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People, Power, and the Coast: a Conceptual Framework for Understanding and Implementing Benefit Sharing

Rachel Wynberg, Environmental Evaluation Unit, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town
Maria Hauck, Environmental Evaluation Unit, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town


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The concept of benefit sharing has seen growing adoption in recent years by a variety of sectors. However, its conceptual underpinnings, definitions, and framework remain poorly articulated and developed. We aim to help address this gap by presenting a new conceptual approach for enhancing understanding about benefit sharing and its implementation. We use the coast as a lens through which the analysis is framed because of the intricate governance challenges which coastal social–ecological systems present, the increasing development and exploitation pressures on these systems, and the growing need to improve understanding about the way in which greater equity and reduced inequalities could reduce conflicts, protect coastal ecosystems, and ensure greater social justice. Key elements of the framework include the range of actors involved, the natural resources they access and use, the interventions introduced to redistribute benefits, and the benefits and losses that result from these interventions. The framework underscores the importance of process in determining who gets what, as well as the wider institutional, political, social, and economic context. Power relations and imbalances underpin many of these elements and remain the central reason for benefits being distributed in the way that they are. The framework has relevance and application for coastal livelihoods, rural governance, and resource sustainability in a context in which community rights are increasingly undermined through land grabbing, unequal power relations, and externally driven development interventions.

Key words

coastal communities; governance; inequality; power

Copyright © 2014 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