What is transformation anyway?

By Kate Massarella, Wageningen University (Netherlands)

Since the Brundtland report was published over 30 years ago, sustainable development has held its place as the goal for many concerned with both environmental protection and economic development. This powerful idea that we can eliminate global poverty while preserving the natural world has captured and held the collective imagination, mobilised policy and funds, and been used as the rationale for countless environment and development interventions.

However, increasing concern around global environmental and social crises, including climate change, biodiversity loss and rising inequality, are creating apocalyptic imaginaries of the future of our planet. And it seemsIPBES that a collective, if not necessarily conscious, decision is being made: that sustainable development is no longer enough. We need more. We need transformation. For example, the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services complied by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) identifies an ‘unprecedented’ and ‘dangerous’ decline of nature. And the solution? Transformative changes that challenge the status quo.

Transformation as radical systemic change

It is this focus on challenging the status quo that, for some, is central to the idea of transformation: if something transforms, it changes radically and fundamentally. As social justice scholar and activist Nancy Fraser explains, transformative change can and must be separated from affirmative action, which dominates current environment and development discourse and practice. Affirmative action addresses specific issues and tackles them by, for example, making changes to policy or introducing a new technology or mechanism to tackle an issue, but never addresses the underlying causes. Transformation, on the other hand, requires a questioning (and alteration) of the existing systems, processes and dominant discourses that are driving the problems and causing harmful and unjust outcomes.

A growing number of social and environmental movements, particularly those concerned with social and environmental justice, are demanding a move beyond affirmative action towards transformation of the global48178887791_e5d0ac9883_b political-economic systems that perpetuate environmental destruction and social inequality. The Fridays for Future movement, spearheaded by 16-year old activist Greta Thunberg, grew out of a belief that governments around the world are not doing enough to tackle climate change, and demands radical, systemic change to halt the climate crisis.

As part of the wider worldwide global justice movement, the non-profit organisation War on Want rejects the imposition of poverty interventions, champions social and workers’ movements, and tackles the underlying drivers of poverty and inequality. The Forest People’s Programme advocates a transformation in conservation models that are rights-based and challenge the use of protected areas. Convivial Conservation aligns with these movements and with a desire for true transformation by challenging the global economic system that drives environmental destruction, rather than emphasising affirmative action within this existing system.

Transformation as non-linear process

Within social science exploration, differing and competing explanations of how transformation happens can be found. Researchers at the STEPS centre in Sussex suggest that these explanations can be organised into three groups, or sets of approaches: structural, systemic and enabling. Structural approaches focus on radical and revolutionary power shifts in society that bring about deep transformation. Systemic approaches focus on understanding social-ecological and socio-technical systems so that specific elements can be targeted via interventions, policy changes and technological innovation.

Finally, enabling approaches focus on collective, bottom-up action that is grounded in social justice and activism and encourages citizen mobilisation. Although these three approaches can be differentiated, scholars argue that in reality, deep transformation happens as a result of a combination of approaches. If, as Ulrich Brand argues, sustainable development assumes a need for managerial solutions, transformation requires that we embrace, and learn to work with, complexity, messiness and non-linear change.

Transformation as an empty signifier?

As this discussion shows, transformation has emerged as a popular new term that signifies deep and radical change. It is rooted in activism and politics. It requires us to challenge the status quo and embrace complexity and messiness. However, actual use of the term transformation does not always reflect these radical sentiments. For example, within social science exploration of systemic approaches to transformations to sustainability an assumption that transformation processes can be better initiated and amplified within the current political, economic and cultural institutional system, dominant actors and related rationales’ can be identified. In some cases the emphasis is on incremental change, often focusing only on individual consumption and behaviour change and not addressing the underlying causes of climate change and biodiversity loss. In other cases it is asserted that transformation can be brought about by ‘rethinking of economic, environmental and social policies and the way they relate to each other’ without questioning the system, politics and power dynamics of the system from which the policies emerge.

In response to global biodiversity crises, a number of radical ideas have been put forward and are gaining momentum. However, critics have challenged the ability of such ideas to bring about truly transformational change. NATURE NEEDS HALFFor example, the Nature Needs Half movement advocates a ‘transformation of human society’. This, they argue, requires that half of the earth be put aside for conservation via a significant increase in protected areas. However, it is argued that this approach merely extends the existing conservation paradigm that is designed around protected areas, ignores the underlying global forces that drive biodiversity loss, and could result in significant injustices through the further marginalisation of poor, forest-dwelling and indigenous communities.

It seems, therefore, that transformation risks becoming an empty signifier, whose meaning is temporarily fixed, and continuously contested and rearticulated’. It may lose its emphasis on the radical, on social justice, on grassroots movements, and on Guardians of the Forest at GCAS San Franciscochallenging deep-rooted structural and systemic dynamics; instead becoming an ineffectual buzzword that allows business as usual to continue. And yet transformation in its truest sense is needed – to address global ecological and social crises and bring about fundamental, socially just change.

As researchers and activists we must work together to maintain the radical potential of transformation, to better understand how transformation happens, and to use research to support and enable the truly transformative change that needs to be achieved for life on our planet to flourish.


Human-Jaguar Relations in the Atlantic Forest: an opportunity for conviviality!

By the Brazilian CONVIVA team

Interdisciplinarity as a goal and starting point. The Brazilian team implementing the CONVIVA – convivial conservation project is a highly diverse group of enthusiastic researchers from different institutions and disciplines, working in collaboration towards jaguar conservation in the Atlantic rainforest through a convivial perspective. Coordinated by Dr. Katia Ferraz, the leader of the Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation Lab (LEMaC) at the University of São Paulo, the team is composed of ecologists, conservation biologists and social scientists. One of our main goals is to build bridges across scales of analysis, from individual-centred approaches such as the ‘Human dimensions of conservation’, to political ecology which looks at broader societal-environmental relations with a justice focus. By interweaving analysis at different scales and with different disciplinary foci, we aim to work towards a new theoretical basis to improve current conservation practices and policies.


We are not starting from scratch! Our activities build on two ongoing projects in the context of LEMaC: the project “Onças do Iguaçu” on mammal conservation in Foz do Iguaçu National Park in the state of Paraná, and “Mammals in the Mata Atlântica” in Serra do Mar Green corridor in the state of São Paulo. Our focus regions are two of the only three areas in which there is a higher probability of jaguar populations persisting in the longer term (highlighted in red in the map below), based on the most recent analysis of species viability in the Atlantic Forest. mapa jaguar occupationIn working towards making this probability a reality, the Brazilian team of researchers from LEMaC have partnered with Instituto Manacá and the National Center for Research and Conservation of Large Carnivores (CENAP), a branch of the Brazilian national institute for biodiversity conservation, the Chico Mendes Institute (ICMBio). Therefore, we seek to engage with and deepen the work that is already ongoing through CONVIVA in a way that allows the different projects to build on and feed off each other.


Connections beyond academia. The Brazilian branch of the CONVIVA project is bringing together environmental policy, NGO advocacy and research to develop sustainable paths for a just and healthy environment for future generations of both humans and jaguars. Our meetings bring together practitioners, scientists from different fields, and public policy managers, turning our meetings into spaces both for research and knowledge exchange at the same time. We engage in comprehensive debates about the future of conservation, the limits and possibilities of interdisciplinary research, and possible alternatives for current Brazilian policies for nature conservation.


Activities under way. This year has been full speed ahead for us. In March, our team hosted the first CONVIVA workshop. The entire international team was present in Foz do Iguaçu National Park, enjoying the backdrop of the breathtaking landscape of the Iguaçu Falls. The meeting in Foz do Iguaçu established a number of challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. conviva-group-picture.jpgThe team left the meeting with a feeling of commitment to the overall objective of building a convivial perspective for conservation, one that looks at jaguars as part of a whole system in which humans and wildlife can co-exist. During the first six months of 2019, the Brazilian team dedicated efforts to planning activities for the next two years, gathering the data already available from previous projects, and deepening our knowledge of the convivial idea and our contribution to it. We collaboratively developed stakeholder mappings to evaluate possible counterparts and establish a shared perspective on the current dynamics and challenging context of environmental governance in Brazil.


Hopes for the jaguar, the Atlantic Forest and the people who live in it. We aspire to build a sound and viable basis for healthy relationships between people and the fascinating jaguar species in its remaining habitats within this rich and endangered hotspot. On that basis, we hope that we can contribute to longstanding and effective convivial conservation, taking into account both the needs of people and wildlife.


Conserving what, how, and for whom? Unpacking SDG 15 “Life on land” and its links to convivial conservation

By Judith Krauss, University of Sheffield (UK)

What does the 15th Sustainable Development Goal, dubbed “Life on Land”, mean for CONVIVA, our research project investigating how conservation can be made more convivial, socially just, transformative?

This blog post hopes to offer some initial, non-exhaustive thoughts building on a paper I am currently developing. It argues that SDG 15 misses opportunities: it mostly reflects hegemonic ideas of conservation building on exclusion-based or market-based notions, while communities’ role unfortunately is underestimated.


What are the Sustainable Development Goals and why do they matter?

In 2015, the United Nations agreed a set of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) encompassing 169 targets. These successors to the 8 Millennium Development Goals marked a step forward in some sense as they expanded the responsibility for attaining the goals from solely lower-income countries to encompass also the Global North, a vital prerequisite especially for all goals related to environmental matters and consumption.


Arguably, the SDGs are the most universally agreed global governance framework: they aim to provide the world with a set of goals which cover the social (e.g. SDG 1, no poverty), environmental (e.g. SDG 15, Life on land) and economic (e.g. SDG 8, decent work and economic growth) aspects of “sustainable development”. (While this is not the focus of this blog, it is worth mentioning that sustainable development remains a problematic term, which e.g. Adams’s Green Development, Redclift’s ‘An oxymoron comes of age’ or Lélé’s classic ‘Sustainable development: a critical review’ have covered in more detail).


Since their publication, much has been written about the SDGs, focusing e.g. on their implicit biases (Spann, 2017; Weber, 2017), their interdependencies (Nilsson et al., 2016) and trade-offs (Pradhan et al., 2017). However, there has been comparatively little work unpacking individual SDGs in terms of what they mean for the academic fields to which they are related. Convivial conservation has a strong link particularly to the fifteenth SDG, “Life on land”.


What is SDG 15?

IMG_20190314_122452~2SDG 15 aims to ‘protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss’ (UN, 2015). The targets and indicators which it involves demonstrate the depth and breadth of the challenges affiliated with this SDG. It encompasses:

– nine outcome targets, ranging from terrestrial ecosystems (15.1) via sustainable forest management (15.2) and arable land (15.3) to access and benefit-sharing (15.6) or illicit poaching and wildlife trafficking (15.7). Few SDGs have as many outcome targets as SDG 15, which illustrates the complexity of preserving life on land.

– three ‘means of implementation’ targets, which focus on increasing both national and international funding for biodiversity conservation (15.a) and for sustainable forest management (15.b) as well as boosting capacity to combat wildlife trafficking (15.c)

– 14 indicators. A number of the indicators are rooted in prior UN decisions, e.g. building on indicators used for the Convention on Biological Diversity or for access-and-benefit-sharing as well as sustainable forest management. They encompass measuring e.g. the mountain surface area under protected areas (15.4.1), or the number of countries that have adopted legislation limiting invasive species (15.8.1).



What does SDG 15 mean for CONVIVA?

SDG 15 prominently reflects both exclusion-based ideas of conservation such as neoprotectionists’ advocacy of e.g. excluding humans from half the earth, and new conservation’s subscription to market-based ideals.

In terms of market-based approaches, they feature most explicitly in target 15.9, which aims to incorporate biodiversity values into national and local planning. Equally, monetising natural resources is a prerequisite for the access and benefit-sharing codified in 15.6. Moreover, both targets 15.a and 15.b advocate raising funding from all sources for biodiversity conservation and forest management, respectively.

Exclusion-based ideas are just as, if not more prominent. Not only is the idea of incorporating biodiversity values into national planning predicated on being able to separate humans and nature, which is problematic. Protected areas are key to the indicators linked to terrestrial ecosystems (15.1), forest management (15.2) and mountain biodiversity (15.4). Incidentally, protected areas also bring in market-based elements especially in the global South through entrance fees to parks or tracking licenses. Moreover, species extinction is often addressed through increasing protection for threatened species by exclusion (15.5).

SDG 15 thus builds on hegemonic ideas of conservation around exclusion and markets in different ways. By contrast, communities are mentioned explicitly only once in all of SDG 15, in the indicator aiming to boost capacity-building for communities to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. From a CONVIVA perspective, both constitute missed opportunities given the importance of SDG 15 as a policy framework, but equally are not surprising given the direction of travel for mainstream conservation.

IMG_20180325_084924One way to begin making SDG 15 more convivial would have been an acknowledgement that protected areas distribute fortune and misfortune. Unfortunately, the indicators utilising protected areas have no acknowledgement of communities’ presence, never mind role. This not only threatens to interfere with attaining e.g. SDG 1, no poverty, but also continues a deeply problematic tradition harking back to colonial times of assigning areas for protection without due consideration for the needs of those living on or around them. More work is needed to think through communities’ role in SDG 15, and our project hopes to develop ideas for how to boost communities’ ability to have a say in socially just, transformative, convivial conservation.

CONVIVA postdoc, UC Santa Barbara, 2 years

The California Grizzly Research Network and NORFACE/Belmont Forum/NSF-funded CON-VIVA working group invite applications for a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in conservation social science.

Since 2016, the Grizzly Network (www.calgrizzly.com) has been promoting—through interdisciplinary research and education—a more informed scholarly and public conversation about the past and potential future of brown (grizzly) bears in California. The CON-VIVA project (www.convivialconservation.com), which includes case studies in four countries, launched in 2018 to better understand conflicts with large carnivores, and develop new approaches for conserving and coexisting with them during a time of rapid institutional, political, economic, and ecological change.

The fellow hired for this position will conduct a field study to assess the knowledge, attitudes, values, and beliefs of people living in two California communities toward proposals to reintroduce and recover large carnivores, particularly brown bears, in nearby parks and wilderness areas.

This position will require the fellow to design and implement a social science field study, including identifying key stakeholders, interviewing local leaders and residents, organizing focus groups, and engaging in participant observation. The fellow will consult with a steering committee of UCSB faculty, participate in the Grizzly Network, and maintain close correspondence with CON-VIVA members in other regions. This includes attending international team meetings, and writing co-authored journal articles.

The fellow will be based in the Environmental Studies Program at UC Santa Barbara. While in the field, the fellow will use the facilities of the UC Natural Reserve System.

Applicants should have a doctorate in the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, geography, history, political science, etc.), a publishing track record, an ability to work in interdisciplinary and international teams, and excellent communication skills.

Applicants should send a letter of interest, CV, writing sample, and the contact information for two references to Professor Peter Alagona at palagona@gmail.com.

Selection will focus on applicants’ qualifications, track record, potential, and fit. Applicants must have completed their PhDs, or show strong evidence that they will do so by June 2019.

The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

CON-VIVA Postdoc (36 months), based at the ESALQ (Piracicaba) from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Position 3: postdoc (36 months), based at the ESALQ (Piracicaba) from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil; position to study human-wildlife conflict in the Atlantic Forest biome involving Jaguars

Description in Portuguese: http://fapesp.br/oportunidades/2560/

We are looking for

The Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation Lab (LEMaC) at Forest Science, ESALQ/USP seeks a candidate for a postdoc position on the recently awarded project ‘Towards Convivial Conservation: Governing Human-Wildlife Interactions in the Anthropocene’ (CON-VIVA, 2018-2021). Candidates with a background in relevant social sciences (anthropology, geography, sociology, political science, human dimension etc.) will be considered, especially candidates with expertise in the broad areas of environment and development, political ecology, natural resources management and conservation. Your responsibilities include performing research on the (challenges to the) prospects and possibilities of convivial conservation (internationally by studying global conservation events and actors and comparatively across the four cases within the project), assisting in the coordination and management of the CON-VIVA project, occasional teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels, and participating in management activities. For more information on the CON-VIVA project, see: www.convivialconservation.com

We ask

As postdoc on the CON-VIVA project you have:

  • A PhD in anthropology, sociology, geography, political science, political ecology, biology or a related field;
  • Proven ability to publish in high-quality academic journals and with top academic publishers;
  • Ability to work in interdisciplinary and international research teams;
  • Excellent communication and writing skills as well as project coordination and management skills. Portuguese fluency is desired;
  • Good didactic qualities and enthusiasm for teaching and working with students;
  • Familiarity with the case-study context of the Mata Atlântica is an advantage
  • Familiarity with social science methods.

We offer

We offer the chance to participate in an exciting international network of top researchers in the field and the ability to participate in conferences and project meetings. Scholarship (R$ 7.373,10) will be paid by FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation; http://www.fapesp.br/en/) for 36 months. Selected candidate should live at the same city of the Institution (Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brasil) and accept FAPESP Post-Doctoral fellowship (http://www.fapesp.br/en/postdoc) conditions.

To apply

To apply for this position, please submit an application letter to katia.ferraz@usp.br, indicating your suitability for the position and some first ideas about the direction you would want to take in the postdoc position, and how this would contribute to the goals and themes of the CON-VIVA project. Besides the letter, please include your Curriculum Vitae and one writing sample (a published paper or a chapter of your dissertation). The selection will follow the FAPESP norms (http://www.fapesp.br/en/5100)

Contact info

Additional information about the vacancy can be obtained from: Prof. Dra. Katia Ferraz (katia.ferraz@usp.br or +55 19 3447 6693 or 3447 6671)

Deadline for application: 5 January 2019, 23:59/ Please note that interviews will be held during the last or third week of January 2019.

University of São Paulo, Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ/USP)

Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ) is located at the Luiz de Queiroz Campus in the city of Piracicaba and is currently considered a Center of Excellence for Undergraduate and Graduate programs in Agricultural, Environmental, Biological and Applied Social Sciences, acknowledged for its outstanding scientific and technical performance. Its academic community is comprised of 800 faculty and staff members along with nearly 3,400 undergraduate and graduate students. Its total area (3,825.4 hectares) corresponds to 50% of the total area of University of São Paulo.

ESALQ offers 7 undergraduate programs and 15 graduate programs (one international), in addition to one inter-institutional and two inter-unit programs, in its 12 departments and more than 130 laboratories. It houses a reference library in Agricultural Sciences in Latin America, 4 experimental stations, as well as an enterprise incubator.

ESALQ has graduated 15,000 students. It is the first Brazilian higher education institution to graduate more than 11,000 Agricultural Engineering. ESALQ is a part of the international scene due to agreements with foreign institutions, exchanging students and faculty members, and offering double degree programs in Agriculture and in Food Science with French institutions.

Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation Lab, Forest Science Departament at ESALQ/USP

The Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation Lab (LEMaC) is coordinated by Dr. Katia Ferraz, at Forest Science Department, ESALQ. LEMaC team is formed by more than 20 members (graduate and undergraduate students, postdocs and trainees) working on interdisciplinary projects related to applied ecology (mammals and birds), human dimensions and conservation planning. The Postdoc will be part of LEMaC having the opportunity to integrate and collaborate with other students and projects.

For further information about working at ESALQ/USP, take a look at http://www.en.esalq.usp.br/.