Colonialism in Community-Based Monitoring: Knowledge Systems, Finance, and Power in Canada

By Alice Cohen, Melpatkwa Matthew, Kate J. Neville & Kelsey Wrightson


Community-based monitoring (CBM) programs are increasingly popular models of environmental governance around the world. Accordingly, a handful of review papers have highlighted the various benefits, challenges, and governance models associated with their uptake. These reviews have been pragmatic in their recommendations and have supported CBM scholars and practitioners in implementing and understanding the various possible forms of CBM, but they have largely been silent on issues around the power dynamics implicit in CBM. Structured around explorations of the colonial politics of knowledge, funding, and finance, this article argues that dominant knowledge systems—specifically those that underpin Western, colonial governments and liberal, capitalist economies—shape the provisioning of funding for local programs and determine the significance of different types of community observations in shaping management decisions. To make this argument, we situate our work at the intersection of political economy and knowledge systems, using theoretical insights and empirical examples to show that funding and finance are key sources of power in shaping CBM programs. These are important insights because CBM is often framed as a purely scientific—and therefore politically neutral—activity. Through this work, we explore questions of intellectual property, histories of institutional exclusion and the privileging of certain knowledge systems, and the relationships of trust and mistrust across different groups and authorities, with the aim of stimulating critical discussions on the power relationships in CBM that will be useful to scholars and practitioners. Key Words: colonialism, community-based monitoring, Indigenous, knowledge systems, political economy.

Click here for full text