This paper discusses the way in which local populations have transformed and adapted natural resource management institutions created through external interventions to fit their own goals. Drawing on the case of associations set up to manage extractive reserves in Rondnia, Brazilian Amazonia, it examines the outcomes of this process. The paper shows that institutions aimed at engaging the participation of local users in the management and protection of forests and other ecosystems, despite often being promoted from the top-down through external interventions, inevitably become entangled with existing social relationships, norms and customary ways of doing things. They are modified by participants so that the outcomes must be understood as resulting from an ebb and flow of actions from 'above' and from 'below'. The paper contests emerging critiques of participatory approaches and institutions that tend to argue for a focus on informal institutions as the key to understanding natural resource management processes and outcomes. The paper argues for an alternative approach that focuses on the interface between formal institutions and informal processes and interactions, which is sensitive to social context.
Brazilian Amazonia extractive reserves institutions local organisations participation