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“Living a good life”: conceptualizations of well-being in a conservation context in Cambodia

Emilie Beauchamp, University of Oxford
Emily Woodhouse, University College London
Tom Clements, Wildlife Conservation Society
Eleanor Jane Milner-Gulland, University of Oxford


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Conservation practice has sometimes been criticized for relying on simplistic assumptions about social contexts in natural resource management. Despite recent advances conceptualizing the interface between human well-being and the environment, very few studies moving from theory to practice exist. We address this gap by providing one of the first careful examinations of local conceptualizations of well-being in a conservation context, using mixed methods to examine the multidimensionality and heterogeneity of well-being conceptualizations across three sites in northern Cambodia. Each site faced different levels of conservation activities and development pressures, the latter being mainly linked to the degree of impact from economic land concessions. Our results highlight village context as a key line of variation in individual well-being, rather than differences related to age, gender, or wealth. Our results suggest that conservation incentives that mirror people’s aspirations can balance out negative trade-offs linked to compliance and can contribute to well-being. We show that multifaceted values are attached to well-being components, highlighting the importance of subjective indicators and perceptions to capture fully the social changes and impacts of conservation in complex contexts. We conclude that enquiries into subjective well-being should become an integral part of participatory assessments and adaptive management of conservation interventions.

Key words

agricultural concessions; Cambodia; community-based conservation; human well-being; rural development; social heterogeneity

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087