Emotional conflicts in rational forestry: Towards a research agenda for understanding emotions in environmental conflicts

Arjen Buijs, Anna Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)


When looking at social conflicts around forests, both foresters and researchers tend to frame conflicts as rational differences related to diverging knowledge, values, and interests. In past centuries, and in areas where the forests are of immediate livelihood importance, this has been a powerful approach to explaining disputes. However for many stakeholders, including local communities, environmental campaigners and foresters themselves, feelings and emotions are also relevant components of a conflict. In this paper we argue that an overall tendency to 'rationalise' nature and forests has pushed emotion out of sight, and delegitimised it. Using examples from our own research in The Netherlands and the UK, we argue that feelings need to be visible and legitimate, in order to address the underlying causes of conflict. We begin the paper by examining how conflicts have been framed as rational, by researchers, managers and politicians. We seek explanations for both the 'hidden' nature of emotions and their labelling as 'irrational' in the rationalisation of forest science and management as a result of wider modernisation processes. We propose bringing emotions back in, to show how conflict is not merely based in diverging views, but is in fact a dimension of engagement. We suggest four aspects of forest conflicts in which emotions should be incorporated in research, all connected to literature from outside forestry: emotional sources of diverging views on forest management, emotional influences on the processing of information, the motivating power of emotions for social movements and the role of emotions in the escalation of protests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-111
Number of pages8
JournalForest Policy and Economics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • Affect
  • Conflict
  • Emotions
  • Forestry
  • Rationality
  • Sociology


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