Convivial conservation

Dr. Stasja Koot, Dr. Lerato Thakholi, Dr. Robert Fletcher, Dr. Louise Carver, Prof. Dr. Bram Büscher, Dr. Shelby Matevich, Wageningen University

Image author: Stasja Koot

Convivial conservation is a new “vision, a politics and a set of governance principles for the future of conservation” (Büscher & Fletcher, 2019, p. 284). Through its core focus on ‘living with’ biodiversity within planetary boundaries, it will also productively address the likely dramatic impacts of climate change (IPBES-IPCC, 2021). Grounded in a political ecological approach, it starts by taking political economy seriously as a significant constraint to as well as potential enabler of effective conservation. Political ecology is inherently cross-scalar, charting connections, from the global to the local, while strongly emphasizing the importance of attending to history and power relations (Watts, 2017). Based in this perspective and allied with social and environmental movements (e.g. emancipatory, indigenous or post-colonial movements), it proposes “a post-capitalist approach to conservation that promotes radical equity, structural transformation and environmental justice and so contributes to an overarching movement to create a more equal and sustainable world” (Büscher & Fletcher, 2019, p. 283).

Convivial conservation was developed in response to the analysis of two dominant conservation approaches. First, so-called ‘new conservation’, which breaks with conservation’s long-standing fixation with nature understood as ‘pristine wilderness’ that is separate from humans to instead promote integrated “rambunctious” spaces (Marris, 2013; Marvier et al., 2011). Importantly, new conservationists also promoted using nature for human development (Büscher & Fletcher, 2020; Sullivan, 2006). The second approach is termed ‘neoprotectionism’. Based on the premise that large-scale Anthropogenic change is not positive for nature, neoprotectionism calls for a massive expansion of conventional “fortress” style protected areas devoid of humans (Büscher & Fletcher, 2020; Hutton et al., 2005; Wuerthner et al., 2015). In contrast, new conservation tries to break down the nature-culture dichotomy, though it does not challenge market mechanisms to save nature (e.g. Payments for Ecosystem Services, a strong reliance on tourism). In fact, it strongly relies on them. Often implicitly, neoprotectionism does challenge market mechanisms and mass consumption. However, it attempts to fortify the nature-culture dichotomy in a highly problematic way.

The specific contribution of convivial conservation is that it aims to avoid the nature-culture dichotomy while also exploring post-capitalist conservation strategies. At its core it investigates and challenges dominant global political-economic structures, assumptions, beliefs and knowledge production systems, “including those that are the foundation of paradigms of economic growth and adaptation without limits” (O’Brien & Barnett, 2013, p. 385). Importantly, in reality the positioning of the nature-culture dichotomy in new conservation and non-market-based approaches as neoprotectionist are not as clear-cut as presented here. For analytical purposes, however, it is important to position where convivial conservation contributes to these larger trends in conservation.

Today, “there is widespread agreement that our current reality of global, human-induced ecosystemic and climatic change presents stark challenges for conservation. It is concern for this dynamic that has led to the radical proposals now on the table” (Büscher & Fletcher, 2019, p. 285). At the same time, breaking through the hegemony of protectionist, neoliberal conservation (Fletcher, 2023) is also convivial conservation’s biggest challenge. To address this challenge, a manifesto was developed that outlines 10 principles that are at the core of convivial conservation. We only name them here, for a longer elaboration per principle we refer to the manifesto website (CC, 2024).

1. Promote integrated spaces where humans and other species co-exist respectfully and equitably
2. Understand conservation as the stewardship of a global commons, collectively owned and managed by and for all life on the planet
3. Decolonize conservation policy and ensure that the interests, voices and territories of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) are central in conservation planning
4. Challenge dominant perspectives to incorporate non-Western, diverse worldviews and forms of knowledge into research, policy-making and practice
5. Challenge dominant forms of political power to practice inclusive deliberation and decision-making
6. Place most decision-making power at the local level, with higher-level processes supporting local autonomy
7. Decommodify biodiversity to treat life on earth as a public good that should not be subjected to financialisation, extraction or off-setting
8. Value species and ecosystems because they are important in themselves, or have a spiritual meaning or cultural significance, not just because of their economic value and the services they provide to people
9. Fund conservation through equitable redistribution of the wealth and resources we already have, including through historical reparations, instead of relying on financial growth
10. Confront broader social, political, and economic influences and powerful systems that inhibit the cultivation of convivial relationships

Büscher, B., & Fletcher, R. (2019). Towards convivial conservation. Conservation and Society, 17(3), 283-296.
Büscher, B., & Fletcher, R. (2020). The conservation revolution: Radical ideas for saving nature beyond the anthropocene. Verso.
CC. (2024). Convivial conservation manifesto. Retrieved 30 May from
Fletcher, R. (2023). Failing forward: The rise and fall of neoliberal conservation. University of California Press.
Hutton, J., Adams, W., & Murombedzi, J. (2005). Back to the barriers? Changing narratives in biodiversity conservation. Forum for Development Studies, 32(2), 341-370.
IPBES-IPCC. (2021). Biodiversity and climate change: Scientific outcome.
Marris, E. (2013). Rambunctious garden: Saving nature in a post-wild world. Bloomsbury.
Marvier, M., Kareiva, P., & Lalasz, R. (2011). Conservation in the Anthropocene: Beyond Solitude and Fragility. Breakthrough Journal, 2.
O’Brien, K., & Barnett, J. (2013). Global environmental change and human security. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 38, 373-391.
Sullivan, S. (2006). The elephant in the room? Problematising ‘new’ (neoliberal) biodiversity conservation. Forum for Development Studies, 33(1), 105-135.
Watts, M. (2017). Political ecology. In E. Sheppard & T. Barnes (Eds.), A companion to economic geography (pp. 257-274). Blackwell Publishing.
Wuerthner, G., Crist, E., & Butler, T. (Eds.). (2015). Protecting the wild: Parks and wilderness, the foundation for conservation. Island Press.

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