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Storytelling as a medium for balanced dialogue on conservation in Cameroon

  • WOUTER T. DE GROOT (a1) (a2) and NATASCHA ZWAAL (a3)

Abstract

In conservation efforts where genuine community involvement is aimed at, communication should be a two-way affair in which the local voice can be truly heard. In developing countries especially, however, this voice tends to be smothered by the power and prestige that usually lies with the supra-local conservation agencies. This paper explores how fictional storytelling, a communication medium as old as mankind, may enable local people to respond in freedom to the issue of conservation. Stories that end by posing a dilemma to the audience are generally used in Cameroon to initiate discussion. First trials in Cameroon used this format to tell a story of animals that found themselves at risk of extinction and sent out a delegation to the human world to plea for a ‘last home’. Although enjoyed by researchers and audience alike, this story appeared to suffer from several technical and structural shortcomings. In order to overcome these, empirical research (for example the gathering of some 600 stories in the field) and theoretical considerations led to the design of a second-generation story that retained the dilemma format but carried fewer implicit messages and introduced a third, adjudicating party. This story was tried out in 13 villages in Central and North Cameroon with full success, both in terms of process (the elicitation of focused and rich debate) and in terms of content (the clarity of arguments and underlying assumptions). If led by the principles developed in this paper, fictional storytelling is a worthy addition to the methodological repertoire of all conservation professionals who wish to communicate conservation to local communities in a manner that is structurally balanced and substantively open.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence: Professor Dr W. T. de Groot. Tel: +31 71 527 7482 Fax +31 71 5277496 e-mail: degroot@cml.leidenuniv.nl

Keywords

Storytelling as a medium for balanced dialogue on conservation in Cameroon

  • WOUTER T. DE GROOT (a1) (a2) and NATASCHA ZWAAL (a3)

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