Abstract File Cabinet
1) Steward, Julian. “The Concept and Method of Cultural Ecology.” The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living: 5-9. Print.
In this article, Julian Steward attempts to define his theory of cultural ecology. He sees human cultures as closely linked to their environments, but is also careful to differentiate his theory from environmental determinism, which claims that cultures are completely shaped by their environments and assumes that all cultures that develop in the same area will develop in the same ways. Steward points out that this is not the case and he seeks an answer as to why this is. He focuses on pre-industrial societies throughout his article, which I believe is a smart move as they are more reliant on their immediate ecosystem than post-industrial societies.
Steward’s methodology takes into account environmental complexity and cultural complexity in three procedures. The first is to observe the exploitative technologies of the culture and how that interacts with the environment. The second is to observe the patterns of behavior created from different exploitative practices. The third procedure is to analyze how exploitative behavior affects other types of cultural behavior. I believe Steward’s attention to existing cultural complexity with regards to technology does a lot to help explain the differences between two cultures from similar environments, and is a vast improvement over prior theories of human-environment relations.
Steward concludes that cultures are shaped through a mix of their available technology and the environmental factors that directly affect them. This alters prior notions that the environment is the only major driving force of cultural change, and encourages a new focus on existing cultural complexity.
2) Fairhead, James, and Melissa Leach. “False Forest History, Complicit Social Analysis: Rethinking Some West African Environmental Narratives.” World Development 23.6 (1995): 1023-035. Pergamon. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.
In this article, Fairhead and Leach deeply explore how indigenous groups interact with their environments, and how overseeing governments have misunderstood the resulting environmental impact. The authors want to disprove the pre-conceived assumptions that have informed government environmental regulations on indigenous peoples in two circumstances: the supposed deforestations of Kissidougou in West Africa and the Ziama Forest of Guinea. In both cases, the prevailing narrative was that there were once large forests in these areas that have been lost due to some sort of breakdown in the environmental management of the indigenous groups.
The authors refute both assumptions by bringing a mixture of hard evidence (1950s air photos, French military maps, etc.) and anecdotal evidence (local oral histories, local folk stories, early documentary sources, etc.) to the table. They create a counternarrative that puts the indigenous groups in a much more environmentally sustainable light, pointing out that these areas were never heavily forested and that the forested parts that are there today have actually been maintained by the indigenous environmental practices. The implications of this new view of environmental history eliminate any need for the current government-imposed policies.
I think that Fairhead and Leach present their argument in a convincing way, and I appreciate that they discuss their evidence in length within their essay rather than simply placing that information in the bibliography. I think essays like this are important for convincing government agencies to be more attentive of indigenous practices, especially when it comes to environmental issues.
3) Berkes, et al., “The Benefits of the Commons.” The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living: 355-360. Print.
In this article, Berkes, Feeny, McCay, and Acheson are attempting to prove that common property societies live sustainably without government regulations. They outline Hardin’s argument that, unless brought under government supervision or private regulation, common property groups will inevitably over-exploit the natural resources available to them. The authors refute this notion and even show that government-imposed regulations often do little to solve the problem.
The authors point to several case studies in which local populations had better regulatory practices than the government-imposed policies, and some clear parallels can be drawn with Fairhead and Leach’s article. The authors cite several convincing examples, but unfortunately they rarely provide the hard empirical evidence associated with such studies, choosing instead to relegate that information to the bibliography.
Berkes and his colleagues conclude that Hardin’s assessment of common property societies being inevitably prone to unsustainable practices is not backed by evidence and that, contrary to Hardin’s theory, government regulations actually do not solve environmental problems as well as solutions at the local level. While I largely agree with their position, and while they do reject Hardin’s views on the inevitability of over-exploitation by common property groups, I would urge us to steer clear of universals and instead take things on a case-by-case basis. There are surely situations that can arise where a common-property group does fail to properly address environmental issues and we do have a tragedy of the commons, even if it’s not the same type of tragedy outlined by Hardin.
4) Ornter, Sherry B. “So Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?” in Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.
We often divide the realms of culture and nature in our minds. Along with this divide comes the common notion that culture dominates nature. Some researchers tie this in with gender. In Ortner’s original essay, she argued that male is to female as culture is to nature. In the same way that culture dominates nature, men dominate women throughout the world. Perhaps this is because women are, themselves, closer to nature, and thus more susceptible to the dominance of cultural man. This assertion was met with some criticism and, in this essay, Ortner responds by revisiting this question of universal male dominance.
Ortner pulls from multiple authors to engage in a comparative study of three societies from Indonesia and the Andaman Islands. She finds that, while male dominance is common, the privileges in question are not always given simply because an individual is male. For some groups, sex was not an organizational factor. It just so happened that the men held many positions of influence. It would, therefore, be incorrect to view male dominance strictly through a male vs. female perspective. Similarly, it would be incorrect to view culture as always dominating over nature, as not all cultures recognize this dichotomy. That said, Ortner still holds that her metaphor is useful, and that women and nature will still be the more threatened of the categories in question.
While I disagree with Ortner’s insistence to separate culture from nature, it is important to hear out the other side of the argument. This article serves as a good contrasting view to the argument espoused in this e-portfolio.
5) Vilaça, Aparecida. 2005. “Chronically Unstable Bodies: Reflections on Amazonian Corporalities.” JRAI. 11: 445-464.
Humanity and the human body are concepts that we tend to take for granted. In Amazonia, however, the cultural perception of the human body is one that is in constant flux. In an attempt to understand the Amazonian concept of the human body, Vilaca analyzes the Wari’ concept of kwere-. ‘Kwere-‘ is the closest term in the Wari’ language that can be translated into ‘body’. However, kwere- is really a term that refers to a way of being. All things, living or nonliving, possess kwere-. Keeping this in mind, all beings perceive themselves as being human and carrying on human activities. For instance, where we see jaguars as drinking blood, they see themselves as drinking beer. Occasionally, a human being can be tricked by an animal into taking on certain animal characteristics. This changes the human’s way of being, and thus the human can jamu (transform) into an animal, becoming unrecognizable by other humans.
Vilaca concludes that the Amazonian concept of the body is one that is fluid and constantly changing based on one’s behaviors. The paranoia that individuals may unwittingly transform into animals has led the Wari’ to separate themselves through kin-making. We can view this as analogous to our attempts at separating culture and nature. We attempt to define ourselves in opposition to everything else in the natural world, just as the Wari’ define themselves as ‘we’ in opposition to ‘they’ (other creatures that can exhibit human behavior). The difference is that the Wari’ realize that the culture-nature separation is illusory, where much of our society has become convinced of its reality.
6) Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.
When one is able to decipher the abstract, cryptic style of prose employed by Haraway in this article, the result is an optimistic, yet wary, interpretation of the concept of cyborgs. Writing in the early 1990s, when cyborgs are a constantly reoccurring topic in science fiction entertainment, Haraway wants to explore how real-world cyborgs change the rules in cultural, environmental, and political discourse. Haraway’s method of writing is one which actively avoids the conventional, chronological style of writing common in most of academic writing. Instead, Haraway writes in a way that explores and interweaves many different subjects at once, forcing the reader to engage with the article in order to decipher the argument.
A cyborg is “a hybrid of machine and organism”. They are beings of both science fiction and scientific and social reality, a fact that is exemplified anytime someone has a prosthetic limb, a pacemaker, hearing aids, or requires a machine to breathe. Haraway asserts that, just in the way that there is no longer a clear distinction between humans and animals, the emergence of the cyborg blurs the line between the organic and the artificial. She illustrates two perspectives of the cyborg world: one which is pessimistic and apocalyptic, and one which is characterized by an optimistic loss of divisive boundaries. Haraway argues that both perspectives must be taken into account when moving forward. The blurring of the organic and artificial in this article forces us to reconsider the existence of a culture-nature divide, as the cyborg has transcended such a boundary.
7) McNeil, Richard J. “Ethics primer for university students intending to become natural resources managers and administrators.” Natural Resources and Environmental Issues 7.23 (1998).
Richard McNeil’s article serves as a concise, yet thorough introduction to ethics. His primary goal in this article is to introduce the topic to future natural resources managers and administrators. Having this knowledge at hand is vital for these individuals when they inevitably face dilemmas concerning environmental management. McNeil does an excellent job at providing the reader with many ethical approaches and positions such as consequentialism, rights-based theories, and virtue ethics. Consequentialism, rule-based theories, and rights-based theories are given relatively equal coverage, while intuitionism and virtue ethics are given less attention. This is likely because these approaches do not have as much potential for solving environmental issues.
McNeil also introduces the reader to concepts like moral considerability and moral community. These are often ambiguous when it comes to environmental issues. How much of the environment, for instance, should we consider part of the moral community when we make moral decisions, and which members of this community should be given priority? Should wild horses be killed if they are so numerous that they are damaging their ecosystem? Should artificial feeding programs be conducted if they result in the overpopulation of deer? McNeil poses such questions but neglects to provide solutions, smartly forcing the readers to debate among themselves as to what the best ethical solutions are.
If we acknowledge that the culture-nature divide is imaginary, then the environmental impacts of our decisions become all the more obvious. It, therefore, becomes imperative for us to be able to use a mixture of the ethical approaches outlined by McNeil to inform our decisions.
8) Dalby, Simon. “The Environment as Geopolitical Threat: Reading Robert Kaplan’s ‘Coming Anarchy’.” The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living: 118-135.
The discourse of global population rise and its environmental impacts can be paranoid in nature. This is the case with Robert Kaplan’s ‘The Coming Anarchy’, which asserts that population growth and the resulting environmental degradation will lead to the collapse of modern civilization. Simon Dalby’s criticism of Kaplan’s piece highlights flaws in Kaplan’s reasoning. Kaplan creates the image of a bifurcated world, distinguishing between the developed countries of the West and the poverty-stricken societies of the rest of the world, which are personified by shanty towns and disease. Africa, in particular, is painted with a very broad brush of violent tribal violence. Dalby points out that Kaplan focuses solely on the local struggles of these places, neglecting to acknowledge the international economic and social causes of resource scarcity, of which Western nations are also guilty. This hurts Kaplan’s credibility.
I did not find all of Dalby’s criticisms compelling. One of his main concerns, for instance, is with Kaplan’s rhetorical technique of labelling the environment as a geopolitical threat. Dalby claims that this is labelling the environment as the villain. Kaplan’s intention, however, is to highlight the dangers of environmental degradation, not to demonize the environment itself. Kaplan’s ethnocentric approach to discussing this issue, however, has dangerous implications that can lead to a more interventionist American foreign policy. For this reason, Dalby’s critique is appropriate.
Whether environmental degradation can be explained by population rises, or a more nuanced approach is needed, it is clear that cultural factors such as population, wealth, and international relations have direct environmental impacts. These impacts further inform future cultural changes, making culture and nature inseparable.
9) Panayotou, Theodore. “Economic Growth and the Environment.” Economic Survery of Europe 2 (2003).
How does the economic growth of a country affect the natural environment? There are several hypotheses that have been presented to answer this question. One such hypothesis is that of the environmental Kuznets Curve, which states that environmental degradation increases in parallel with economic growth until a certain point, when a curve is made and environmental quality increases with further economic growth. This hypothesis is the focus of Panayotou’s essay. He analyzes and compares a number of studies that have tested the EKC on different pollutants throughout the world. The result is a well-done, comprehensive testing of the EKC’s validity.
Panayotou finds that the EKC hypothesis is really only effective for certain pollutants and contexts. For instance, while the curve will occur for local pollutants at manageable per capita levels, it often will not occur in the case of CO2 emissions until between $10,000 and $22,000 per capita levels. Even in the contexts where the EKC hypothesis appears to work effectively, Panayotou points out that the relationship between higher incomes and environmental improvement is not a direct one. Rather, it relies more on the effectiveness of the government’s response to calls for environmental improvement. Governments, therefore, should not rely on the EKC hypothesis when making plans for economic growth, as the environmental impact prior to reaching the curve could be irreversible.
If the economic growth of a country is as inseparable from the environment as articles such as this suggest, then this further blurs the line between culture and nature. Uniquely cultural features, such as economics, have a constant relationship with the natural environment.
10) Ferguson, James, and Larry Lohmann. “The Anti-Politics Machine: ‘Development’ and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho.” The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living: 163-172.
It is well known at this point that development plans for developing countries often end in utter failure. This failure is primarily attributable to the tendencies of development officials to intentionally misrepresent the regions in which they want to institute programs. Ferguson and Lohmann illustrate this through their analysis of the Lesotho project. Lesotho was represented by the World Bank as a country reliant on a subsistence economy. The assertion was made that population growth in the country had made resources scarce, and that the country could no longer produce enough food to feed its people. None of this was true of the country. Any failure to feed the population was not attributable to population growth. Rather, the best farm land had been taken by neighboring South Africa.
The authors also sought to explain why these projects are conducted despite their high rate of failure. By looking at the Lesotho project, they postulated that the indirect effects of the project were beneficial enough to justify future endeavors. One such indirect effect was the increase in government power in the country. The project itself also served as a future “anti-politics” machine in the sense that any criticisms of the current political structure could be disregarded as side-effects of the development plan, making void all political challenges.
This article has several implications. One is that development plans rarely achieve their stated goals, but instead achieve other, unstated political goals. The other is that attributing resource scarcity to population growth can be misleading. This forces us to gain a more nuanced understanding of how human society operates as a part of nature.
11) Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton University Press.
In this excerpt, Anna Tsing attempts to describe cultural change in an age of globalization. She uses the metaphor of “friction” to represent cultural change in globalization as a two-way process. As the two forces (globalization and smaller societies) come into contact with one another, they rub off on each other, each leaving influences on the other. Tsing further elaborates on this metaphor, stating that it should not be confused with resistance. Friction does not entail just the slowing down of a process. It is also required for movement, as is the case with the friction between a tire and the road. According to Tsing “friction makes global connections powerful and effective” (Tsing 17) while simultaneously it “gets in the way of the smooth operation of global power” (Tsing 17). In other words, globalism is not a smooth process. It is complex and changing.
Tsing asserts that understanding globalization in this light will help us to answer questions of its cultural and environmental impacts, such as the question of the causes of biodiversity loss in Indonesian rainforests. While I agree on the point that a more nuanced understanding of globalism is needed, and while I enjoy her use of the friction metaphor, I think Tsing fails to clearly show how her metaphor better answers the question concerning the loss of biodiversity in Indonesia. That said, she does make clear that the cultural process of globalization has profound impacts on the natural environment, further supporting an argument against a culture-nature duality.
12) Sawyer, Suzana. “Indigenous Initiatives and Petroleum Politics in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living: 361-366.
In this article, Suzana Sawyer explores the social effects of the heavy petroleum dependence and development in the Amazon in Ecuador. More specifically, she is analyzing the petroleum trade’s effects on indigenous groups and the reactions of these groups.
Sawyer begins by outlining the problems that Ecuador’s oil dependency has created, and then turns to indigenous reactions. Since 1972, Ecuador’s trans-Andean pipeline has spilled about 16.8 million gallons of oil. Petroleum operations also discharge 4.3 million gallons of toxic waste every day, resulting in increased health problems among indigenous groups present in the areas of development.
OPIP, an Indian federation founded in 1978, often attempted to negotiate with the ARCO oil company to halt further petroleum development on Indian lands, with little success. In the 1990s, however, Indian federations allied themselves with environmental groups such as Accion Ecologica. Together they were able to foster international condemnation of the actions of the oil company. The momentum of Indian success eventually led to negotiations between OPIP and ARCO in 1994. In these negotiations, which are ongoing, ARCO has recognized that all Indian groups must be consulted rather than just the ones supporting ARCO.
Sawyer’s historical analysis is significant in that it gives an example of the unification of disparate groups in response to environmental degradation. This unification is based just as much on cultural ideas of land rights as it is on environmental concerns, showing how closely linked cultural values are with natural conditions.
13) Wilk, Richard R. 2006. “Bottled Water: The Pure Commodity in the Age of Branding” Journal of Consumer Culture 6(3): 303-325.
In this article, Richard Wilk places a critical lens on bottled water, a commodity that many in the West take for granted. He argues that the commonplace commodification of water is immoral given the difficulty of clean water access in other parts of the world.
Wilk begins by exploring the cultural history of water, discussing how it is a cultural symbol of nature. Corporations have played off of this symbolism by covering bottle labels with images of nature such as mountains and streams. This gives their product a sense of purity, even though water from natural sources is, ironically, unfiltered and dangerous to drink. This exacerbates the implicit cultural idea of bottled water as pure and public water as dirty, even though they are essentially the same. Water companies are playing off of cultural perceptions of nature’s purity. Wilk also discusses different cultural meanings associated with tap and bottled water. Trusting tap water entails using social utilities that support the greater good. Using bottled water is more individualistic.
I agree with Wilk’s assessment of bottled water companies using nature imagery to play off of cultural perceptions of nature’s purity. Such perceptions are directly related to the Western culture-nature dualism, which has clouded peoples’ judgment. I disagree with Wilk’s opinion that bottled water is immoral. His claim rests on the idea that clean water is hard to come by in some places of the world, and that water would otherwise be free if it was not commoditized. However, I would argue that similar claims could be made about any commodity.
14) Brosius, J. Peter. “Endangered Forest, Endangered People: Environmentalist Representations of Indigenous Knowledge.” The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living: 367-385.
In this article, Brosius explores Western environmentalist portrayals of environmental indigenous environmental knowledge, arguing that they will often pull information from anthropological ethnographies and twist it to portray indigenous groups as being inherently connected with their environment or conflating indigenous knowledge with notions of sacred wisdom. The result is an inaccurate, idealistic portrayal of indigenous knowledge.
To argue his point, Brosius uses the example of the Penan in Malaysia, who have been fighting for land rights against logging companies. Environmentalists, such as Davis and Henley, have pulled from ethnographies (many of which were done by Brosius) and have twisted the information therein to display the Penan as wise and pure conservationists. For example, Brosius’s ethnographies describe the Penans’ practices of conservative exploitation as being of a primarily utilitarian purpose, representing the sophistication of Penan understandings of sustained-yield principles. Davis and Henley, however, take this information and imbue it with notions of the Penans’ spiritual purity and wisdom.
Brosius’s article is well-written and has a nice personal touch, as through it he is, in a sense, reclaiming his material from Davis and Henley. This article opens up larger discussions of political uses and portrayals of others’ research. It also addresses themes regarding Western portrayals of indigenous groups. It is worth noting that, although the portrayals being displayed here attempt to craft a positive visage of the Penan, such portrayals can sometimes have reprehensible effects, as is highlighted in the McGuire article Archaeology and the First Americans posted on the Rousseau page in this e-portfolio.
15) Connolly, Kate. 2012. “German far-right extremists tap into green movement for support” The Guardian.
This article from The Guardian briefly discusses the German far-right, often associated with conservatism and racism, and its new-found association with environmentalism. Some groups, such as Bavaria’s domestic intelligence agency consider far-right environmentalism to not be genuine. Rather, they see it as the far-right’s desperate bid for further support. However, others such as Gudrun Heinrich point out that the far-right’s association with environmentalism is nothing new. The Artaman League, for instance, was a farming movement adopted by Nazis that emphasized the humane raising of animals and plants whilst simultaneously being anti-democratic and nationalistic.
While the far-right association with environmentalism is genuine, it is not necessarily apolitical. Part of the far-right’s motivation may be to take the environmental issue out of the green left’s hands. I found this article to be compelling. It shakes many assumptions about static culture-nature associations such as the industrial right and the green left. Instead, it shows that culture-nature associations are context specific and should be studied as such. This article also emphasizes how important environmental issues are in the political discourse, with each party vying for recognition as the environmentalist party. This intense cultural and political concern for the environment, I believe, lends credence to the argument that culture and nature are constantly playing off of one another and, thus, are inseparable. Political parties appeal to cultural concerns about the state of the environment in order to gain support. This then comes full-circle when the party with the most support gets the greatest say on environmental policy.
16) Nightingale, Andrea. 2006. “The Nature of Gender” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24(2): 165-185.
In this article, Andrea Nightingale explores how gender and inequality are socially constructed and how they relate to environmental issues. She argues that gender relations do not preexist the context in which they are found, and so gender environment studies should focus on how gender and the environment produce and reproduce one another.
Nightingale begins by briefly discussing the early, essentialist views of gender, which assumed an inherent connection between women and nature. She then discusses the materialist conceptions of gender and nature, which attributed women’s concerns with nature to their material needs. Many Indian women, for instance, are assigned the responsibility of providing the family with fuel and food, and thus their knowledge of the natural world must be greater to account for these responsibilities. Lastly, Nightingale takes lessons from these two threads of thought and combines them with the political ecology perspectives of gender relations as social constructs. The result is a new conceptualization of gender as a process which both affects environmental change and is affected by the environment in an ongoing cycle.
Nightingale’s conceptualization of gender and the environment as mutually constitutive is a brilliant illustration of the illusory nature of the culture-nature dualism. The environment constantly affects the construction of gender relations which then determine how women can impact the environment. The resulting environmental changes will then bring about further changes in gender subjectivities. This model of mutual construction can be expanded outside of gender subjectivities to an overall model for culture-nature relations.
17) Johnson, Alex Carr. 2011. “How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time” Orion Magazine.
This article by Alex Carr Johnson asserts that the culture-nature dualism is a falsehood, and that by labeling specific things as ‘natural’, people associate as ‘unnatural’ anything that does not fit within the ‘natural’ definition. These ‘unnatural’ behaviors carry with them negative connotations that are unjustified. Johnson discusses how his homosexuality is considered by his culture to be unnatural, but that it feels completely natural to him. He believes that the Western definition of ‘natural’ is culturally constructed, with reality being much different.
Johnson writes his article in a personal and humorous manner, debunking our misconceptions of the ‘natural’ though a list of general steps. The first of these steps is concerned with letting go of the ecological mandates we currently hold. He uses Quammen’s essay on monogamous, heterosexual geese as an example, illustrating how this essay paints homosexuality as unnatural. He then debunks this mandate in future steps by showing how many animals such as red squirrels and various primates regularly engage in homosexual behavior. He also argues that humans are capable of a wide range of behaviors, and that engaging in homosexual behaviors does not make a human any less human.
Johnson’s tone is humorous, but his focus on defending his own homosexuality makes this a personal read. However, he is getting at something much larger than sexuality. Johnson is forcing readers to question culturally constructed notions of what is ‘natural’, asserting that everything is natural and challenging the Western culture-nature dualism.
18) Stiles, Daniel, et al. 2013. Stolen Apes- The Illicit Trade in Chimpanzee, Gorillas, Bonobos, and Orangutans: A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Publications.
This article is the result of a collaboration of individuals from a plethora of backgrounds such as science, reporting, activism, and policy making. In it, they bring attention to the illicit trade of great apes in various markets such as the tourist entertainment industry and the exotic pets industry. The authors synthesize data from 2005 to 2011 that paints a bleak picture of what this trade has done to great ape populations. In these years many apes have been illegally captured from the wild including 643 chimps, 98 gorillas, 1,019 orangutans, and many more. All in all, the data suggests an annual loss of around 2,972 apes. This could be extremely detrimental to the biodiversity of the affected regions.
The authors assert that this trade is growing in response to demands in international markets. Worse yet, they claim that current law enforcement is insufficient to deal with the issue. They call for increased law enforcement and conservation efforts to be undertaken in the affected regions. This includes investigating trans-boundary criminal networks and closing illegal markets of trade. The article concludes with a brief chart of recommendations for future action, most of which entail increased security measures.
While the subject matter is depressing, I find a lot of optimism in this article in that it is one of those seemingly rare occasions where activists and scientists are collaborating in a meaningful way. The article also addresses the cultural factors and values that inform the illicit ape trade, highlighting the connectedness of culture and nature.
19) Igoe, Jim, and Dan Brockington. 2007. “Neoliberal Conservation: A Brief Introduction” Conservation and Society 5(4): 432-449.
In this article, Igoe and Brockington introduce readers to Neoliberal Conservation, which is primarily based on the idea that commodifying aspects of the environment assigns them worth. As such, people seek to conserve for the sake of long-term wealth. Neoliberal conservation also promises to help rural groups through the promotion of conservation-oriented business practices. Although these promises are optimistic on paper, Igoe and Brockington show us that neoliberal conservation is often ineffective and socially detrimental.
Our authors outline the main features of neoliberal conservation, such as the privatization of territory and commodification of resources. They give examples to illustrate how neoliberal conservation practices often disenfranchise the less fortunate. One such example is the territorialization of parts of Africa by NGOs such as the Africa Parks Foundation, which evicted residents of Nech Star National Park in Ethiopia in its efforts to renovate the park. Another example used by our authors are what they call BINGOs. These large, global NGOs dominate the funding of environmental projects. Since they have adopted neoliberal corporate strategies, they have become closely allied with big businesses, making it difficult for these NGOs to take solid stances on environmental matters.
Our authors conclude that, while there are instances of neoliberal conservation’s success, the practice of these strategies usually leads to negative social and environmental outcomes. We must conclude that, although blurring the culture-nature dualism can be useful, it is unwise to use strictly culture-laden economic strategies in conservation efforts. The results are counterproductive in both a cultural and natural context.
20) Carrier, James G. 2010. “Protecting the Environment the Natural Way: Ethical Consumption and Commodity Fetishism” Antipode 42(3): 672-689.
In this short piece, James Carrier argues that ethical, environmentally friendly consumption is not an effective method of conservation. To argue his point, he applies the Marxist concept of commodity fetishism, arguing that companies employ methods of manipulating consumers’ perspectives on commodities by obscuring and highlighting different aspects of the commodity’s context. Fairtrade coffee is often marked by pictures of smiling coffee farmers working as small-holders, highlighting the peasant small-holders while simultaneously obscuring the migrant workers and wage labor needed for the intense harvesting process. The selective imagery is utilized in order to manipulate peoples’ moralities so that they associate such imagery with moral purity.
This fetishizing goes beyond advertisements and into the commodities themselves. In Belize one ecotourism destination entails tourists diving to view wildlife around a shipwreck. The ship was bought and purposefully sunk at the location to make the spot more interesting. Just as in the prior examples, the context is only partially displayed. This can hardly be viewed as eco-friendly. It is the pressure to make money that makes parks act more as tourism businesses than as environmental protectors.
Carrier concludes that the constant corporate manipulation of consumers’ moral perceptions makes ethical consumption ineffective. The manipulation of consumers’ perspectives here is similar to the techniques used by bottled water companies in the Wilks article. Playing off of Western perceptions of culture-nature, companies depict commodities as ‘natural’ to make them appear moral.