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The elephant in the room? problematizing ‘new’ (neoliberal) biodiversity conservation

Taylor & Francis
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  • Geography
  • Environment And Development Studies
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Political Science


As argued recently in Forum for Development Studies, a ‘back to the barriers’ approach to biodiversity conservation is again prevalent, after some two decades of emphasis on ‘community-based’ initiatives. This involves the establishment and expansion of national parks from which people are variously excluded. In this article, however, I suggest that community-based approaches such as Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) remain important, and in many ways simply constitute the other side of the same coin of modern conservation practice under the political and economic, and cultural, value-frame of neoliberalism. My aim is to highlight some shared conceptualisations and rationalisations regarding perceptions of ‘the environment’ and of people–environment relationships that inform both of these two broad-brush policy and practical orientations towards ‘biodiversity conservation’. The article thus draws on a Foucaultian analytics to ‘problematise’ the contemporary and globalising neoliberal episteme within which both these approaches are produced; and to open a space where orientations (towards ‘the environment’) that are ‘othered’ and thereby silenced by this frame might be articulated.

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