Social forestry : changing perspectives in forestry science or practice?

K.F. Wiersum

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    Forestry has been defined as a profession embracing the science and the practice of creating, conserving, and managing forests for the continuing use of these resources. Since its inception in the 18th century it has gradually evolved in character in response to changing social values. At the end of the 1970s a new concept was introduced in forestry, i.e. social forestry. This approach focuses specificly on the forest-related needs of local communities in tropical countries, and on stimulating community involvement in the sustainable management of forest resources. It has been suggested that the development of social forestry implies a paradigmatic change in forestry. This suggestion is contested, however.

    The objective of this study is to contribute towards the elucidation of the question whether the emergence of the concept of social forestry has indeed brought about a paradigmatic change in forestry. A paradigm involves the total set of disciplinary commitments; this disciplinary matrix includes a basic world-view, normative perspectives and conceptual generalizations as well as ideal-typical exemplars for problem-solving. Both scientists and professionals may adhere to such normative commitments. Consequently, the suggestion of a paradigmatic change in forestry may be related either to forestry as a science or forestry as a professional institution.

    The study consists of four analytical steps. First a short overview of the history of forestry and of one of its major conceptual generalizations, i.e. sustainability, is given, and the nature of the disciplinary matrix of conventional forestry is identified. Next the development of social forestry is described. This forestry approach is conceptualized as involving forestry policies designed and implemented by professional foresters, and community forest management practices executed by local communities, who are not professionally-trained in forestry. It cannot be assumed that the normative perspectives of these two categories of practitioners are similar. The third step of analysis therefore consists of a comparison of the perspectives of these two categories of forestry practitioners; it shows major differences in normative perspectives. The last step of analysis focuses on how the recognition of such differences has impacted on forestry science and professional practice. It is concluded that social forestry involves major changes in both role- and rule-orientation of professional foresters. The role of professional foresters is not considered any longer as being ideal-typical forest managers, but also as being facilitators of community forestry. Consequently, several new concepts and theories concerning social coordination in forestry evolved.

    Forestry science became more empirically oriented by paying attention to all possible forest management conditions rather than to professionally-controlled forest management situations only. These changes in forestry science can best be considered as an evolutionary change rather than a paradigmatic one. However, the differentiation in tasks of professional foresters and the loosening of the close institutional links between forestry scientists and professional practitioners can be considered as involving a paradigmatic change in forestry as professional institution.

    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • van Maaren, A., Promotor, External person
    Award date18 Jun 1999
    Place of PublicationWageningen
    Print ISBNs9789058080554
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 1999


    • social forestry
    • agroforestry
    • forestry
    • forest policy
    • forest management
    • history
    • indigenous knowledge
    • tropics


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