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IUCN World Conservation Congress (2008)

Photo: IUCN/Group J. Muntaner


Host: IUCN

Location: Barcelona, Spain

Dates: October 5-14, 2008

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) is the world’s ‘largest global environmental network’ (est. 1948 as International Union for Conservation of Nature). It is a membership organization, with government and non-government members. The IUCN Members’ Assembly convenes every four years to make decisions, plan, and elect its council, the governing body of the IUCN. In 1996, a Forum open to non-members and the public was added to the meeting, and it became the World Conservation Congress.

At this first CEE site, we were a group of 22 researchers. We worked together to better understand both the formal and informal nature of conservation policy-making in this international forum, with a specific focus on the concept of trade-offs.

Key Agenda Items

Promote a “diverse and sustainable world” through addressing key challenges such as:
  • Mitigation and adaptation to climate change
  • Energy demand
  • Conservation and development
  • The roles of local people and indigenous peoples in environmental management
  • More on the Conference website. 

The CEE Team

WCC Team: Danyel Addes, J. Peter Brosius, Lisa M. Campbell, Saul Cohen, Amity Doolittle, Christina Faust, Noella Gray, Shannon Hagerman, Paul Hirsch, Sarah Hitchner, Rose Kicheleri, Ann Laudati, Ted Maclin, David Meek, Sarah Milne, Chad Monfreda, Nels Paulson, Pablo Peña, Jose Carlos Silva, and Meredith Welch-Devine.

Logistics: Edward Maclin provided logistical support for travel and field work.


This idea for the first CEE originated at a workshop on the Politics of Knowledge (Oct. 2007), convened as part of the Advancing Conservation in a Social Context (ACSC) project, funded by the MacArther Foundation.  With ACSC support, Peter Brosius assembled a team of 16 researchers. An additional six researchers joined the group with other sources of funding.

This initial CEE is best described as a loose collaboration. Researchers shared a broad focus on conservation and development trade-offs, and included a set of standard questions in interview protocols. But we pursued these shared questions in relation to our individual interests. Any coordination among individuals (in terms of event coverage or note sharing) emerged ad hoc. 

We met daily to discuss observation and findings, both on site and in our shared accommodations, and these meetings were intellectually exciting.  As we exchanged observations, we developed a broader appreciation of the event and began to collectively theorize about what we were seeing. However, without a mechanism to support collaboration after the WCC, and in the traditions of our sole author disciplines, our individual interests dominated analysis and writing. Nevertheless, we felt like we were onto something, and approached our second CEE determined to be more deliberate in our collaboration.

Key Collaborative Findings

  • The important role of host organizations in performing, structuring and directing a conservation meeting, and how this direction shapes understandings of conservation
  • How ideas about how to do conservation are shifting, with emerging commitments to market based conservation (e.g. through payments for ecosystem services) over-shadowing traditional approaches to species and area based conservation;
  • The visibility of marine conservation at the WCC and how discussion and treatment of marine conservation differed from terrestrial;
  • The ‘messy’ and contested nature of the ‘trade-off’ concept, defined and interpreted differently by individual interviewees and within particular sub-fields of conservation.  

- Brosius and Campbell, 2010

"Later that day, we sat through opening ceremonies, complete with larger-than-life slideshows featuring images of spectacular nature, performers, dignitaries, and even some off-script protesting...."

- Brosius and Campbell, 2010


Funding was provided by the MacArthur Foundation, through the Advancing Conservation in a Social Context project, 2007-2010.

Related Publications

Special Issue, Conservation and Society 8(4)

Special Issue Articles (order of publication)

Brosius, J.P., and L.M. Campbell, 2010. “Collaborative Event Ethnography: Conservation and Development Trade-Offs at the Fourth World Conservation Congress.” Conservation and Society 8 (4): 245-255. DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.78141. [OPEN ACCESS]

MacDonald, K.I., 2010a. “Business, Biodiversity and New “Fields” of Conservation: The World Conservation Congress and the Renegotiation of Organizational Order.” Conservation and Society 8 (4):, 256-275. [OPEN ACCESS]

Monfreda, C., 2010. “Setting the Stage for New Global Knowledge: Science, Economics, and Indigenous Knowledge in ‘the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ at the Fourth World Conservation Congress.” Conservation and Society 8 (4): 276-285. [OPEN ACCESS]

Doolittle, A.A., 2010. “The Politics of Indigeneity: Indigenous Strategies for Inclusion in Climate Change Negotiations.” Conservation and Society 8 (4): 286-291. [OPEN ACCESS]

Pena, Pablo. 2010. “NTFP and REDD at the Fourth World Conservation Congress; What is In and What is Not.” Conservation and Society 8(4): 292-297. [OPEN ACCESS]

Hagerman, S., T. Satterfield, and H. Dowlatabadi, 2010. “Climate Change Impacts, Conservation and Protected Values: Understanding Promotion, Ambivalence and Resistance to Policy Change at the World Conservation Congress.” Conservation and Society 8 (4): 298-311. [OPEN ACCESS]

Maclin, E.M., and J.L.D. Bello, 2010. “Setting the Stage for Biofuels: Policy Texts, Community of Practice, and Institutional Ambiguity at the Fourth World Conservation Congress.” Conservation and Society 8 (4): 312-319. [OPEN ACCESS]

Hitchner, S.L., 2010. “Heart of Borneo as a ‘Jalan Tikus’: Exploring the Links between Indigenous Rights, Extractive and Exploitative Industries, and Conservation at the World Conservation Congress 2008.” Conservation and Society 8 (4): 320-330. [OPEN ACCESS]

Gray, N.J., 2010. “Sea Change: Exploring the International Effort to Promote Marine Protected Areas.” Conservation and Society 8 (4): 331-338. [OPEN ACCESS]

Welch-Devine, M., and L.M. Campbell, 2010. “Sorting out Roles and Defining Divides: Social Sciences at the World Conservation Congress.” Conservation and Society 8 (4): 339-348. [OPEN ACCESS]

Other Articles (alphabetical)

MacDonald, K.I., 2010b. “The Devil Is in the (Bio)Diversity: Private Sector “Engagement” and the Restructuring of Biodiversity Conservation.” Antipode 42 (3): 513-550. [OPEN ACCESS]

Paulson, Nels, Ann Laudati, Amity Doolittle, Meredith Welch-Devine, and Pablo Pena. 2012. “Indigenous Peoples’ Participation in Global Conservation: Looking beyond Headdresses and Face Paint.”  Environmental Values 21:255-276.