Category Archives: Publications

Furthering critical institutionalism

2015, F. Cleaver and J. de Koning

This special issue furthers the study of natural resource management from a critical institutional perspective. Critical institutionalism (CI) is a contemporary body of thought that explores how institutions dynamically mediate relationships between people, natural resources and society. It focuses on the complexity of institutions entwined in everyday social life, their historical formation, the interplay between formal and informal, traditional and modern arrangements, and the power relations that animate them. In such perspectives a social justice lens is often used to scrutinise the outcomes of institutional processes. We argue here that critical institutional approaches have potentially much to offer commons scholarship, particularly through the explanatory power of the concept of bricolage for better understanding institutional change.

Critical institutional approaches, gathering momentum over the past 15 years or so, have excited considerable interest but the insights generated from different disciplinary perspectives remain insufficiently synthesised. Analyses emphasising complexity can be relatively illegible to policy-makers, a fact which lessens their reach. This special issue therefore aims to synthesise critical institutional ideas and so to lay the foundation for moving beyond the emergent stage to make meaningful academic and policy impact. In bringing together papers here we define and synthesise key themes of critical institutionalism, outline the concept of institutional bricolage and identity some key challenges facing this school of thought.

International Journal of the Commons, Vol 9(1):1-18


Managing climate change in conservation practice: an exploration of the science–management interface in beech forest management

2014, Biodiversity and Conservation

Scientific studies reveal significant consequences of climate change for nature,from ecosystems to individual species. Such studies are important factors in policy decisions on forest conservation and management in Europe. However, while research has shown that climate change research start to impact on European conservation policies like Natura 2000, climate change information has yet to translate into management practices.This article contributes to the on-going debates about science–society relations and knowledge utilization by exploring and analysing the interface between scientific knowledge and forest management practice. We focus specifically on climate change debates in conservation policy and on how managers of forest areas in Europe perceive and use climate change ecology. Our findings show that forest managers do not necessarily deny the potential importance of climate change for their management practices, at least in the future, but have reservations about the current usefulness of available knowledge for their own areas and circumstances. This suggests that the science–management interface is not as politicized as current policy debates about climate change and that the use of climate change ecology is situated in practice. We conclude the article by discussing what forms of knowledge may enable responsible and future oriented management in practice focusing specifically on the role of reflexive experimentation and monitoring.

A practice based approach to forest governance

Bas Arts, Jelle Behagel, Esther Turnhout, Jessica de Koning, Séverine van Bommel, 2014, Forest Policy and Economics

‘Forest governance’ refers to new modes of regulation in the forest sector, such as decentralized, community based and market-oriented policy instruments and management approaches. Its main theoretical basis consists of two mainstream models: rational choice and neo-institutionalism. Since these models rest upon problematic conceptualisations of ‘the social’, this paper proposes a so-called ‘practice based approach’, which offers a comprehensive understanding of social dynamics related to trees, forests and biodiversity. It tries to go beyond someof the old dualisms in social theory, such as subject and object, human and nature and agency and structure. Three sensitising concepts – situated agency, logic of practice and performativity – are introduced and their application is illustrated by a number of examples from forest governance practices: joint forest management in India, decentralized forest management in Bolivia and the construction of biodiversity datasets in Europe. The paper also addresses some of the criticisms the approach has received.

Unpredictable Outcomes in Forestry—Governance Institutions in Practice

Jessica de Koning


Society and Natural Resources


Community forest management in the Amazon has been subject to institutional changes because of a shift from government to governance. Although these changes aim to create opportunities for local communities, the effectiveness of new institutions
remains arbitrary. In particular, the unpredictability of legislative outcomes—as one of the institutional changes—evokes discussion on how local people respond to new institutions. This article analyzes the effects of forest institutions at the local level. By using the concept of institutional bricolage, the article argues that institutions in practice work differently than intended.

Natura 2000 and climate change—Polarisation,uncertainty, and pragmatism in discourses on forest conservation and management in Europe

J. de Koning, G. Winkel, M. Sotirov, M. Blondet, L. Borrass, F. Ferranti, M. Geitzenauer, 2013,  Environmental Science and Policy

European forests are a resource that is targeted by several EU environmental and land use policies as forests can be of critical importance to mitigate climate change. At the same time, they are central to the EU’s biodiversity policy, and particular the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. Yet, the interlinkage between climate change and biodiversity policy is complex and discursively contested. In this paper, we assess how the debate on climate change adaptation affects forest conservation and management under Natura 2000. Drawing on the concept of argumentative discourse analysis, we present evidence from 213 qualitative interviews with policy stakeholders and practitioners that were conducted at both the European policy level and the local country level in 6 EU member states. Our  results demonstrate that the nexus between climate change adaptation and forest conservation policy is
conceptualised differently by different stakeholders and practioners at different levels. Three major discourses can be made out (pragmatic discourse, dynamics discourse, threat discourse), which are characterised by a set of partially overlapping story lines. These discourses are employed by four discourse coalitions (environmental, forest users’, expert, and grass root coalition). As a general rule, debates at the European level are more polarised and politicised, while the local debates on climate change and Natura 2000 remain rather vague and are less polarised. This seems to indicate that the link between climate change adaptation and forest conservation is mostly an issue for an abstract high-level policy debate. At this level, climate change is used to influence well-known policies, and to legitimise distinct interests that were already present before the climate change debate has emerged.

The promise of practice: the value of the practice approach for forest and nature governance studies

Jelle Behagel, Bas Arts, Severine van Bommel, Jessica de Koning, Esther Turnhout, 2013, In: Arts, B., Behagel, J., Bommel, S. van, Koning, J. de, Turnhout, E. Forest and nature governance: a practice based approach. Dordrecht: Springer.

A practice based approach is new to studies of forest and nature governance and fairly new to governance studies in general. In this chapter, we outline the promise of such an approach for such studies. The chapter is in two parts. Firstly, a number of conclusions are drawn from the preceding individual chapters. They relate to: (1) the types of forest and nature governance practices that can be empirically distinguished; (2) the way the sensitising concepts of logic of practice, situated agency, and performativity have been used to move beyond mainstream governance approaches; and (3) the specific characteristics of a practice based approach to forest and nature governance. The second part of the chapter discusses the academic and societal value of the practice based approach as offered in this book, firstly by comparing this approach to an interpretative approach in governance studies and addressing similarities and differences, and then by discussing whether the practice based approach can contribute to policy making and steering social change. We conclude that a practice based approach can convincingly address some points that mainstream accounts of governance cannot, but only if certain long-held convictions about what governance really is are abandoned.

Prelude to practice: introducing a practice based approach to forest and nature governance

Bas Arts, Jelle Behagel, Severine van Bommel, Jessica de Koning, Esther Turnhout, 2013, In: Arts, B., Behagel, J., Bommel, S. van, Koning, J. de, Turnhout, E. Forest and nature governance: a practice based approach. Dordrecht: Springer.

‘Forest and nature governance’ is a field that has recently emerged from forestry sciences. It analyses the governance of a diverse set of issues, including deforestation, biodiversity loss and illegal logging, producing insights useful for science and policy. Its main theoretical base consists of two mainstream social theories: rational choice and neo-institutionalism. However, since these models rest upon problematic conceptualisations of ‘the social’, this chapter proposes a practice based approach, which offers a comprehensive understanding of the social dynamics related to trees, forests and biodiversity. It goes beyond some of the old dualisms in social theory, such as subject and object, and agency and structure. Three sensitising concepts—situated agency, logic of practice and performativity—will be introduced. In addition, the chapter identifies a number of methodological guidelines for the practice based approach, based on a short review of the practice literature. These concepts and guidelines not only define the practice based approach, but also bind together the individual chapters. Finally, this chapter introduces the book’s contents.

Bricolage practices in local forestry

Jessica de Koning and Charlotte Benneker, 2013, In: Arts, B., Behagel, J., Bommel, S. van, Koning, J. de, Turnhout, E. Forest and nature governance: a practice based approach. Dordrecht: Springer.

Academics and policy makers often analyse the role of institutions in terms of an institutional logic that assumes that designed institutions can effectively shape the (rational) behaviour of actors. In turn, this institutional approach assumes that local actors will automatically embrace new institutions and adapt their behaviour accordingly. However, research at the grassroots level reveals a different story. In this chapter, we show how the introduction of regulations and norms on local forestry triggers a chain of different, often unexpected, responses from local actors. The chapter addresses the processes by which local actors respond to externally imposed institutional arrangements in terms of a logic of practice. It uses the concept of bricolage to analyse forest use practices on the ground that result from the reshaping and combining of different institutional elements. The chapter draws on examples from the global South to show that local actors creatively construct a patchwork of institutions in which old institutions are recombined with the new and in which it becomes clear that institutions in fact do not directly influence behaviour but rather emerge in practices of bricolage directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. It concludes by stating that introduced institutions do not easily steer human behaviour. A much more important determinant of behaviour is the local logic of practice of local actors. The impact of introduced institutions on local forestry therefore greatly depends on how much they relate to an existing logic of practice.

Forest and nature governance: a practice based approach

Bas Arts, Jelle Behagel,  Severine van Bommel, Jessica de Koning, Esther Turnhout, 2013, Dordrecht: Springer.

Problems such as deforestation, biodiversity loss and illegal logging have provoked various policy responses that are often referred to as forest and nature governance. In its broadest interpretation, governance is about the many ways in which public and private actors from the state, market and/or civil society govern public issues at multiple scales. Examples range from the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity to national forest programmes.
In studies of forest and nature governance the dominant approaches are rational choice and neo-institutionalism. This book takes another perspective. Departing from ‘practice theory’, and building upon scholars like Giddens, Bourdieu, Reckwitz, Schatzki and Callon, it seeks to move beyond established understandings of institutions, actors, and knowledge. In so doing, the book not only presents an innovative conceptual and methodological framework for a practice based approach, but also rich case studies and ethnographies. Examples are participatory forest management in the tropics, REDD policy at global level, European water policy, forest certification and the construction of global biodiversity databases.
Taking social practices as the key unit of analysis, this book describes how different practitioners, ranging from local forest managers on the ground to policy makers at the global level, work with trees, forests, biodiversity, wildlife, and so on, and act upon forest policies, environmental discourses, codes of conduct, or scientific insights. It is also about how communities, NGOs, stakeholders, and citizens get involved in forest and nature governance.

Institutional bricolage in community forestry: an agenda for future research

Jessica de Koning and Frances Cleaver, 2012, In: Arts, B.J.M., S. van Bommel, M.A.F. Ros-Tonen, G.M. Verschoor (eds.) Forest people interfaces; Understanding community forestry and biocultural diversity. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers

This book chapter outlines the concept of institutional bricolage as a tool for understanding how community forest arrangements actually work. We characterise two contrasting schools of institutional thinking and show how bricolage belongs to a ‘critical institutionalist’ rather than a ‘mainstream institutionalist’ perspective. The key elements of bricolage are outlined to elaborate the concept. These are further explored through an examination of the different practices adopted by local actors in shaping institutional arrangements. Illustrations are drawn from studies of community forestry in Bolivia and Ecuador and areas for further work are identified

Reshaping institutions: bricolage processes in smallholder forestry in the Amazon.

KaftboekcopyJessica de Koning



This thesis aims at identifying the different kinds of institutional influences on forest practices of small farmers in the Amazon region of Ecuador and Bolivia and how small farmers respond to them. It departs from the perspective that institutions affecting forest practices are subject to processes of institutional bricolage in which small farmers construct their own institutional frameworks by aggregating, altering, or articulating elements of existing disparate institutions. This research demonstrates that institutions, whether introduced by government, NGO, or already existing, are subject to processes of institutional bricolage that can be either conscious and strategic of nature or less conscious and unintentional.