Neoliberal Conservation

This is a most vibrant topic just now with the most explanation before you get to the actual writings.

Conservation and environmentalism is beset with new forms of commodification and commercialization which are thoroughly changing practice and thinking. Notable practices include payments for ecosystem services (including carbon offsets and carbon trading), species banking, and conservation finance. These issues are consuming many conservationists and environmentalists and this is not the place to précis the main arguments on either side. Let me instead explain where my work on this began.

In 2005 I heard a talk at the University of Oxford given by the brilliant young professor Noel Castree in which he reported his recent research into a collection of writings which examined the ‘neoliberalisation of nature’. It was a revelation. For Noel, in his clear and succinct way, was summarizing practices of commodification and commercialization that I instantly recognized as being prevalent, indeed increasingly common, in conservation circles. Yet it was clear that no one writing about conservation was thinking about this literature on the neoliberalisation of nature, and that no one among the many people Noel described, was writing about conservation.

Thus began the study of ‘neoliberal conservation’. Do not be deceived by the singular name. There are many varieties of it, and their definition and description is attempted in the writings. Research on this topic is an extraordinarly vibrant and energetic and shows no sign of diminishment. Its vigour and can be traced through Networks, Conferences and Writings

There are many components to the flourishing of networks and collective study on neoliberal conservation (and neoliberalisation of nature) in the last few years. First, I moved to Manchester where Noel Castree works, and joined colleagues including Rosaleen Duffy, Gavin Bridge, Erik Swyngedouw, Maria Kaika, John O’Neil and many others. Under Noel’s direction we pioneered the establishment of the Society and Environment Research Group.

Rosaleen Duffy has proved a particularly significant and valuable colleague. We established a reading group for our PhD students (modeled on my part on Kathy Homewood’s group HERG). This meets fortnightly to go over readings, research plans and draft writings. Rosaleen provided the impetus and organisation for the Capitalism and Conservation conference and with her and Jim Igoe I wrote Nature Unbound. Through Rosaleen Duffy I met the extraordinarily clever and energetic Bram Buscher, whose productivity quite exhausts me.

Meanwhile Jim Igoe, my main writing partner, was collaborating with Sian Sullivan, with whom I wrote my PhD at UCL. Together they won funding from the Wenner Gren and IIED to bring together an international network of scholars and activists who had had awkward encounters with mainstream conservation. This produced the Disobedient Knowledge network.

The different networks have met at a variety of workshops and conferences:

May 2008. The Disobedient Knowledge network met in Washington DC.

September 2008. Rosaleen Duffy and I organized the Capitalism and Conservation Symposium in Manchester. This produced a special issue of the journal Antipode.

December 2009. Katja Neves and Jim Igoe organized a double panel at the Association of American Anthropologists.

May 2010. The ‘Brief Environmental History of Neoliberalism’ Conference was convened by Jason Moore and others in Lund, Sweden.

April 2010. A panel organized by Bram Buscher and Wolfram Dressler at the Annual Association of American Geographers

June 2011. Bram Buscher and others are convening Nature Inc! in the Netherlands.

The first specialist paper on neoliberal conservation was largely written by Jim Igoe and came out in 2007:

Igoe, J. and Brockington, D. 2007. ‘Neoliberal conservation. A brief introduction.’ Conservation and Society 5 (4): 432-449 Link

In 2008 with Rosaleen Duffy and Jim Igoe I wrote Nature Unbound which examines the intertwining of capitalism and conservation. Jim’s contribution to the final chapter of the book provides the main theoretical framework which hangs the book together.

In 2010 Jim Igoe and Sian Sullivan published some of the key reports from the Disobedient Knowledge workshop in Current Conservation. I contributed to two papers in that collection, the downloads below contain all the papers:

Sachedina, H., Igoe, J. and Brockington, D. 2010. ‘The Spectacular Growth of the African Wildlife Foundation and the Paradoxes of Neoliberal Conservation. Current Conservation 3(3): 24-27. Link to 1.4 MB download

Igoe, J. Sullivan, S. and Brockington, D. 2010. ‘Problematising Neoliberal Biodiversity Conservation” Displaced and Disobedient Knowledge.’ Current Conservation3 (3): 4-7 Link to 1.4 MB download

In 2010 the special issue of Antipode came out. I can provide the following pdfs:

Brockington, D and Duffy, R. 2010. ‘Conservation and Capitalism: an Introduction.’ Antipode 42 (3): 469-484. PDF

Brockington, D. and Scholfield, K. 2010. ‘Conservation NGOs and the Conservationist Mode of Production in sub-Saharan Africa.’ Antipode 42 (3): 551-575. PDF

Igoe, J., Neves, K. and Brockington, D. 2010. ‘A Spectacular Eco-Tour Around the Historic Bloc: Theorizing the Convergence of Biodiversity Conservation and Capitalist Expansion. Antipode 42 (3): 486-512. PDF

In 2011 I edited a themed issue of Evironmental Conservation on payments for ecosystem services, the editorial of which is available below:

Brockington, D. 2011. ‘Ecosystem Services and Fictitious Commodities.’
Environmental Conservation 38 (4): 367-9. PDF

Finally I have been privilege to participate, albeit in a small way, in a forthcoming paper submitted to Capitalism, Nature, Socialism the first draft of which will be available here soon