Applying Social Capital Theory on Conservation Policies of Protected Areas: A Case Study of Penang, Malaysia

  • Teik Aun Wong Center for Australian Degree Program (CADP), Inti International College Penang, Malaysia
  • Mohammad Reevany Bustami Center for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
  • Sazlina Md Salleh Center for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
Keywords: Social Capital Theory, Protected Areas, Environmental Conservation, Case Study, Nature Park Management


Environmental conservation efforts internationally and in Malaysia are focused on the establishment, maintenance and conservation of Protected Areas. The phenomenon of Protected Areas is justified by both biological considerations and social considerations. Biological considerations are commonly articulated. This research attempts to balance the narrative by focusing on social considerations, specific on the component of social capital, as derived from Social Capital Theory. Social capital is not commonly employed in the discourse on conservation policies of Protected Areas. However, social capital is postulated to have a tangible influence, as witnessed by its successful application in other contexts such as housing policy and social development. To explore the applicability of social capital towards Protected Areas, a case study of Penang in Malaysia is utilized. Document analysis and field observations are adopted as the research methodology and the data is analyzed thematically. The findings indicate that social capital has a tangible effect on the conservation policies of Protected Areas. Subsequently, public policy recommendations are proposed in light of the findings.


Akama, J. S., & Kieti, D. (2002). Tourism and Socio-economic Development in Developing Countries: A Case Study of Mombasa Resort in Kenya. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 15(6), 735-748.

Allendorf, T., Swe, K. K., Oo, T., Htut, Y., Aung, M., Allendorf, K., Hayek, L., Liemgruber, P., & Wemmer, C. (2006). Community attitudes towards three protected areas in Upper Myanmar (Burma). Environmental Conservation, 33(4), 344-352.

Ang, S. C. W. (2014). Sustainable Tourism: A Study on Management and Sustainability Aspects of Salt Lick Ecotourism of Selected Salt Licks in Malaysia [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Universti Sains Malaysia.

Arrandale, T. (2006). National Parks Under Pressure: Should conservation or recreation take precedence? CQ Researcher, 16(35), 817-840.

Azreen, R. A., Chan, N. W., & Irfan, A. A. F. (2018). Ecotourism in Penang National Park: A multi-stakeholder perspective on environmental issues. Journal of Business and Social Development, 6(1), 70-83.

Balmford, A., Beresford, J., Green, J., Naido, R., Walpole, M. & Manica, A. (2009). A Global Perspective of Trends in Nature-Based Tourism, PLoS Biology, 7(6), Article e1000144.

Ban, N. C., Mills, M., Tam, J., Hicks, C. C., Klain, S., Stoeckl, N., Bottrill, M. C., Levine, J., Pressey, R. L., Satterfield, T. & Chan, K. M. A. (2013). A social-ecological approach to conservation planning: embedding social considerations. Front Ecol Environ, 11(4), 194-202.

Bashir, M. (2020, June 2). Putrajaya cancels RM100mil Penang Hill cable car project. New Straits Times.

Baumgartner, M. P. (1988). The Moral Order of the Suburbs. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bavinck, M. & Vivekanandan, V. (2011). Conservation, conflict and the governance of fisher wellbeing: analysis of the establishment of the Gulf of Mannar National Park and Biosphere Reserve, Environmental Management, 47(4), 593-602.

Bennett, N. J. & Dearden, P. (2014). Why local people do not support conservation: Community perception of Marine Protected Area livelihood impacts, governance and management in Thailand, Marine Policy, 44, 107-116.

Bennett, N. J., Roth, R., Klain, S. C., Chan, K., Christie, P., Clark, D. A., Cullman, G., Curran, D., Durbin, T. J., Epstein, G., Greenberg, A., Nelson, M. P., Sandlos, J., Stedman, R., Teel, T. L., Thomas, R., Verissima, D. & Wyborn, C. (2017). Conservation social science: Understanding and integrating human dimensions to improve conservation. Biological Conservation, 205, 93-108.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The Forms of Capital: Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (J. Richardson Ed.). New York: Greenwood.

Bourne, J. K. (2018). A refuge at risk. National Geographic, 233(6), 112-127.

Bowen, G. (2009). Document Analysis as a Qualitative Research Method. Qualitative Research Journal, 9(2), 27-40.

Chong, K. K. (2004, July 1). Penang mini zoo in a limbo. The Star.

Clarke, V. & Braun, V. (2013). Teaching Thematic Analysis: Over-coming Challenges and Developing Strategies for Effective Learning. The Psychologist, 26(2), 120-123.

Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital. The American Journal of Sociology, 94, 95-120.

Convention on Biological Diversity. (2020). 2010 Biodiversity Target.

Daud, N. & Rahman, S. A. (2011). Tourist Attitudes towards Sustainable Tourism: Empirical Evidence From Malaysia National Park, Taman Negara. 2010 International Conference on E-business, Management and Economics IPEDR Vol 3. IACSIT Press, Hong Kong

Denscombe, M. (2007). The Good Research Guide for small-scale social research projects (3rd ed.). USA: McGraw Hill, Open University Press.

Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Pulau Pinang.

Dermawan, A. (2017, February 4). We Will 'Save Penang Hill, again. New Straits Times.

Eagles, P. F. J. (2002). Trends in Park Tourism: Economics, Finance and Management. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 10(2), 132-153.

Fereday, J., & Muir-Cochrane, E. (2006). Demonstrating rigor using thematic analysis: A hybrid approach of inductive and deductive coding and theme development. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 5(1), 80-92.

Frisch, S. A., & Wakelee, D. (2011). Resisting the Pressure of the Present: Channel Islands National Park as a Case Study in Public Policymaking, The Journal of Policy History, 23(2), 230-250.

Hansen, M. M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(851), 1-48.

Hind, E. J., Hiponia, M. C. & Gray, T. S. (2010). From community-based to centralized national management - A wring turning for the governance of the marine protected area in Apo Island, Philippines? Marine Policy, 34(1), 54-62.

Hong, C. & Chan, N. (2010). Strength-weakness-opportunities-threats Analysis of Penang National Park for Strategic Ecotourism Management. World Applied Sciences Journal 10 (Special Issue of Tourism & Hospitality), 136-145. IDOSI Publications.

Jabatan Perhutanan Negeri Pulau Pinang (2019). Hutan Lipur dan Taman Negeri. Retrieved September 5, 2019,

Jabatan Perlindungan Hidupan Liar and Taman Negara (PERHILITAN), (2021). Taman Negara Pulau Pinang.

Jabatan Perlindungan Hidupan Liar and Taman Negara (PERHILITAN), (2021). Laporan Tahunan 2017.

Johnson, L., Spanbauer, M., & Button, P. (2019). How Valuable are National Parks? Evidence from a Proposed National Park Expansion in Alaska. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 37(2), 1-15.

Karanth, K. K. & DeFries, R. (2010). Special Issue: Conservation and management in human-dominated landscapes: Case studies from India, Biological Conservation, 143(12), 2865-2964.

Kelly, A. B. (2015). The Crumbling Fortress: Territory, Access, and Subjectivity Production in Waza National Park, Northern Cameroon, Antipode, 47(3), 730-747.

Kumar, K. (2004). Long road to a National Park [conference presentation]. Regional Conference on Ecological and Environmental Modeling (ECOMOD 2004), Penang, Malaysia.

Lai, P. H. & Nepal, S. K. (2005). Local perspectives of ecotourism development in Tawushan Nature Reserve, Taiwan, Tourism Management, 27(6), 1117-1129.

Lang, R. E. & Hornburg, S. P. (2010). What is social capital and why is it important in public policy? Housing Policy Debate, 9(1), 1-16,

Lim, M. H. (2016, June 2). Why Klang Valley's road-building frenzy not for Penang. Free Malaysia Today.

Lo, T. C. (2019a, June 22). Lonely at the state park. The Star.

Lo, T. C. (2019b, July 7). Ecotourism drive in jeopardy. The Star.

Malaysian Nature Society (2017). MNS year by year achievements.

Mascia, M. S. and Pailler, S. (2011). Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing and Degazettement (PADDD) and its Conservation Implications, Conservation Letters, 4(1), 9-20.

Mehta, J. N. & Kellert, S. R. (1998). Local attitudes toward community-based conservation policy and programmes in Nepal: A case study of Makalu-Barun Conservation Area, Environmental Conservation, 25(04), 320-333.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. (2016). National Policy on Biodiversity 2016-2025. Biodiversity and Forest Management Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Malaysia.

National Park Service. (2020). Foundation Document Overview. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Netto, A. (2011, August 24). Penang Hill, Berjaya and Chong Eu/Tzu Koon.

Nixon, N., Heath, A. F., & Desigis, L. (2009). The ties that bind: social capital in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sarajevo: UNDP Bosnia and Herzegovina.

OECD (2021). The OECD measure of social capital and question databank. Retrieved January 18, 2021,

Office for National Statistics. (2020). Guide to Social Capital.

Orr, S, K. (2005). National Parks and Sustainable Development: The Challenges and Opportunities of Doing Business in a Protected Environment [Conference presentation]. American Political Science Association 2005 Annual Meeting, Washington DC.

Ostrom, E. (2009). A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science, 325(5939), 419-422.

Penang Hill Corporation (2021). Message from right honorable chief minister of Penang.

Penang State Government. (2018). Penang Transport Master Plan.

Pretty, J., & Smith, D. (2001). Social capital in biodiversity conservation and management. Conservation Biology, 18(3), 631-638.

Putnam, R. D. (1995). Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital. Journal of Democracy, 6(1), 65-78.

Rohe, W. M., & Stewart, L. S. (1996). Homeownership and Neighborhood Stability. Housing Policy Debate, 7(1), 37-81.

Rutkin, A. (2015, February 4). Twin moves on Arctic drilling stir environmental debate. NewScientist.

Smith, M. D., & Krannich, R. S. (1998). Tourism dependence and residents' attitudes. Annals of Tourism Research, 25(4), 783-802.

Tsunetsugu, Y., Park, B., Ishii, H., Hirano, H., Kagawa, T. & Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Y. (2007). Physiological Effects of Shinrin-yoku (Taking in the Atmosphere of the Forest) in an Old-Growth Broadleaf Forest in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, J Physiol Anthropol, 26(2), 135-142.

Tzanakis, M. (2013). Social capital in Bourdieu's, Coleman's and Putnam's theory: empirical evidence and emergent measurement issues. Educate, 13(2), 2-23.

United Nations (2021). World Social Capital Monitor.

Wing, T. L. (2010). Beyond Social Capital: Triad Organized Crime in Hong Kong and China. The British Journal of Criminology, 50(5), 851-872.

Wong, T. A. & Bustami, M. R. (2019). A Case Study of Micro Businesses in Jelutong Wet Market in Penang, Malaysia: Implications for CSR Scholarship. J Bus Ethics, 165, 535-546.

Wong, T. A., Ong, T. C., Ow Young, M. G. & Yip, F. Y. (2019). Domestic tourists and social justification - A Strategic Management approach towards international environmental conservation [Conference presentation]. 10th Global Conference on Business and Social Science. Kuala Lumpur.

Zakaria, H., Saiful, A. A. & Shukor, M. N. (2019). The perception of local communities towards Penang National Park. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environment Science, 239. IOP Publishing.

How to Cite
Teik Aun Wong, Mohammad Reevany Bustami, & Sazlina Md Salleh. (2022). Applying Social Capital Theory on Conservation Policies of Protected Areas: A Case Study of Penang, Malaysia. International Journal of Business and Society, 23(1), 172-187.