Shifting Paradigms, Policy and Processes in Conservation and Development Over the Past Four Decades

16 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2016

See all articles by Marshall Murphree

Marshall Murphree

Centre fo Applied Social Sciences

Rowan Martin


Date Written: September 19, 2016


Since the publication of the Bruntland report in 1987, IUCN, WWF and various UN agencies have developed sustainable use policies to enhance man’s stewardship of the resources that the world’s environment provides. These policies are, implicitly or explicitly, based on paradigms of environmental management. We have watched a transition from preservationism (where the emphasis is on exclusion or segregation of wild resources from humans) to sustainable use (where utilitarian values are placed on wild resources and the emphasis is on managing their use sustainably). There is increasing awareness that sustainable use of individual species is inseparable from the larger issue of sustainable development and that, ultimately, it is the resilience of both people and ecosystems that is essential for the long-term survival of both.

Typologies and their resultant policies and programmes are not of course the sole determinants of environmental outcomes. The quality of macro-governance and demographic pressures are, for instance, two variables of high salience in southern Africa, the arena best known to the authors. These factors are mentioned in this paper but its focus is on the paradigm, policy and implementation process. This is the realm of environmental scholarship that the paper emphasises. The paper begins with a sequential paradigm review covering the past three decades. It then goes on to examine why these paradigm shifts have not had a more positive environmental impact. We look at natural resource policy from three perspectives: firstly, a ‘Worm’s-Eye’ view where, if local communities were writing policy, what they might include as essential components; secondly, a ‘Bird’s-Eye’ view where if governments are sensitive to local communities’ aspirations, what should be incorporated in national policy to facilitate the development of local institutions and provide the incentives for sustainable management; and, thirdly, an ‘Eagle’s-Eye’ view where global institutions (United Nations, CITES, CBD and international donors) adopt policies congruent with national and grass-roots level objectives. Throughout the discourse we emphasise the importance of trust and cooperation amongst stakeholders at all levels (Beinhocker 2006) and link our prescriptions to Ostrom’s (1990) well-known principles of successful common property regimes. The paper concludes with the observation that paradigm shifts, to be effective, must be accompanied by changes in process. The currently emerging resilience paradigm in complex adaptive systems affects conservation scholarship, particularly at communal levels. Its emphasis on adaptive capacity and self-organisation has profound implications for the way we conduct our professional scholarship and conceptualise the process of knowledge generation. What is required is an epistemological mind-shift which expands the scope and quality of the data analysed.

JEL Classification: D60, D70

Suggested Citation

Murphree, Marshall and Martin, Rowan, Shifting Paradigms, Policy and Processes in Conservation and Development Over the Past Four Decades (September 19, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Marshall Murphree

Centre fo Applied Social Sciences ( email )


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