Deeply rooted power imbalances continue to be a significant concern within community-based natural resource management. Within the local scale, these undermine livelihoods and reinforce the vulnerability of the least powerful groups.

Adaptive collaborative management (ACM) has emerged as one approach to improve community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), including potentially shifting power. Despite rich experiences, we are left with the fundamental question: “Yes, in some cases ACM has shifted power and reduced inequities, but how?” This dearth of theory-based insights leaves ACM and CBNRM at an impasse.

Filling these gaps is what motivates this chapter. Specifically, the chapter asks: 1) Why do power imbalances persist in CBNRM? and 2) When ACM does shift power imbalances, how can this be explained? To address these questions, we draw on social and feminist theory. Using an example from Nepal’s community forestry, the chapter offers a theoretical explanation of why power imbalances persist in CBNRM and how an ACM approach may shift power-reproducing dynamics.

We explain persistence using concepts of unmarked categories, doxa, delegation and interlinked structure and agency. We then unpack concepts of reflexivity, deliberative decision making and social learning to enrich ACM’s potential. We conclude by highlighting how ACM can be revitalized to tackle power imbalances in CBNRM.