SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Transforming The Frontier: Peace Parks and the Politics of Neoliberal Conservation in Southern Africa

Dr Bram Buscher, Associate Professor, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam

Date: 17 October 2013Time: 1:00 PM

Finishes: 17 October 2013Time: 3:00 PM

Venue: 30 Russell Square Room: Room 102, 30 Russell Square

Type of Event: Seminar

Neoliberal conservation, the idea and practice of 'saving' nature through its submission to capital and its subsequent revaluation in capitalist terms, has fast become the dominant mode of biodiversity conservation worldwide. Yet the politics that enabled this process is little understood. Based on extensive ethnographic field research in Southern Africa, I argue that three modes of politics are especially important in understanding contemporary neoliberal conservation: those of consensus, anti-politics and marketing. The presentation empirically illustrates these modes and shows how planners and managers employ and so help to reinforce them. The conclusion outlines some ideas on how these modes of politics could be employed for more progressive ends.

“Bram Buscher offers an original approach to conceptualizing and examining neoliberal modes of government in action. He uses a richly grounded empirical analysis to shed light on a key puzzle with important political stakes: how are implausible win-win scenarios sustained despite their manifold contradictions, and what kinds of critical work are needed to puncture them? An excellent read.”

Tania Murray Li, author of The Will to Improve

“Making a major contribution to political ecology, conservation studies, and the critical analysis of neoliberalization, Transforming the Frontier will appeal to a wide readership of anthropologists, sociologists, Africanists, historians, geographers, and those in development and environmental studies. Bram Büscher sheds new light on our understanding of environmental conservation and economic development projects by providing a truly brilliant critique of the intersection of conservation development and neoliberalization in southern Africa.”

Paige West, author of From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive

International peace parks—transnational conservation areas established and managed by two or more countries—have become a popular way of protecting biodiversity while promoting international cooperation and regional development. In Transforming the Frontier, Bram Büscher shows how cross-border conservation neatly reflects the neoliberal political economy in which it developed. Based on extensive research in southern Africa with the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Project, Büscher explains how the successful promotion of trans-frontier conservation as a “win-win” solution happens not only in spite of troubling contradictions and problems, but indeed because of them. This is what he refers to as the “politics of neoliberal conservation,” which receives its strength from effectively combining strategies of consensus, anti-politics, and marketing. Drawing on long-term, multilevel ethnographic research, Büscher argues that trans-frontier conservation projects are not as concerned with on-the-ground development as they are purported to be.

Organiser: Professor Rosaleen Duffy

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