Bourdieu in the North: Practical Understanding in Natural Resource Governance

Ken J. Caine


Natural resource management (NRM) analyses often avoid understanding environmental governance as arising from and shaped by social practices and power relations in resource conflicts, contested property rights, and political-economic strategies. I examine a northern Canadian Aboriginal community’s experience of a structured yet dynamic socio-cultural response to a period of social and political change. Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu’s conception of social practice I suggest that a diffuse, or less-determinist, theory of practice may help explain how power relations are interwoven throughout yet applied differentially in NRM governance. Drawing on ethnographic research on northern watershed management and protection of Aboriginal cultural landscapes, I propose the notion of practical understanding to explain the ways government resource managers and community leaders challenge and negotiate one another’s conceptions of environmental governance in a duel process of cooperation-conflict.


Bourdieu; Social Practice Theory; Environmental Governance; Natural Resource Management

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