Collaborative Event Ethnography: Conservation and Development Trade-offs at the Fourth World Conservation Congress



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Conservation and Society


Ideas about conservation have shifted dramatically over the last century. From an early focus on state-run parks and protected areas, to the role of local communities and markets in conservation, to engaging the private sector, what conservation is and how we go about doing it continues to evolve (Adams & Hulme 2001; Brosius 2006). While there have been many shifts, in this study we are interested in the recent emphasis on ‘the global’ as the scale at which conservation policies and practices are conceptualised, articulated, and (ideally) implemented (Taylor & Buttel 1992). This shift, or scalingup, is evident in a number of trends: the emergence of ‘big’ international NGOs as key actors in conservation (Chapin 2004); increased emphasis on conservation practice at large, transboundary scales (ecoregions, seascapes) dictated ostensibly by ecology (Brosius & Russell 2003); the continued proliferation of protected areas, the dominant symbol (and measure) of western-influenced nature conservation (Zimmerer 2006); and, of particular interest in our research, the increased use of international meetings and agreements to establish the goals, targets, and means of achieving conservation. This collection of nine papers is a result of research conducted at one such meeting—the Fourth World Conservation Congress (WCC) hosted by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in Barcelona, October 5–14, 2008. The IUCN is the world’s ‘largest global environmental network’, whose stated mission is to ‘influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable’ ( IUCN was originally formed in 1948 as the International Union for the Preservation of Nature, and is a hybrid of government and private interest groups (McCormick 1989). Today, with more than 1,000 member organisations in 140 countries (including 200+ government and 800+ non-government organisations), as well as almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in six commissions (, IUCN continues to exert a major influence in the global conservation domain. While often compared to the ‘big three’ non-government international conservation organisations (Conservation International, WWF, The Nature Conservancy), it is fundamentally different and more akin to a multilateral UN agency, though with private sector members as well.1 Until recently, the IUCN did very little implementation of conservation, casting itself as a scientific authority to inform and track conservation rather than implement it. Its most well-known products are the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM and its system of categorising protected areas, often used to compare national commitments to conservation ( union/commissions/wcpa/wcpa_overview/). Through such initiatives, IUCN has been an important player in determining not only what conservation should be, but also how it should be measured.



WCC, method