The construction of legitimacy in nature conservation: knowledge, power and participation in the regulation of Irish raised bogs under the European Habitats Directive
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A network of 53 Irish raised bogs were designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the European Union (EU) Habitats Directive in the 1990s. Whilst the purpose of the designation is to protect unique habitats, another effect has been to prohibit the traditional right to cut turf. Protected area regulation has been highly contested by the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association (TCCA). Under threat of sanction for non-compliance, the Irish State established a collaborative process for implementation in 2011. This research has adopted a political ecological approach to examine power-knowledge relations between stakeholders in the construction of legitimacy through the collaborative process. Foucauldian governmentality underpinned the methodological approach. In the first article, critical discourse analysis was adopted to deconstruct the tensions between participatory and scientific legitimacy in policies and governance structures, and in their contestation by the TCCA. In the second and third articles, Q Methodology was adopted to analyse turf cutters and expert legitimacy discourses respectively. The quantitative results revealed the convergence and divergence of legitimacy discourses on regulation which were interpreted with the support of the interview data. The exclusion of local knowledge fuelled contestation and resistance. The articulation of counterclaims reflects previous research and were based not simply in rhetoric, but also on place-based knowledge (e.g. Robbins et al., 2006). The empirical analysis revealed how the TCCA disrupted the regulatory authority of the State and how the technocratic approach undermined scientific legitimacy for implementation. The findings indicate the power of the State in determining power-knowledge and structural relations. This was evident in the discursive alliance reflecting the technocratic approach, cost-effectiveness and agricultural priorities, over a more equitable site-specific approach to conservation and compensation. Overall the findings indicate the need to transition to a more adaptive site-specific approach.