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Collaborative stewardship in multifunctional landscapes: toward relational, pluralistic approaches

Jessica Cockburn, Environmental Learning Research Centre, Department of Education, Rhodes University, Makhanda (Grahamstown), South Africa
Georgina Cundill, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada
Sheona Shackleton, Department of Environmental Science, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa; African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Mathieu Rouget, UMR PVBMT, CIRAD, St. Pierre, La RĂ©union, France
Marijn Zwinkels, Living Lands, Cape Town, South Africa
Susanna (Ancia) Cornelius, Living Lands, Twee Riviere, South Africa
Liz Metcalfe, Living Lands, Cape Town, South Africa
Dieter van den Broeck, Commonland, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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Landscape stewardship offers a means to put social-ecological approaches to stewardship into practice. The growing interest in landscape stewardship has led to a focus on multistakeholder collaboration. Although there is a significant body of literature on collaborative management and governance of natural resources, the particular challenges posed by multifunctional landscapes, in which there are often contested interests, require closer attention. We present a case study from South Africa to investigate how collaborative stewardship can be fostered in contested multifunctional landscapes. We conducted this research through an engaged transdisciplinary research partnership in which we integrated social-ecological practitioner and academic knowledge to gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges of fostering collaboration. We identified five overarching factors that influence collaboration: contextual, institutional, social-relational, individual, and political-historical. Collaborative stewardship approaches focused on the development of formal governance institutions appear to be most successful if enabling individual and social-relational conditions are in place. Our case study, characterized by high social diversity, inequity, and contestation, suggests that consensus-driven approaches to collaboration are unlikely to result in equitable and sustainable landscape stewardship in such contexts. We therefore suggest an approach that focuses on enhancing individual and social-relational enablers. Moreover, we propose a bottom-up patchwork approach to collaborative stewardship premised on the notion of pluralism. This would focus on building new interpersonal relationships and collaborative capacity through small collective actions. Taking a relational, pluralistic approach to fostering collaborative stewardship is particularly important in contested, socially heterogeneous landscapes. Drawing on our study and the literature, we propose guiding principles for implementing relational, pluralistic approaches to collaborative stewardship and suggest future research directions for supporting such approaches.

Key words

environmental stewardship; equity; multifunctional landscapes; multistakeholder collaboration; social-ecological systems; South Africa; sustainability; transdisciplinary research.

Copyright © 2019 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