Convivial Conservation at #POLLEN20

Reflections from a fascinating double session

Date: 27 October 2020

Author: Judith Krauss, the University of Sheffield (UK)

At the wonderful, all-virtual, low-carbon and inclusive POLLEN20 conference (22-25 September 2020), the CONVIVA team had the privilege of convening (Laila Thomaz Sandroni, Judith Krauss, Kate Massarella) and contributing (cf. below) to a popular double session on convivial conservation. What follows is a short summary of the different presentations, links, and key emerging themes.

Session one: Knowledges and whose voices count?

In the first session, Christine Ampumuza from the University of Wageningen kicked off the panel by sharing pertinent reflections on ‘Living with gorillas? Lessons from historical convivial relations between the Batwa and gorillas at Bwindi, Uganda’.

Against the backdrop of the Batwa’s historical eviction from Bwindi Forest for gorilla tourism, Christine argued that ‘conviviality through the lens of the Batwa’, ie learning from their unique stories, knowledges of and connections with the gorillas, could play a key role in managing and improving human-animal relations.

Emmanuel Akampurira and Esther Marijnen, both from the University of Ghent, contributed the second presentation on ‘Decolonising human-carnivore relations: Public authority and violent contestations in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda’.

They drew on ethnographic, in-depth fieldwork to discuss the politics of mourning, which lives are considered grievable and which ones are not in violent human-carnivore interactions, situating their interesting reflections within the broader contexts of Mbembe’s necropolitics as well as wider efforts at decolonising conservation.

Svetoslava Toncheva from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences contributed the third presentation, ‘Living with or versus nature? Mitigation of human-bear conflicts as a bridge towards a politics of conviviality’ (the presentation file is available for registered Pollen participants; more information on the research can be found on Nature in mind).

She emphasised the importance of shifting from a negativity of solving ‘conflict’ problems towards establishing better, coexisting human-nature relations. Crafting bottom-up, convivial approaches can challenge both unhelpful human-nature separation and residents’ perceptions of their voices and knowledges having no participation in brown-bear decision-making.

The fourth presentation, ‘Predators and Capitalism: World-ecology of Historical Human-Wolf Relations in Finland’, was by Sanna Komi, based on co-authored work with Markus Kröger, both from the University of Helsinki. Sanna, who is part of CONVIVA’s Finland team (find out more about her work), highlighted fascinating reflections from her in-depth fieldwork in Lieksa, Finland, intertwining human-wolf relations with a historical trajectory of imaginaries and, more recently, commodified incentives which shape them: capitalist ways of understanding and ordering nature shape and limit ways of understanding and imagining predators, and human relations with them.

Two key themes emerging out of the first session concerned firstly the relevance and acceptability of different people’s knowledges in managing conservation and human-wildlife interactions: whose ways of knowing, whose information, whose voices are given precedence? Whose interests shape, or do not shape, dominant imaginaries of ‘nature’ and ‘humans and nature’?

A second key theme was the importance of considering and challenging problematic dominant rationales which create less-than-perfect conservation ‘solutions’, including colonial-and-cognate mindsets, post-socialist bureaucracies or capitalist logics. For building convivial conservation approaches, this means that discussing whose knowledge(s), whose voices and whose paradigms count in shaping imaginaries, decision-making and practices is imperative.

(c) Anne Leroy

Session two: decolonising, justice, local specificities

The second session began with a presentation by Wilhelm Kiwango of joint work with Mathew Bukhi Mabele from the University of Dodoma, both part of CONVIVA’s Tanzania team (find out more about Wilhelm's work).

In his talk ‘Convivial conservation: Prospects and challenges for socially just governance of human-wildlife interactions in Tanzania’, Wilhelm grounded the convivial conservation approach in the realities and experiences of conservation and human-wildlife interactions in Tanzania and highlighted the problematic implications of conservation paradigms centred around protection or markets especially at the local level.

George Iordăchescu from the BIOSEC project, the University of Sheffield, then made ‘A case for convivial conservation in Europe – lessons from other radical conservation proposals’. He highlighted what convivial conservation can learn from grassroots initiatives including the ICCA consortium as well as longstanding, local experiments with the Commons based on his in-depth fieldwork, highlighting potentials and pitfalls.

George equally emphasised that, crucially, convivial conservation would not be a static, monolithic proposal, but change in light of local circumstances, including post-socialist contexts in Europe. (George has also kindly put together a great twitter thread summarising all presentations in this panel).

Third, Mathew Bukhi Mabele presented joint work with Wilhelm Kiwango and Judith Krauss on ‘Going back to the roots: Ubuntu philosophy and promotion of environmental care’. Mathew emphasised how principles drawing from the southern African Ubuntu traditions can offer important, and arguably more environmentally and socially just, alternatives to conservation proposals including Half-Earth and 30 by 30.

By embodying an ethic of care and historical convivial links between humans and nonhumans, Ubuntu offers decolonial principles which can significantly enrich and enhance convivial conservation proposals especially in southern Africa, but potentially further afield.

The final contribution by Brock Bersaglio, University of Birmingham, and Charis Enns, University of Manchester, reflected on joint work with Ramson Karmushu from the Indigenous Movement for the Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation in Northern Kenya (IMPACT) on ‘Settler Ecologies: a challenge for convivial conservation’.

Their research project has used walking interviews and conversations with elders to gain a longitudinal perspective on the lasting effects of settler ecologies on human-wildlife interactions. A growth in elephant populations, the conservation industry affecting wildlife movements, and landscapes losing trees have threatened traditional knowledges and historical strategies by Massai pastoralists to avoid conflict and coexist with elephants or buffalos.

Some key themes emerging out of the second part of the double session, which is fully recorded and available to Pollen delegates, revolved around the importance of justice and decolonising. A second recurring question concerned linking convivial conservation to diverse local specificities.

The session considered its applicability to contexts as diverse as post-socialist Europe and settler-influenced ecologies in eastern and southern Africa: in itself, it emphasised the importance of careful analysis of diverse factors as a precursor to any locally adapted implementation of convivial conservation ideas.

(c) Wilhelm Kiwango

Huge thanks!

Many thanks again to all contributors, organisers and participants for fascinating discussions, which have raised many important questions about how to take convivial conservation forward. A number of these papers are also being considered as part of a special issue proposal around advancing and challenging convivial conservation – watch this space.

A special thanks goes out to IDS’s STEPS centre, especially Amber Huff and Becky Ayre, for a mammoth effort in shifting the POLLEN20 conference online and thus making it an inclusive, low-carbon experience for over 1,000 delegates from all over the world. Much appreciated, and definitely a model to follow!

This blog was first published at the CONVIVA project website.