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Peoples' relationships with places focus of new book

William Stewart and Courtney Flint
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L. Brian Stauffer

Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences, contributed an essay in the new book co-edited by William Stewart, a professor of sport, recreation and tourism, that explores the emotional and spiritual attachments that exist between people and physical places, which are transforming conservation practices.

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4/8/2013 | Sharita Forrest, News Bureau Editor | 217-244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, lll. — The strong emotional and spiritual attachments that exist between people and physical spaces are transforming conservation practices, a trend explored in a new book, “Place-Based Conservation: Perspectives From the Social Sciences,” published by Springer.

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In the book, writers explore practical concerns such as social learning, problems with planning at multiple geographic scales and strategies for representing constituents. The implications are directed toward helping stakeholders articulate and communicate their lived experiences and felt sense of place in order to foster community development and improve the decision-making process.

In the book, researchers from various disciplines – including communications, environmental psychology, human geography and sociology – explore the shift from natural resource management as a scientist-driven, utilitarian enterprise to an inclusive process in which local people’s experiences, knowledge and emotional ties to places are on equal footing with scientific knowledge.

“The book provides a human-centered approach to conservation that focuses decision-making on the relationships between people and the places of their lives,” says William P. Stewart, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism at the University of Illinois and a co-editor of the book. “Place-based conservation recognizes the many layers of complexity in natural resource management and provides strategies for involving the public in planning decisions.”

“The concept of place helps scientists and practitioners come together to address the inevitably diverse but incomplete character of knowledge, values and sentiments that must be considered in conservation practice,” said co-editor Daniel R. Williams.

Williams and the book’s third co-editor, Linda Kruger, are research social scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Kruger, Stewart and Williams believe that the historical practice of natural resource management as an expert-driven initiative does not address today’s levels of complexity and uncertainty – and actually widens the gap between scientific inquiry and real-world application of knowledge.

However, place-based approaches bridge that divide by fostering horizontal linkages between emplaced actors who create and share knowledge. Respecting “soft data” such as stakeholders’ values and their emotional and experiential relationships with places can help defuse the controversies and conflicts that often arise around natural resource issues.

Increasingly aware of the important meanings and relationships that people form with places, land managers are designing processes to uncover and map local knowledge and incorporate it into conservation decision-making.

“The landscape and places that we experience are much more complex than just the view we see,” Kruger said. “Many public land managers recognize the importance of understanding the attachments that people have to places that are special to them. And they are joining forces with public interest groups to draw attention to the role of place, how it influences people’s behavior, attitudes about land management and often the choice of where to live.”

Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at Illinois, contributed an essay from her research that examines how stakeholders in a five-county region of North Central Colorado responded to an outbreak of mountain pine beetles in their forests. The outbreak mobilized political action, fostered novel collaborations among constituents and ultimately resulted in new forms of governance to address the complexities inherent in natural resource management.

“A lot of the work on place-based conservation has looked inside the place, at things going on that are very unique to a particular location,” Flint said. “And in places with limited resources, such as rural communities, there can be more to gain by finding common ground and working together collectively to promote the interests of a larger region and multiple communities.”

A comprehensive resource on the evolution and practice of place-based conservation, the book helps build the conceptual grounding necessary for understanding and effectively practicing it.

The book begins by defining place-based conservation and clarifying the role that scientific expertise has played in decision-making. Over the 17 chapters that follow, writers explore practical concerns such as social learning, problems with planning at multiple geographic scales and strategies for representing constituents. The implications are directed toward helping stakeholders articulate and communicate their lived experiences and felt sense of place in order to foster community development and improve the decision-making process.

Editor's note: To contact William P. Stewart, email wstewart@illinois.edu; 217-244-4532
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