Project Proposal

Mobile Peoples and Conservation: Crossing the Disciplinary Divide
Wadi Dana, Jordan, 3-7 April 2002

A conference hosted by the Refugee Studies Centre, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford, in collaboration with: the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent at Canterbury; the World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN); and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Conference Summary

In 1999 the Refugee Studies Centre held an open conference, Displacement, Forced Settlement and Conservation which identified a need to bridge disciplinary divides between social and natural scientists. Settled communities have been the focus of most debate concerning conservation and sustainable development. Mobile communities have not been widely explored in these discussions. With Rio Plus 10 and the IUCN-WCPA World Parks Congress both on the horizon, it is urgent that concerns about mobile communities enter into the on-going conservation debates and discussion.

The aim of this follow-up conference is to stimulate an open and frank discourse relating to the current impact of wildlife conservation on the lives and livelihoods of mobile peoples, who generally inhabit remote and marginal areas. Our goal is to define areas of common interest, tease out the differences in priorities and true areas of conflict, and begin a constructive dialogue on sustainable, biodiversity-rich land use by mobile peoples. The conference will critically examine current popular concepts of community management and the current conservation-preservation debate, as well as areas of conflicting theory and practice as related to mobile communities.

Background and Justification

The 1999 conference, Displacement, Forced Settlement and Conservation brought together a wide range of specialists concerned with the indigenous human populations affected by conservation projects. The conference helped raise a number of important issues which needed further discussion. Among these were two major philosophical threads: preservationism, which, in spite of much debate and international policy shifts towards sustainable development in recent years, is still the predominant philosophy behind many conservation projects; and the historical, and still contemporary, sentiment that mobile people constitute a threat to settled communities and national governments. Here wildlife conservation has often been used as a justification for forcing people into permanent settlements. A third, more positive factor that also emerged from this conference, was the recognition of the progress that had been made over the last decade in bringing indigenous people into the management of conservation areas. The conference participants, though benefiting from the opportunity to present their research to each other, recognised that, for there to be progress, disciplinary divides needed to be bridged, social and natural scientists needed to engage with each other over the issues and controversies in conservation and biodiversity.

Aims and objectives

The aim of this follow-up workshop is to set into motion a productive dialogue between social and natural scientists to examine the impact that wildlife conservation and other environmental protection projects have on the lives of the mobile and marginal people who inhabit the same areas. It is hoped that such a dialogue will promote a multi-faceted approach to people, plants and animals in conservation and biodiversity protection issues. A further objective is the promotion of conservation research and practice which is multi-disciplinary and participative.

Issues which will be tabled and discussed at this workshop are:

 Workshop Process

The conference organisers have invited twenty-five representatives to spend a period of five days discussing empirical research presentations as well as theoretical papers. Selected participants come from both social science (anthropologists and sociologists) and natural science (ecologists and biologists) backgrounds. A third group of institutional policy makers have also been invited to attend. The conference organization is being managed by a four-person steering group with representatives from each of these areas. A pilot film of about twenty-five minutes length is being prepared looking at conservation and mobile peoples in Jordan and addressing a number of the issues raised above. The film will form part the conference introduction and will set the stage for constructive dialogue, by giving a face and a voice to mobile peoples at the sharp end of conservation and development issues. During the conference there will be both plenary presentations and discussion as well as smaller issue-orientated working groups. Sessions will also be organized on a geographical basis with the following regions being represented: Australia, East and Southern Africa, Europe/ Mediterranean, Latin America, Middle East, South and East Asia.


The workshop will have the following outputs:

Further Information

Dawn Chatty, Deputy Director and
Dullverton Senior Research Fellow
Refugee Studies Centre,

University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3LA,

United Kingdom
Tel: 44 (0)1865 270432

By mobile peoples, we mean a subset of indigenous and traditional peoples whose livelihoods depend on extensive common property use of natural resources over an area, who use mobility as a management strategy for dealing with sustainable use and conservation, and who possess a distinctive cultural identity and natural resource management system.