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Opportunities for improved consideration of cultural benefits in environmental decision-making

January 13, 2024

Many cultural benefits of ecosystem services (ES) are difficult to capture in standard ES assessments. Scholars and practitioners often respond to this gap by seeking to develop new scientific methods to capture and integrate the plural values associated with diverse cultural benefits categories. This increasing emphasis on value pluralism represents an essential step toward recognitional justice within ES theory and practice. However, current approaches continue to rest on the assumption that ES-knowledge is only made available to decision-makers through scientific documentation. As a result, scholars and decision-makers fail to account for the role of knowledge pluralism as a core element of recognitional justice, and a key enabling factor for meaningful consideration of the plural values linked to cultural benefits of ES. In this paper, we contribute to a pluralist theory of cultural-benefits-knowledge, and ES-knowledge more broadly. Using a critical interpretive synthesis of environmental management literature, we conceptualize a wider range of knowledge forms that convey cultural benefits, based on the knowledge-as-practice concept in addition to the knowledge-as-product concept more familiar to Western actors. As part of the synthesis, we explore when and how diverse forms of cultural-benefits-knowledge intersect with decision-making processes, and the value aspects and categories of cultural benefits most frequently conveyed by each form of knowledge. Our synthesizing argument offers a critique of the concept of “ES-knowledge-use,” proposing a shift in focus toward “learning opportunities” that exist across phases of decision-making. We demonstrate that attention to a greater diversity of knowledge forms (knowledge pluralism), and a fuller spectrum of opportunities to integrate them (learning opportunities) can support more meaningful consideration of the plural values associated with cultural benefits of ES (value pluralism). In combination, attention to knowledge pluralism and value pluralism can help bring the ES approach into alignment with environmental justice through the recognition and legitimization of multiple identities, well-beings, and human-nature relationships, as reflected in meaningful consideration of the diverse cultural benefits of ES.

Publication Year 2024
Title Opportunities for improved consideration of cultural benefits in environmental decision-making
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoser.2023.101587
Authors Kristin R. Hoelting, Joshua W. Morse, Rachelle K. Gould, Doreen E. Martinez, Rina S. Hauptfeld, Amanda E. Cravens, Sara J. Breslow, Lucas Bair, Rudy Schuster, Michael C. Gavin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosystem Services
Index ID 70251557
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center; Southwest Biological Science Center