Justice, fairness and equity in natural resource management

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This workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners whose work centres on justice in the allocation and management of natural resources. Justice research within natural resource management (NRM) is rare, but growing in Australia, and researchers typically focus on specific sectors, groups or places using different disciplinary approaches. While justice concerns over resources such as water or gas are growing in importance, justice research is scattered within the social sciences needing consolidation, synthesis and a coordinated future research agenda. This workshop will be a first step in this, allowing shared learning across disciplines and forging collaborative networks.

The management of natural resources cannot be achieved without the engagement of managers, resource users and dependent communities. Many of these stakeholders have different needs and differing underlying values regarding natural resource management (NRM). Any decision regarding the governance of natural resources such as water, minerals or land is therefore inherently a decision on justice.

In Australia, as in many other parts of the world, NRM is a source of ongoing social dilemmas involving multiple stakeholders with different and sometimes conflicting needs, capacities and abilities to influence decision-making. These social dilemmas are not simply academic, they result in real conflicts between different community interests and pose significant issues for government, business and community agendas; recent examples include water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin, opposition to coal seam gas and conflict over the fate of Tasmanian forests.

Justice research is itself incredibly diverse and interdisciplinary in nature. Justice scholars come from diverse disciplines such as philosophy, law, psychology, geography or economics. The disciplinary sources of justice scholars are almost as diverse as the different notions of justice itself. For example, distributive justice deals with how resources ought to (and are) distributed, while procedural justice investigates decision-making processes, the stakeholders involved, their perceptions and actions. In this case, justice research intersects with the wider field of public engagement in decision-making.

Justice research takes place across multiple sectoral and geographical scales, by considering a geographical location or focusing on a specific resource or sector across multiple locations. NRM justice also brings into focus temporal scales, and consideration of inter-generational justice of NRM decisions. The use of natural resources inevitably risks negative outcomes (such as pollution or environmental degradation) that may impact some stakeholders more than others (environmental justice). Research into the consequences that NRM decisions have on specific (often marginalised and vulnerable) of the community is the most common form of justice research in Australia.

Social dilemmas that involve natural resources also bring into ‘the environment’ into the equation, which is mostly treated as an object of justice, rather than a subject that is deserving justice. The notion that ‘the environment has ‘rights’ (called ecological justice by some) has gained a significant foothold in legal and other disciplines and is a small, but growing area of justice research. As perceptions of these different types of justice are ultimately informed by values, the field of NRM justice is inherently complex.

Despite the centrality of justice considerations in NRM, such research is almost never integrated into mainstream research projects or management strategies. There is little systematic attention paid to justice and fairness in NRM research and while NRM governance aims for fairness and equity, there is little practical guidance on how to achieve this. Research on NRM justice is mostly sector- or place- specific but theoretically diverse. NRM managers often struggle to articulate and objectively consider the justice concerns that pervade every-day management of natural resources and justice often comes to the fore only when its absence is perceived.

This workshop is an opportunity for researchers who focus specifically on justice in NRM to come together and share their research in order to build understanding and closer collaborative links. Australian NRM justice research would benefit from consolidation and synthesis as well as a future research agenda that aims towards better public processes. This workshop would be a first step towards this process, allowing participants to discuss strategies to embed justice research within social sciences and within decision-making processes.

Topics to cover during the workshop include:

1. What NRM justice research is being undertaken and what motivates such research?

As this is a first of its kink workshop, it is important that fragmented and isolated research is brought together to enable participants to gain a picture of the state of NRM justice research in Australia.

2. How is justice research in NRM conducted? What methodologies and approaches are utilised?

Due to the diversity in the disciplinary backgrounds of justice research, it is important to canvass the ways in which justice research is conducted and the relative strengths and weaknesses of methods used.

3. Is current justice research meeting the needs of practitioners?

Most justice research is conducted in the hope that it would be used to inform NRM decision-making and impact in positive changes. To what extent is this the case in Australia? What can justice researchers do to better incorporate the outcomes of justice research into NRM decision-making? These questions are crucial for Australian NRM justice research.

Workshop outputs will include a special edition to a high-ranking journal (such as Australian Journal of Political Science, Local Environment or Society and Natural Resources). All workshop participants have expressed an interest in contributing their paper to a special edition, to be organised by the workshop conveners.

The workshop is designed to be a collaborative and mutually supportive event, allowing participants significant input into workshop outcomes and agenda.

For more information, please contact:
Mrs Nurdan Kulluk-Rennert
Manager, Executive and Workshops
Nurdan.Kulluk-Rennert [at] assa.edu.au
+61 .2 62491788

Event Schedule

Supporting Documents

Contact Information

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
  • +61 .2 62491788
  • +61 .2 62474335
  • secretariat@assa.edu.au

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