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Wildlife comeback in Flanders: tracing the fault lines and dynamics of public debate


Conflicts and debates on wildlife issues often prove “intractable” or resistant to resolution. This paper develops a three-layered methodological approach to identify the fault lines and dynamics, which perpetuate social division and conflict. This approach was applied to the analysis of six publicly debated events that followed the comeback of the red fox and wild boar in Flanders, Belgium. The integrated findings demonstrate that conflict was not merely a manifestation of incompatible goals and views, but was highly determined by the conduct of the debate itself. The debates evolved along a few main fault lines, most notably “belonging/not belonging”, “opportunity/threat” and “control by intervention/nature controls itself”. A number of dynamics were identified along these fault lines, including the convergence and alignment of arguments (in particular, dichotomisation), the linking and scaling up of issues and the stigmatisation of outgroups. These processes were largely driven by the parties’ strategies to gain credibility and support with audiences. At the same time, however, they tended to magnify the problems, polarised positions along the fault lines, and thus hampered resolution. Furthermore, part of the debate served to confirm institutional roles and identities, which, in turn, contributed to the perpetuation of conflict. Contrasting views on “nature” were hardly a topic of discussion. Rather they were locked into dichotomies and classifications expressed by the contending parties. Together, the findings from this paper provide useful clues for transforming the dynamics perpetuating the conflict to different dynamics that allow for more constructive relations between the parties involved.

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This paper derives from research funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development: the BESAFE project, grant number 282743.

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Correspondence to Ann Van Herzele.

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Communicated by R. White

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Van Herzele, A., Aarts, N. & Casaer, J. Wildlife comeback in Flanders: tracing the fault lines and dynamics of public debate. Eur J Wildl Res 61, 539–555 (2015).

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  • Intractable conflict
  • Dynamics of debate
  • Human-wildlife conflict
  • Fault line
  • Argumentation
  • Dichotomisation
  • Views on nature