradictory narratives about the power of conservation, and consider their implications.