Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Benjamin S. Hale

Second Advisor

J. Terrence McCabe

Third Advisor

Alison M. Jaggar

Fourth Advisor

Mara J. Goldman

Fifth Advisor

Ajume H. Wingo


Wildlife conservationists often come into conflict with local communities. To resolve conflict, conservationists conduct education and sensitization programs to raise awareness and teach the value of wildlife. This “missionary approach” raises issues of epistemic and social injustice. Just as conservation often requires local communities to relinquish sovereignty over land and natural resources, conservation education challenges local values and morality.

Invited to produce conservation education media for communities living near the critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), I used the opportunity to pursue a more just method for moral debates over wildlife in contexts of unequal power and unshared cultures. For my dissertation, I designed, tested, and analyzed a form of participatory video production: “Folk Filmmaking.” Folk Filmmaking differs from ethnography. Instead of documenting local moral beliefs about wildlife, it provides an opportunity for locals to represent themselves. It invites them to think collectively and critically about their moral beliefs. It encourages them to articulate, develop, and represent those beliefs. It provides the resources to do so through filmmaking. My dissertation describes the exclusion of African accounts about gorillas, revealing an epistemic injustice that undermines the authority of moral claims developed without this knowledge. It shows how justifications for gorilla conservation—the intellectual puzzles of animal rights; the careful, complex science of primatology, ecology, and evolutionary history; the clarion calls of environmental ethicists—seem salient in Western communities but almost irrelevant in the communities of the Cross River headwaters. It describes the Folk Filmmaking process, the films we produced, and an analysis of the method. It concludes by reflecting on the promise and limits of Folk Filmmaking as a method of moral adjudication in other contexts of wildlife conservation conflicting with local communities.