Introductory Note on Human Ecology Themed Section
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A substantive policy literature has emerged over several decades concerning the role of local leadership in community-based conservation and development programs. It follows a concerted focus on local institutions in response to concerns about the ineffectiveness and inequity of state and privatized options for dealing with resource management problems. Critics of these new strategies have argued that community-based conservation and development program failures are often associated with expanded opportunities for elite capture of decision-making authorities and benefits.
The set of papers in this themed section demonstrate the multiple social, economic, and political roles of local elites and other forms of leadership in case studies of marine and forest dependent communities in Indonesia. The case studies are based on intensive ethnographic field research in four regional locations in Indonesia - Sumatra, Bali, Kalimantan and the Moluccas – within a common decentralized government framework, but representing a range of different cultural and ecological settings. They cover a period of dramatic changes in governance with rapid democratization, decentralization and intensified government and non-government program interventions after the collapse of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998.
The focus on leadership, elites, patronage and corruption serves to problematize the range of ways in which leadership is understood, and to examine its implications for sustainability, equity and public engagement. The studies investigate how local customary leaders as well as new political and economic elites, deploy available forms of power, authority, influence and representation. Instead of automatically conflating leadership and elite status, or taking rent-seeking interests of local elites for granted, the papers in this issue look at the articulation between horizontal and vertical power relations, and consider internal alliances and frictions among local elites, as well as their engagement with external actors and institutions. The studies give attention to the inclusions and exclusions of particular social groups, and analyze the conditions accounting for effective or perverse outcomes in resource conservation and development programs.
This collection addresses a number of important questions raised by debates in the literature: What structural conditions account for the range of corrupt and/or beneficial uses of authority by local elites, and with what consequences for community conservation and development goals? What role do long-standing patron-client or customary patterns of leadership play in dealing with these urgent contemporary issues? What approaches by state and non-government organizations most effectively engage the dynamics of local leadership, especially with respect to the question of elite exclusion from or co-option to conservation and development programs? How are issues of participation and marginalization addressed in contexts of serious resource depletion and competing conservation and development agendas?
These studies address the internal dynamics driving leadership in the local governance of resources. The authors analyse the changing constellations of relationships between local leaders/patrons/elites and those whose interests they claim to represent in contexts of resource decline and profoundly important articulations with national and global forces.