International Environmental Agreements

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 111–127 | Cite as

Nobody Knows Best: Alternative Perspectives on Forest Management and Governance in Southeast Asia

  • Louis Lebel
  • Antonio Contreras
  • Suparb Pasong
  • Po Garden


In this paper we propose a framework for understanding how dominant perspectives, or worldviews, influence the crafting of institutions, and how these, in turn, constrain the functions and goals of knowledge systems. Alternative perspectives carry their own set of assumptions and beliefs about who should be making the rules, where the best knowledge lies to guide decisions, and about where more knowledge is needed. Initially, four contrasting perspectives are elaborated: state-, market-, greens-, and locals-know-best. We illustrate the framework by exploring the recent history of forest governance in Southeast Asia, finding several examples of battles of perspectives leading to a new dominant perspective. In each case the dominant perspective itself, old or new, is shown to be defective in some critical way and was, or should be, replaced. The problem is that each of the perspectives considers the world as knowable, manageable, and relatively constant, or at most changing only slowly. Ecological and socio-political crises, however, are recurrent. Management plans and regulations or policies that aim to establish “the” land-use allocation, the best crop, the best forest management system or the best price or system of incentives, are doomed to failure. If uncertainties are accepted as fundamental, solutions as temporary, and scientific knowledge as useful but limited, then “Nobody Knows Best” is a modest, but effective heuristic for forest governance.

forest governance international forest regime institutions knowledge systems paradigm pluralism Southeast Asia worldview conservation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louis Lebel
    • 1
  • Antonio Contreras
    • 2
  • Suparb Pasong
    • 3
  • Po Garden
    • 4
  1. 1.Faculty of Social Sciences, Unit for Social and Environmental ResearchChiang Mai UniversityChiang MaiThailand (E-mail:
  2. 2.De LaSalle UniversityThe Philippines (E-mail:
  3. 3.Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental ChangeThailand (E-mail:
  4. 4.Chiang Mai UniversityThailand (E-mail:

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