Saturday, 27 June 2015

What a forest? Whose forest? Struggles over concepts and meanings in the debate about the conservation of the Białowieża Forest in Poland

Volume 57, August 2015, Pages 22–30


We identify three dominant discourses: managerial, livelihood and primaeval.
We show the strategic use of particular concepts by the conflicted parties.
Both discourse and its strategic use play a decisive role in policy development.


This paper addresses the long-standing debate over the conservation and management of the Białowieża Forest in North-eastern Poland, frequently referred to as the last, large, close-to-natural, temperate, lowland forest in Europe. With the present research we aim to document how particular conceptualisations of “forest” shaped the debate and the fate of the Białowieża Forest. Based on our reconstruction and analysis of argumentation, three dominant discourses could be distinguished, each offering different concepts of forest and people–forest relationships: 1. ‘managerial’ — with foresters presented as stewards of the forest, actively managing it for sustainable outcomes; 2. ‘livelihood’ — considering the forest as local heritage and underlining its role in fulfilling people's needs; and 3. ‘primaeval’ — highlighting the forest's intrinsic value and natural processes, being an international concern. The three discourses remained remarkably stable over the past two decades, but their status of institutionalisation evolved, which in turn influenced their hegemony and power. Importantly, our study demonstrates the active role of parties involved in the debate as they used particular concepts (their own, those of others or new ones) for strategic purposes. We conclude that both the achieved hegemony of a discourse and the particular ways by which its concepts are mobilised by actors may play a decisive role in shaping debate and its policy outcomes. We suggest that future research should focus more on the role of actors in strategically using particular forest-related concepts in concrete situations and to what effects.


  • Białowieża Forest; 
  • Concepts; 
  • Conservation; 
  • Discourse analysis; 
  • Strategic use of discourse; 
  • Forest conflict

Corresponding author at: Swedish Biodiversity Centre, Box 7007, 750 07 Uppsala, Sweden.