ICN 2020/21 workshop theme: A reflexive turn in conservation?

Theme leaders

Thomas Pienkowski (ICCS) and Laur Kiik (ICCS). 


About this theme

searchingEver more studies have turned the conservation science lens onto conservationists themselves. These studies have examined the perspectives and values held within the conservation community (Sandbrook et al. 2011; Sandbrook et al. 2019), and the challenges and rewards conservationists face (Belecky et al. 2019; ICCS 2020). They have also explored positionality within conservation research and practice (Pasgaard et al. 2017; Quarshie et al. 2019), and how their education shapes the discipline (Slater 2020). Thus, conservation  appears  to be gaining reflexivity – “the capacity of an agent, structure or process to change in the light of reflection on its performance” (Pickering 2019).

In contrast, the ‘reflexive turn’ in social anthropology started in the 1970s, when scholars took a figurative look in the mirror, thinking critically about their social position and how it influenced their work (Ruby 1982). Is conservation entering a similar period of reflection? If so, who is doing it, why are they doing it, and what might it imply for conservation? These questions will be explored in a workshop attended by conservation practitioners and scientists, working globally, culminating in a published perspective piece.



There have long been discussions among conservationists about how to practice conservation (e.g. the “parks vs. people” debate (Minteer & Miller 2011). But more recently, the characteristics, values, and experiences of conservation professionals themselves have become the focus of research. For instance, the Future of Conservation initiative explores conservationists’ views that influence their policy positions. Such reflection may help identify aspects of conservation that undermine, and opportunities to enhance, efforts to protect Earth’s biodiversity.



This workshop aims to discuss if a broader reflection is happening and what it may imply for biodiversity protection. It does so by asking the following questions:

  • What is the evidence that this reflection is happening? 
  • Who is doing it? 
  • What or who is being reflected on? 
  • How is it being done? 
  • Why is it being done? 
  • How might it affect conservationists, conservation practice, and biodiversity?



These questions will be explored through a series of documented discussions. These discussions will be informed by evidence of reflective research, and the experiences and perspectives of people in different roles in conservation. As such, it will be attended by conservation scientists and practitioners working globally, from a range of conservation backgrounds and fields. 



One outcome will be a perspective piece, seeking to provoke further discussion rather than claiming definitive answers. The piece will focus on practical significance – for both people working in the sector, and the goals we seek to meet. We may also develop a framework tool for helping conservation organisations reflect on some aspects of conservation that have practical implications.


General workshop plan (subject to change)

The discussion will be held over the series of three to four half-day workshops and the final in-person event, with 9–10 participants. This will be accompanied by satellite meetings among sub-groups. The leaders will ensure meetings are productive, friendly, and facilitate input from all participants.




Key outputs

  • A peer-reviewed perspective piece, published in a high-impact conservation journal. This piece will be of broad interest to those working in conservation science and practice. 
  • Potential framework tool for facilitating conservation organisations to reflect on aspects of their practice. 


Who should apply

Within this theme, we are looking for early-career individuals working and researching in conservation practice. Applicants may wish to describe how reflecting on conservationists’ values, psychologies, or perspectives have or could affect conservation efforts within their organisation if applicable. Applicants who have been involved in reflection exercises within their organisations are encouraged to apply. Organisations who have conducted reflection exercises, and who could co-sponsor attendees' visits, are also encouraged to contact Thomas Pienkowski (thomas.pienkowski@wolfson.ox.ac.uk).


Apply here by 12th August, 2020


Back to ICN 2020/2021 page


Please contact Thomas Pienkowski thomas.pienkowski@wolfson.ox.ac.uk with any questions or concerns regards this theme. 



Belecky M, Singh R, Moreto W. 2019. Life on the frontline 2019: A global survey of the working conditions of rangers.

Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS). 2020. Life in Conservation, https://livedataoxford.shinyapps.io/lifeinconservation/.  (accessed 15/05/2020 2020).

Kiik L. 2018. Conservationland: Toward the anthropology of professionals in global nature conservation. Critique of Anthropology 39:391-419.

Minteer BA, Miller TR. 2011. The New Conservation Debate: ethical foundations, strategic trade-offs, and policy opportunities. Biological Conservation 144:945-947.

Pasgaard M, Dawson N, Rasmussen LV, Enghoff M, Jensen A. 2017. The research and practice of integrating conservation and development: Self-reflections by researchers on methodologies, objectives and influence. Global Ecology and Conservation 9:50-60.

Peterson RB, Russell D, West P, Brosius JP. 2010. Seeing (and doing) conservation through cultural lenses. Environmental Management 45:5-18.

Pickering J. 2019. Ecological reflexivity: Characterising an elusive virtue for governance in the Anthropocene. Environmental Politics 28:1145-1166.

Quarshie A, Salmi A, Wu Z. 2019. From equivocality to reflexivity in biodiversity protection. Organisation Environment:1086026619837122.

Ruby J 1982. A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive Perspectives in Anthropology. University of Pennsylvania Press

Sandbrook C, Fisher JA, Holmes G, Luque-Lora R, Keane A. 2019. The global conservation movement is diverse but not divided. Nature Sustainability 2:316--323.

Sandbrook C, Scales IR, Vira B, Adams WM. 2011. Value plurality among conservation professionals. Conservation Biology 25:285-294.

Slater H. 2020. Education and the future of conservation, https://edinburghconservationscience.com/educationsurvey/.  (accessed 15/05/2020 2020).