Narratives Spotlight

The stories we tell about biodiversity

Louder, E. & Wyborn, C. (2020) Biodiversity narratives: stories of the evolving conservation landscape. Environmental Conservation.

In a nutshell: In this review paper, the authors identify and discuss in detail archetypal biodiversity narratives and counter-narratives, and call for research to further explore these narratives and their transformative potential for biodiversity.

The stories we tell feed into narratives that shape how we understand the world. So the stories we tell specifically about biodiversity have the power to shape biodiversity narratives that influence individual understanding of biodiversity, and the extent to which broader society cares about, and acts on biodiversity conservation.

In this paper, Louder & Wybron describe different research approaches and interpretations of narratives. These include critical views where researchers use narratives to understand structures of domination and power, as well as advocacy approaches where narratives are used to reimagine ontologies and present a path to a desired future.

But the crux of Louder & Wyborn’s paper is their identification of key archetypal biodiversity narratives and counter-narratives, and their discussion and critique of their current use. The narratives discussed include:

  • Eco-centric: nature needs to be conserved for nature’s sake e.g. Half Earth
  • Faith, spirituality and ethics: conservation is a spiritual imperative e.g. religious sanctions against destructive behaviour, granting personhood to rivers
  • Anthropocentric: nature needs to be conserved because it provides important things for humans e.g. ecosystem services, nature’s contribution to people (NCPs)
  • Economics: conservation needs to work with the economic powers that be, not against them e.g. New Deal for Nature and People
  • Crisis narrative and the sixth mass extinction: humans are destroying the planet and ourselves e.g. IPCC, IPBES, Extinction Rebellion
  • Big data, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and ecomodernisation: technology will save humanity e.g. Ecomodernist Manifesto, World Economic Forum
  • Anthropocene: there is no nature besides the one humanity makes e.g. nature as un-impacted by humans no longer exists, disrupts ecological concepts of native, invasive, habitats, biomes etc.

Louder & Wybron also highlight that while there currently appears to be calls for “a new narrative” for conservation, it may be that these pre-existing narratives deserve greater research attention, particularly when it comes to understanding and interrogating their underlying epistemologies and ontologies.

While, as the authors note, narratives are not a silver bullet for biodiversity conservation, this paper provides insight into how we can tap into pre-existing narratives or create new compelling narratives that will move people to action.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

1 comment on “The stories we tell about biodiversity

  1. Pingback: Dbytes #464 (24 February 2021) | Dbytes

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