Wildlife comeback in Flanders: tracing the fault lines and dynamics of public debate

A. Van Herzele, N. Aarts, J. Casaer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Conflicts and debates on wildlife issues often prove intractable or resistant to resolution. This paper develops a three-layered methodological approach to identify the fault lines and dynamics, which perpetuate social division and conflict. This approach was applied to the analysis of six publicly debated events that followed the comeback of the red fox and wild boar in Flanders, Belgium. The integrated findings demonstrate that conflict was not merely a manifestation of incompatible goals and views, but was highly determined by the conduct of the debate itself. The debates evolved along a few main fault lines, most notably belonging/not belonging, opportunity/threat and control by intervention/nature controls itself. A number of dynamics were identified along these fault lines, including the convergence and alignment of arguments (in particular, dichotomisation), the linking and scaling up of issues and the stigmatisation of outgroups. These processes were largely driven by the parties’ strategies to gain credibility and support with audiences. At the same time, however, they tended to magnify the problems, polarised positions along the fault lines, and thus hampered resolution. Furthermore, part of the debate served to confirm institutional roles and identities, which, in turn, contributed to the perpetuation of conflict. Contrasting views on nature were hardly a topic of discussion. Rather they were locked into dichotomies and classifications expressed by the contending parties. Together, the findings from this paper provide useful clues for transforming the dynamics perpetuating the conflict to different dynamics that allow for more constructive relations between the parties involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-555
JournalEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • biodiversity conservation
  • scale frames
  • conflicts
  • forest
  • policy
  • discourse
  • science
  • europe
  • city

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