The research reported in this paper investigated the role of identity construction in the emergence and escalation of conflict in the participatory management of protected areas in Benin. The study shows that social identity salience was dynamic and played an important role in the emergence and escalation of conflict in the studied cases. Conflicts emerged when identities became salient as a result of the stakeholders’ framing of contextual factors as a threat to their identity. The conflicts escalated when decisions and actions undertaken in the management process were framed as top-down and as posing a threat to the identities of the stakeholders. We conclude that, although the government in the management of the protected areas introduced participation, unilateral decisions taken about the way the conflicts should be managed caused disappointment and distrust, and thus led to a greater distance between the parties involved and to conflict escalation.