What is the role of the social sciences in conservation?

Bennett Roth et al 2015 - The Conservation Social Sciences - COVER PICEach of the fields of conservation social science has made and can make a unique contribution to understanding the relationship between humans and nature and to improving conservation outcomes. Conservation scientists, practitioners and organizations recognize the importance of the conservation social sciences and are increasingly engaging in and funding conservation social science research. Yet conservation organizations and funders often lack a clear understanding of the breadth of the conservation social sciences, the types of questions that each field of conservation social science poses, the methods used by disciplinary specialists, or the potential contribution of each field of conservation social science to improving conservation practice and outcomes. Limited social science capacity and knowledge within conservation organizations may also mean that conservation practitioners and organizations looking to fund conservation social science research do not know where or how to begin defining a social science research agenda.

A report titled “The Conservation Social Sciences: What?, How? and Why?” (which can be downloaded from here) was recently edited and published by Nathan Bennett, a 2015 Liber Ero Fellow working in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

The report, funded by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and sponsored the by the Social Science Working Group of the Society for Conservation Biology, examines the role of the social sciences in solving environmental conservation problems. It presents a series of papers that were given as part of a workshop titled “The conservation social sciences: Clarifying ‘what?’, “how?’ and ‘why?’ to inform conservation practice” that occurred at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Missoula, Montana in July 2014. The workshop brought together specialists from the breadth of the conservation social sciences to define the contributions of their disciplines and fields to conservation through exploring the ‘what?’, ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ of each area of expertise. The resultant report aims to stimulate dialogue among conservation organizations, foundations, agencies, practitioners and researchers about the role of the conservation social sciences. It is intended to build capacity, promote knowledge and foster engagement with conservation social sciences in order to improve conservation practice and outcomes.

The first chapter of the report introduces the conservation social sciences. The body of the report provides succinct synopses of the different conservation social sciences by specialists in Psychology, Economics, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science and Governance, Human Dimensions, Political Ecology, Ethics, Education and Communication, Conservation and Development, and Science and Technology Studies. The concluding chapter a) provides a broad overview of the topics explored, questions asked, methods used and contributions made by each field of conservation social science and b) presents a process by which conservation organizations or funders can define and prioritize a conservation social science research agenda. We propose five steps to guide organizations wishing to better employ the conservation social sciences: 1) Recognize and overcome organizational barriers to incorporating conservation social sciences and build support for and understanding of the conservation social sciences; 2) Identify the conservation problem(s) that the organization aims to address and highlight their social dimensions; 3) Partner with social scientist(s) to frame key topics, questions and approach; 4) Brainstorm key topics for investigation or research questions and prioritize them to establish a conservation social science agenda; and 5) Partner with, contract or hire conservation social scientist(s) to carry out the work.

Bennett, N. J. & Roth, R. (eds.) (2015). The Conservation Social Sciences: What?, How? and Why? Vancouver, BC: Canadian Wildlife Federation and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.2664.3529

Table of Contents

  1. Introducing the Conservation Social Sciences – Nathan J. Bennett & Robin Roth
  2. A Primer on Environmental Anthropology for Conservation Biologists – Georgina Cullman
  3. Conservation and Sociology – Richard C. Stedman
  4. Ecological Economics and Its Potential Role in Conservation – Kai M. A. Chan, Michael Barkusky & Sarah C. Klain
  5. A (Social) Psychology Approach in Conservation – Tara L. Teel, Alia M. Dietsch & Michael J. Manfredo
  6. Political Science, Environmental Governance and Conservation – Graham Epstein
  7. Conservation Ethics as a Conservation Social Science – Michael Paul Nelson & John A. Vucetich
  8. Beyond ‘the Gap’: Connecting Conservation Science with Policy and Practice – Carina Wyborn
  9. Informing Conservation Practice Through Environmental Education: The “What”, “How” and “Why”  – Rebecca E. W. Thomas
  10. Win-Win or Trade-Offs?: The Study of Conservation and Development at Local, National and Global Scales – Nathan J. Bennett
  11. Conservation of What for Whom?: A Political Ecological Approach to Conservation – Robin Roth
  12. Human Dimensions and the Evolution of Interdisciplinary Approaches in Conservation Social Science – Douglas A. Clark
  13. The Conservation Social Sciences: An Overview and A Process for Setting a Research Agenda – Nathan J. Bennett, Robin Roth, Sarah Klain, Kai M. A. Chan, Douglas A. Clark, Georgina Cullman, Graham Epstein, Michael Paul Nelson, Richard Stedman, Tara L. Teel, Rebecca E. W. Thomas & Carina Wyborn