Shifting from binaries to pluralism: Unpacking polarizing discourses on the Forest Rights Act in India

Vanya Bisht, Marta Berbés-Blázquez, Nalini Chhetri, Erik Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Environmental policy debates often get polarized along binaries of environment versus economic development or conservation versus rights. Sustainability scientists and practitioners generally suggest finding common grounds as a pathway for building consensus among the diverse perspectives involved in polarized environmental policy discussions. This paper takes a critical stance towards such calls for common grounds by calling attention to the implicit assumptions that underlie these discourses. We study the case of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in India, which has polarized the forest policy discourse between conservationists and rights activists in India. We examine scientific publications on the FRA using discourse and framing analysis and show that scholarly discourses on FRA lie along a spectrum characterized by underlying epistemic and normative practices. We identify five groups of scholars based on the unique positions they have taken on FRA: a) advocacy-centric, b) welfare-centric, c) community-centric, d) dialogue-centric, and e) techno-centric scholars. We find that negative framings of the forest dweller community lead to scientific endorsement of policy prescriptions that empower socio-political institutions that are external to these communities. We argue that scholarly calls for common grounds often assume uniform or neutral framings for the stakeholders involved. We conclude that recognizing the polarization spectrum in environmental policy discourses can help us move towards pluralistic approaches to environmental governance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Consensus
  • Forest policy
  • Framing
  • Pluralism
  • Polarization
  • Traditional communities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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