Environmental Management

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 5–18 | Cite as

Seeing (and Doing) Conservation Through Cultural Lenses

  • Richard B. PetersonEmail author
  • Diane Russell
  • Paige West
  • J. Peter Brosius


In this paper, we first discuss various vantage points gained through the authors’ experience of approaching conservation through a “cultural lens.” We then draw out more general concerns that many anthropologists hold with respect to conservation, summarizing and commenting on the work of the Conservation and Community Working Group within the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association. Here we focus on both critiques and contributions the discipline of anthropology makes with regard to conservation, and show how anthropologists are moving beyond conservation critiques to engage actively with conservation practice and policy. We conclude with reflections on the possibilities for enhancing transdisciplinary dialogue and practice through reflexive questioning, the adoption of disciplinary humility, and the realization that “cross-border” collaboration among conservation scholars and practitioners can strengthen the political will necessary to stem the growing commoditization and ensuing degradation of the earth’s ecosystems.


Biodiversity conservation Ecological anthropology Community-based conservation Local knowledge Interdisciplinary studies Collaborative research 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the symposium “Conservation Without Borders: The Impact of Conservation on Human Communities,” held at Antioch New England Graduate School on October 9, 2004. The authors wish to thank all those responsible for organizing the conference and presenting a forum for the ideas in this article to be discussed. Thanks go to all symposium participants who provided incisive discussion, which helped to clarify our thinking. In particular, we would like to thank Shawn Margles for providing valuable feedback on early drafts of this article and Jim Igoe for his discerning and beneficial comments provided as a reviewer. Thanks are due also to Virginia Dale and other editors at Environmental Management for their constructive and perceptive feedback. All usual disclaimers apply.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard B. Peterson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Diane Russell
    • 2
  • Paige West
    • 3
  • J. Peter Brosius
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Environmental StudiesUniversity of New EnglandBiddefordUSA
  2. 2.NRM-Biodiversity and Forestry Team, USAID Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade Bureau, U.S. Agency for International DevelopmentWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyBarnard College, Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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