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Nadia Sitas

Nadia SitasResearch Project

My research is motivated by emerging discussions amongst conservation practitioners and peers about the current ‘disconnect’ between humans and the environment, and the urgent need to understand how people perceive and to what extent, value the environment. It has been further influenced by evident gaps in the academic literature with regards to stakeholder views of how both individuals and institutions understand and assign value to ‘ecosystem services’, and whether this concept has had the intended practical impact of promoting the interconnectedness of people and the environment in South Africa.

The ecosystem service concept has been proposed as a conservation approach to bridge the 'disconnect' between humans and the environment, by highlighting the interdependence of human well-being and intact socio-ecological systems. However, 10 years since the concept has become ‘mainstream’ in conservation planning and assessment, there is little evidence of a decrease in environmental degradation. Accordingly, one must ask whether and to what extent interventions based on the concept of ‘ecosystem services’ provide effective means for reconnecting people, decision-makers and institutions with their environment.

In light of this, my research seeks to investigate the validity of the following assumptions:

  1. The ‘ecosystem service’ concept is not consistently defined by various stakeholders due to its locally situated and context-based epistemic nature (i.e. it means different things for different people).
  2. The extent to which humans and the environment are predominantly viewed by people as ‘apart’ impacts on how humans relate to the environment (e.g. exploitative or considerate).
  3. Understanding people’s value orientations (attitudes and/or perceptions) towards what they define as ‘ecosystem services’ is necessary for the design of interventions and drafting of policies that would be effective in protecting the environment.

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