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Title: Cultures of nature conservation : biodiversity and the management of pinewoods in Abernethy, Scotland, 1988-2002
Author: Midgley, Andrew C.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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This thesis explores the cultural politics of nature conservation in the UK in the 1990s. Working with the insights provided by social constructivist approaches to nature and to knowledge and extending the insights of Michel Foucault to the natural world, the thesis examines the social and cultural processes that underpin the contemporary practices of conserving nature. Calling upon ethnographic work on nature reserves, semi-structured interviews with site managers and policy-makers and the analysis of texts, it examines two examples of conservation practice: the broad shift in policy at the national scale marked by the institutionalisation of the concept of ‘biodiversity’ and the changes in management at Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms, Scotland. These examples are examined to investigate the processes and practices through which appropriate conservation action is achieved and renegotiated. The institutionalisation of ‘biodiversity’ is examined in two ways. First, the establishment of the ‘biodiversity process’ around a business model of target-led species and habitat action planning is investigated through the practices that give it shape. The classification of habitats, the prioritisation of species and writing of plans are examined. It is argued that this new regime of practice, through which new ‘objects’ of conservation and new forms of knowledge are constructed, should be understood in the broader social and political context of fights over nature and over the achievement of powerful social positions. Secondly, the institutionalisation of biodiversity is examined through the ways that people talk and argue about it. Calling upon the concepts of discourse theory, the thesis focuses on the repertoires and rhetorical strategies used by individuals to argue for particular understandings of nature. The development of ‘biodiversity conservation’ is revealed as the result of the introduction of new sets of practices, the development of new forms of knowledge and fights over the meaning of nature and naturalness, all in the context of complex social and political power relations. The analysis is extended by examining the process of policy change in one detailed example of practice. By focusing on the changing construction of pine woodlands and the changing management of Abernethy Forest Reserve, the thesis draws out the complex relations between ideas of nature, ecological knowledge and conservation action. It illustrates how the initial policy of minimal intervention was an achievement that required multiple constructions of the forest to be balanced. But it also illustrates how, as that policy began to have negative effects, the ideas of nature, the ecological knowledge and appropriate practice were reworked and argued over. The very idea of what constitutes a natural pinewood is shown to be revised and the management changed with moves towards greater levels of intervention. The purpose of adopting a broadly constructivist orientation in nature conservation is to provide an analysis that allows insight into how conservation works and how it has arrived at the present situation, a situation where the natural world seems to be controlled and managed in increasingly sophisticated ways. The thesis therefore has a critical intent. It seeks to argue for, and contribute to, greater reflection on where present developments might be taking us and on the sorts of knowledge and practices that are, at present, shaping nature conservation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available