Place-embedded agency, situated at the intersections of local knowledge and place belonging, shapes interactions and actions in a place.

By Viola Hakkarainen, Katrjina Soini, Joost Dessein, and Christopher Raymond.

Read the full paper here.

Inclusion of local inhabitants and their knowledge is important for fair environmental decision-making. However, the scholarship focusing on knowledge processes in ecosystem governance often too strictly categorized people into “local knowledge holders” and “managers”.

In this article, we unpack the differing perceptions people have towards local knowledge and explore how these perceptions relate to people’s feeling of place-belonging. We use participant observation and semi-structured interviews with people inside and outside official decision-making processes at the transnational UNESCO World Heritage Site of the High Coast (Sweden) and the Kvarken Archipelago (Finland). The site has a history of tension between local inhabitants and management bodies when it comes to participation in decision-making about the area.

We found that people have differing perspectives towards local knowledge ranging, from social and cultural-historical, to environmental dimensions. These perspectives are shaped by their belonging to a place.  We identified five different positions held by the people, stemming from their perceptions of local knowledge and their feelings of place-belonging. Both the people involved and not involved in decision-making processes were present in all five different positions, indicating that their views cannot be confined to their roles in the society. Instead, the creation of these rigid divisions based on pre-assumed roles of people might amplify possible conflicts in ecosystem governance. People’s own differing views on local knowledge give them a bias when determining which perspectives are included in environmental management, and who is considered to have a right to present local knowledge in the area.

In order to better understand and navigate these tensions, there should be an effort to understand the peoples’ differing views on knowledge based specifically on their individual and different connections to the same place in research related to environmental decision-making. People’s connection to a place could be used a central tool in determining their agency in decision-making processes. In practice, a community would learn a similar outlook in decision-making processes; putting aside roles and differences in favour of focus on what they share in common – place.