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Report, 2015

Toward a critical and interdisciplinary understanding of illegal hunting : a synthesis of research workshop findings

Von Essen, Erica; Hansen, Hans Peter; Nordström Källström, Helena; Peterson, Nils; Peterson, Tarla


Illegal hunting has constituted an expression of contested legitimacy of wildlife regulation across the world for centuries. In the following report, we critically engage with the state of the art on the illegal hunting phenomenon. We do so to reveal emerging scholarly perspectives on the crime. Specifically, we aim to capture the complexity of illegal hunting as a socio-political phenomenon rather than an economically motivated crime. To do so, we adopt a critical perspective that pays particular attention to the societal processes that contribute to the criminalization of historically accepted hunting practices. To capture perspectives on illegal hunting, fifteen researchers from various countries participated in an illegal hunting workshop in Copenhagen 16-17th June 2014. A primary contribution of the research workshop was to bring together criminologists, sociologists, anthropologists and geographers, each equipped with their own research perspective, to engage in a critical and interdisciplinary discussion on how to apprehend and constructively address the challenges of illegal hunting in contemporary society. A majority of those that attended were primarily based in the Nordic and the UK context, which motivated a strong focus on the illegal hunting that currently takes places in these countries. Similar trends of illegal hunting were identified across Europe, many of which traced from EU legislation on the reintroduction of large carnivores or other controversial wildlife conservation projects. In the workshop, proceedings took the form of individual presentations, plenary discussions and group work. Common themes that emerged from these presentations were: illegal hunting as communicating socio-political resistance; the targeting of specific species based on its symbolism or environmental history; illegal hunting as symptom of class struggles; the role of rewilding and domestication of nature on wildlife regulation; corruption, complicity and conflicts of loyalty in enforcement, and discrepancies and discontinuities in legality. These themes were framed in an understanding of illegal hunting as a complex, multifaceted expression that transgresses livelihood based motivation. Critical discussions conceptualised illegal hunting as a crime of dissent. This meant situating crimes as everyday forms of resistance against the regulatory regime. In so doing, the relationship between hunters and public authorities was highlighted as a potential source of disenfranchisement. In this interactionist perspective, illegal hunting tells us not just about the rationales of the offenders. It also elucidates the broader context in which non-compliance with regulation serves as symptoms of democratic and legitimacy deficits on the state level. Erratic transitions in legislation and a subsequent discord between legal, cultural and moral norms in society were identified as factors that contribute to the conflict. Crucially, the research workshop and the report contribute with three perspectives. First, it emphasizes the need to uncover the grey areas of complicity in wildlife crime. Previously corruption, bribery and selective law enforcement have been associated with wildlife trafficking in the global south, but this understanding is too blunt for the complicity that exists in many other contexts. Here conflicts of loyalty exist across several strata of society and differ in degrees. In highlighting this fact, we show a more opaque and contingent climate of complicity around illegal hunting in Northern Europe and elsewhere. Second, as crimes of dissent seeking to publicise injustices, illegal hunting and its associated resistance tactics are counterproductive by constituting a ‘dialogue of the dead’. With this is mean that such communication is prone to distortion, misunderstanding and exaggeration and does no favors to hunters. There is consequently a need to move to a clarity of messages, as in institutionalised diogue processes. Third, hunting regulation cannot be seen in isolation to the broader differences in society in terms of values, economic factors and development. Research questions for future scholarship concluded the workshop and are summarized in the report. In terms of illuminating the junctures at which additional research is needed, these questions may provide important guidance. Above all, the report is intended as help for policy-makers, wildlife managers and law enforcement in better understanding and responding to the complexities of illegal hunting. We hope this will lead to more long-term preventative measures that address the core of the issue rather than proximate causes. The workshop was organized by the Environmental Communication Division of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The event constituted a part of the FORMAS funded research project Confronting challenges to political legitimacy of the natural resource management regulatory regime in Sweden - the case of illegal hunting in Sweden whose members include Erica von Essen, Dr. Hans Peter Hansen and Dr. Helena Nordström Källström from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Professor Tarla R. Peterson from Texas A&M University and Dr. Nils Peterson from North Carolina State University.


Illegal hunting; wildlife regulation; resistance; criminology; poaching

Published in

Urban and rural reports
2015, number: 2015:1
ISBN: 978-91-85735-36-5
Publisher: Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences