Erika Bockstael

Scholars
2014
Mentor(s): 
Study program:
PhD in Natural Resource and Environmental Management
Current affiliation:
University of Manitoba
Localisation:

Erika's research with a community of Caiçara, who have status as 'Traditional People' in Brazil, is exploring capacity development for participatory and inclusive governance of coastal resources, with a particular focus on the participation of people with disabilities.

 

A 2014 Trudeau scholar, Erika Bockstael worked for a number of international NGOs before returning to university to pursue a PhD in natural resources and environmental management. Her diverse experiences and interests include disability, development ethics, environmental governance processes, Indigenous peoples, social justice, inclusion, and capacity development. Bockstael is pursuing her PhD research with a traditional community in Brazil, and has a research interest in the situation of people with disabilities in Palestine.

Doctoral research

Community-Directed Capacity Development for Inclusive and Participatory Governance of Coastal Resources in Paraty, Brazil

Erika’s PhD work is part of a larger Canada-Brazil interdisciplinary team study on participatory coastal resources management. Paraty, the study area, is located in one of the world’s most biologically diverse yet threatened ecoregions, with multiple users and conflicts between user groups. Erika’s study objective is to help community members increase their capabilities for collective action to achieve environmental and social justice as they struggle with governance issues. The livelihoods of the traditional people in this area, the mixed-heritage Caiçara, involve a mix of coastal resources, fisheries, small-scale agriculture, and agro-forestry. Inclusive and participatory resource governance is important for balancing their livelihood needs with conservation. Erika is particularly concerned about the participation of people with disabilities, and her project includes a program focused on social inclusion through environmental education and community participation with a group of people with disabilities.

Tell us about your research project and its central idea.

In many parts of the world, particularly where indigenous and traditional people live, the approach to the environmental aspects of development are guided by conventional conservationism, which takes a “protection of nature” approach rather than a balanced approach to development. The central idea of my research project is that people who depend directly on natural resources for their livelihoods should be involved in managing these resources. This includes people who are often excluded, such as people with disabilities and women. My research explores how changes to natural resource and environmental management over time are impacting different segments of a community in Brazil (women, men, people with disabilities, older adults, and youth) and how these changes are affecting their human development, personal freedom, and opportunities. My project is an action research project, designed to cooperate with participants to increase capacity for participatory and inclusive community-based resource management.

What led you to choose this research project in particular?

I chose to do a PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Management because of my international work experience. While managing responses to two large-scale disasters, I struggled with the social and environmental complexity of these projects and realized that many international NGOs were weak in this area. I also witnessed the impact of these environmental issues on people in developing countries, including people with disabilities, who I could see were often disregarded by development agencies. My research project allows me to contribute to a project focused on community-based natural resource management for traditional people in Brazil in a time period when they are actively involved in resource management negotiations and to include a focus on people with disabilities.

What is new or surprising about your research?

In the field of natural resources and environmental management, policy and practice have historically been based on the assumption that indigenous and traditional communities lack the capacity to manage their resources. My research is an example of the opposite: building on existing capacity for empowerment. It also demonstrates that university research projects could play a role in enhancing existing capacities to support communities as they deal with external and internal development pressures and rapid change.

My research also focuses on people with disabilities, who continue to be marginalized in most research, and particularly so in the field of natural resources and environmental management. This study is also an example of a process of identifying capabilities in a participatory manner in a developing country. There is growing interest in approaching and evaluating human development based on expansion of personal freedom and opportunities, rather than the traditional focus on economic measures.

In your opinion, who will most benefit from your findings?

Current policies related to protected areas in Brazil are characterized by limiting opportunities for the local people, usually indigenous or traditional, to exert control over their own livelihoods and lifestyles. The traditional people in my research community are currently involved in a negotiation process regarding a protected area established by Brazilian environmental agencies. They are trying to maintain their traditional livelihoods and at the same time are concerned about sustainably using the natural resources. This community may benefit both from the capacity-development actions and from the findings of my research. The environmental agencies in Brazil will also benefit from this research as they can learn about a different approach that allows them to achieve their mandate while respecting human rights and traditional lifestyles.

These findings may also be applied to other situations where there are conservation-development dilemmas, including Canada. Regarding people with a disability, the results can help underscore the importance of supporting the meaningful participation of people with disabilities in development.

Within the next three to five years, what impact could your research have on the Canadian public policy debate?

In Canada there are some examples of collaborative management of natural resources and protected areas, particularly with First Nations, but there are few success stories and among many stakeholders there is an overall lack of capacity to effectively collaborate. My research could support the shift to collaborative management and may provide an example of how capacity development could be used with all partners to develop innovative management arrangements.

People with disabilities in Canada continue to be at the margins and are not included in environmental governance. My research will reinforce the importance of including people with disabilities in a meaningful way in issues that impact their lives.

I would also like my research to contribute to a growing academic area which contends that development is not primarily about economic growth, but about human development and expanding opportunities and improving well-being.
A 2014 Trudeau scholar, Erika Bockstael worked for a number of international NGOs before returning to university to pursue a PhD in natural resources and environmental management. Her diverse experiences and interests include disability, development ethics, environmental governance processes, Indigenous peoples, social justice, inclusion, and capacity development. Bockstael is pursuing her PhD research with a traditional community in Brazil, and has a research interest in the situation of people with disabilities in Palestine.

Erika Bockstael has volunteered and worked in international development for over ten years, has held senior management positions at a number of international organizations, and has consulted for two United Nations agencies. Erika's return to university for her doctoral studies will enable her to combine her experiences with research-informed knowledge to affect change in the work and policy development of nongovernmental organizations, particularly in the field of disability and development.

Erika is studying for a PhD in natural resources and environmental management. Her research focuses on the inclusive and participatory governance of coastal resources among a group of Caiçara, a mixed-heritage traditional people, and among people with disabilities, in Paraty, Brazil. She is particularly interested in the inclusion of people with disabilities in development and governance, in self-directed development, in human development and the capabilities approach, and in reducing inequality with regard to human rights and social justice.

Before embarking on her international career, Erika completed an undergraduate degree in recreation management and community development as well as a master’s of science in therapeutic recreation that was oriented around quality-of-life issues for women with disabilities. She was subsequently accepted into a World University Service of Canada internship program and worked with a disabled persons’ organization in Benin, Africa. She then moved to Zimbabwe, where she interned with internationally renowned disability activists and participated in designing curriculum for a pan-African institute for disability studies.

Erika has now worked in, lived in, or visited 60 countries. When managing large-scale reconstruction efforts post-tsunami in Indonesia, she managed shelter construction, water and sanitation, and livelihoods programs. In the Middle East, she established the first regional office for an international nongovernmental organization. She trained local and international staff and managed projects in Palestinian refugee camps in Palestine and Lebanon, and in the Solomon Islands, she led a large team that implemented programs for water and sanitation, livelihoods, shelter, gender, HIV/AIDS, youth, and advocacy. Erika has significant experience training staff and volunteers for international postings, and has collaborated on research about the impacts of various projects.