Cashing in on conservation: a panel at the American Association of Anthropologists annual conference, November 2010

Cashing in on conservation

This was a conference panel organised by Heather Yocum and Mamta Vardhan of Michigan State University, with myself as discussant, for the American Association of Anthropologists annual conference, New Orleans, November 2010. You can download Heather’s and Mamta’s papers below, together with my response as discussant.

Panel proposal:

Throughout history, environments have been sites of contestation and translation for the people who depend on them. Market-based approaches to conservation have gained momentum in the wake of limited success of more traditional command-control and regulatory approaches to conservation, and concerns about the changing climate have only accelerated this process. As ideas about neoliberal and market-oriented conservation circulate and are put into practice in different areas around the world, they are reshaping the ways that governments, communities, and other actors understand, value, and engage with the non-human world. This panel seeks to interrogate new discourses of market-based conservation by examining what is produced when these ideas come into contact with other ideas, people, and spaces; what happens in the gaps and spaces created in the process; and how this process changes the way that people interact with the non-human world.

There is a well-developed body of literature detailing the ways that the circulation of Western notions of environment and development, conservation, and capital markets has impacted the human and non-human world. Scholars are beginning to examine these new notions of conservation in the context of climate change, labeling them as “crises in nature and capitalism” which open up spaces for “incursions of corporate capital investment, thinly masked by the seemingly liberal guise of instituting free markets” (Sullivan, 2009). Generally, these approaches aim to promote conservation by providing direct payments for environmental or ecosystem services (PES) which act as incentives for local communities to adopt conservation-friendly practices. PES-based conservation initiatives are being promoted in several developing countries as a win-win solution to achieve the goals of conservation of local landscapes, mitigate global climate change, and generate income for communities acting as providers of ecosystem services. However, this process is dynamic in that these ideas are translated, adapted, and reshaped by non-Western peoples and organizations. And, as people transform understandings about the natural world, what resources should be used for, and whom they should benefit, the circulation of these ideas causes unforeseen effects.

This session will examine questions such as: How do different understandings of resource use and conservation map onto one another, and what effects are produced from this friction? How do people and organizations navigate and adapt to these changes in natural resource governance? What new communities are formed in this process, and how do actors come together or disengage in light of such changes? How does the circulation of ideas like PES and capital affect the ways that people and organizations approach, manage, and engage with the environment? What is the potential of these ideas (such as the Clean Development Mechanism, carbon forestry, upland watershed conservation, and reducing and avoiding deforestation [REDD]) in creating new forms of dispossessions and enclosures? How are new rights over these resources created and how are claims to existing (but increasingly commodified) resources modified, contested, and subject to negotiations between various social actors?

Papers:

Mamta Vardhan ~ Crossing paths: matriliny, carbon forestry and women’s rights in the Uluguru Mountains, Tanzania coming soon

Heather Yocum ~ Carbon sequestration projects and forest governance in Malawi coming soon

Sian Sullivan ~ Discussion: Refracting the discourse of Payments for Ecosystem Services? A view from anthropology Download .pdf

Chaired by Anne Ferguson, Michigan State University

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