Here, we explore how people entangled in natural resource conflicts employ and discuss data. We draw on ethnographic research with two cases of conflict: salmon fisheries in Alaska, USA, and agricultural water management in Saskatchewan, Canada. Both cases illustrate how data, through the scientization of environmental governance, can become a means of empowerment and disempowerment: empowering those with access and influence over data and disempowering those without such access. In both locales, people find it necessary to perform their expertise, justify the veracity of their data, and discount the data held by others if they wish to achieve or maintain standing. We call this “datamentality” and draw lessons from these cases for how we can structure environmental governance such that it benefits from robust data and science while meeting the needs of individuals, avoiding or managing power struggles, and protecting the rights of all involved.
Agricultural drainage is a complicated and often conflict-ridden natural resource management issue, impacting contested ecosystem services related to the retention of wetlands as well as the productivity of farmland. This research identifies opportunities to transform the conflict over agricultural drainage in Saskatchewan, Canada, towards collaboration. We report on ethnographic research informed by a conservation conflict-transformation framework to evaluate the nature of the conflict and whether drivers of the conflict operate principally at the level of disputes over discrete ecosystem services or if they reach deeper into local social circumstances and build on larger unresolved conflict(s) among groups in the region. In addition to the conflict-transformation framework, we apply the Social–Ecological Systems Framework to elicit details regarding the substantive, relational, and material dimensions of this conflict. Our research suggests that processes for governing natural resources, such as those in place for governing drainage in Saskatchewan, need to have mechanisms to facilitate relationship building and shared understandings, need to be adaptable to people’s changing needs and concerns, and should focus on inclusivity and empowerment of actors to address conflict.