Conceptual and Methodological Advances
Edited by Frank Vanclay and Ana Maria Esteves
Chapter 8: Social Impact Assessment and Indigenous Social Development
Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh Introduction In industrialized countries, a standard approach to social impact assessment (SIA) is to document existing socioeconomic conditions within which a proposed development would occur; assess the likely impacts of the proposed development; and identify strategies to minimize negative effects associated with it. If the net social impact of the development is expected to be positive, assuming implementation of mitigative strategies, the SIA would normally recommend that the development proceeds. Underlying this approach is a primary focus on the social impacts of proposed development (Vanclay, 1999; Becker, 2001; Howitt, 2001; Thomas and Elliott, 2005), rather than on the wider social conditions and structures within which the development would occur. The latter are certainly of interest to SIA, but mainly in that they constitute the baseline conditions against which any change generated by the proposed development will be assessed (Smith, 1993; Becker, 2001; Wright, 2007). For Indigenous people, underlying social, economic and political conditions tend to be a matter of overwhelming concern because, for reasons explained below, these conditions are completely unacceptable. Existing social conditions are not simply a baseline against which subsequent changes caused by a development are measured and deemed positive or negative. Rather, they constitute a fundamental problem, and both SIA itself and the proposed development that is being assessed are judged in terms of their potential to change existing social realities. While absence of major changes in existing social conditions might often be a positive outcome in ‘mainstream’ SIA where development is expected to generate...
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