‘Opening up’ fire conflicts: Reflexive governance and transformative knowledge networks in culturally fragile indigenous landscapes

Working Paper
  • Published 26/03/13

Despite the fact that there is much more acceptance today to the use of fire by indigenous people in forests and savannas ecosystems than there was two decades ago, it still remains a highly controversial and questioned local practice, to the point that reducing green house emissions from tropical forest and savanna fires is top in the Global Change agenda. The fire issue is dominated by conflicting values, interests and world views that make reaching agreements for its sustainable use no easy task. According to the reflexive governance theory, advancing in this direction would entail developing a more plural approach to fire management, by creating opportunities for context specific public deliberations about different views of fire and its impacts, along with changing deeply entrenched institutional practices that exclude local knowledge systems. But, are we clear about the challenges that this posses in practice, particularly in the context of strong cultural change at the community level? In this context, how do we get to the point of developing ‘discourse coalitions’ and “knowledge networks” that can challenge dominant narratives about fire and change the power relations that give rise to conflicts?

By merging the STEPS conceptual framework on reflexive governance with the conflict transformation theory developed in peace studies, we show that culture, and particularly engaging with cultural difference at the community level, play an important part in opening up rigid environmental governance arenas so as to permit reflexivity over highly contentions environmental issues. We do so by reviewing three participatory research projects carried out in Canaima National Park, Venezuela which have helped the Pemon indigenous people clarify their conflicting views of fire through community-wide critical reflections on processes of cultural change