Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) has been on the ascendancy for several decades and plays a leading role in conservation strategies worldwide. Arriving out of a desire to rectify the human costs associated with coercive conservation, CBNRM sought to return the stewardship of biodiversity and natural resources to local communities through participation, empowerment and decentralization. Today, however, scholars and practitioners suggest that CBNRM is experiencing a crisis of identity and purpose, with even the most positive examples experiencing only fleeting success due to major deficiencies. Six case studies from around the world offer a history of how and why the global CBNRM narrative has unfolded over time and space. While CBNRM emerged with promise and hope, it often ended in less than ideal outcomes when institutionalized and reconfigured in design and practice. Nevertheless, despite the current crisis, there is scope for refocusing on the original ideals of CBNRM: ensuring social justice, material well-being and environmental integrity.