How philanthropic foundations act as field-builders influencing justice discourses in land conservation
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Introduction: Through their increasingly influential and financially powerful role within the field of conservation governance, philanthropic foundations act as field-builders, directing the fields’ creation and structure. Thereby, the foundations’ interpretations of how to perceive justice issues affects who is considered when addressing injustices and what is aimed for when striving for justice within the field. This research assesses the understudied role of philanthropic foundations functioning as field-builders and thereby influencing justice discourses in the conservation governance field. Theoretical Framework: This thesis builds on the pluralistic justice framework of Biermann & Kalfagianni (2020) and extends it with an eco-centric perspective to assess the foundations’ justice views. To evaluate their field-building role, this research examines the foundations’ collaborative activities to build a field. Further, countries in which the foundations fund conservation activities are identified to find out in which geographical locations the foundations extend the field of conservation governance. Methodology: By following a qualitative comparative research approach, 12 foundations contributing largely to ‘Sustainable Development Goal 15 – Life on Land’ were studied. The data was collected through website information of the foundations and interviews with eight conservation program representatives of six foundations. A discourse analysis was applied to analyse the data regarding underlying justice interpretations. Results: Focused justice issues by the foundations are the protection of basic needs and rights for Indigenous and local communities combined with increased representation of marginalised groups in decision-makings. The foundations mainly collaborate with non-profit organisations as grant receivers to build the field of conservation governance. Throughout these grantee partnerships, the foundations apply different participatory approaches whereby perspectives of people affected by injustices are aimed to be engaged in the field. Most foundations fund initiatives in their origin country, the U.S. and in countries in the Global South. Discussion/ Conclusion: The findings reveal that foundations as field-builders promote specific complementary combinations of human-centred justice views. The foundations’ build the field by involving partners and people affected by injustices into the field according to the foundations’ interpretations of justice. Thereby, foundations maintain the field-building power, particularly by funding financially weaker countries in the Global South. In conclusion, the role of philanthropic foundations is most relevant in regards of justice norm developments in the conservation governance field. By critically reflecting on their own interpretations and approaches, more awareness can be brought to these issues to shift field-building power to people affected by injustices.