Book Review (Brockington and Duffy 2011)

Cover of Capitalism and Conservation

Capitalism and Conservation

Edited by Dan Brockington and Rosaleen Duffy.

(2011) Wiley–Blackwell. Chichester. 337 pages. £19.99. ISBN 978 1-4443-3834-8.

Reviewed by Jenny Barnett (04 May 2011)

Conservation and capitalism’s long-standing relationship is, in this book, not presented to be at polar opposites from one another but rather this book examines how these intertwine and reinforce one another. ‘Capitalism and Conservation’ tends to dominantly present how the relationship is perhaps skewed in favour of capitalism’s development and growth rather than the reverse with the introductory chapter presenting the ease at which economic value is placed on natures products, specifically the rainforest, rather than the value of its existence. As is stated on the back cover, ‘Capitalism and Conservation’ uses a series of twelve case studies from around the world edited by Dan Brockington and Rosaleen Duffy to critique and examine “an aggressive faith in market solutions to environmental problems” (p2). The exploitative nature of the processes of capitalism leads discussions regarding these concepts to refer to the expense conservation pays and the ironic and skewed attempts whereby capitalism is used as a positive force for conservation.

During the introduction inference is made to there being distinct sections of the book this is not however presented in either the contents or the body of the book itself. It could perhaps be of aid to the reader if the papers were split into broad sections as suggested in the introduction. As is to be expected with an edited book it is a construct of a series of individual representations and opinions. As such, the papers depict nuanced approaches to understanding the issues raised, the processes involved while also presenting common themes. The first chapter raises the essentiality for research in resisting, subverting or creatively interpreting the sustainable development historic bloc “which purports to offer easy consumption-based solutions to the environmental crises inherent in late market capitalism (p20). It presents Disney’s illusion that its consumers are saving the world through purchasing experiences and products. Similarly chapter 8 suggests ethical consumption such as Fairtrade and Ecotourism fetishize the world and ignore the context within which items are situated. Chapter 9 expresses socially responsible coffee as a potential form of resistance to neoliberalisation in addition to being a form of neoliberalism. Ethical consumption in these chapters is understood to intend to make consumers and producers seem and feel responsible by doing what they can within the confines of the market as it is, without going to the ‘extreme’ of suggesting the market could alter. Chapters 9 and 10 also explore whale watching in the Azores and elephant safaris in Botswana and Thailand as economic uses of nature services whereby these animals are packaged and developed for global tourism consumption. Here such activities are seen to drive capitalism rather than act as part of the solution.

Chapter two examines a shift in the ideological drive of large conservation organisations and the divide between these and smaller ‘grass roots’ organisations. Here biodiversity is understood to serve capitalist expansion as conservation organisations are increasingly shaped by eco-modernist imperatives of capitalist development. Chapter three argues a similar theme whereby conservations NGOs are seen as integral to ‘conservationist mode’ of production intertwining wildlife and biodiversity with capitalism. Brockington and Scholfield, referring to research in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, understand NGOs to not simply raise money to help protect and reproduce wildlife and wild areas but incorporate nature and wildlife into a broader capitalist system through creating demand for the conservation’s commodities and imagery overseas.

Chapter 4 explores the power relations among environmental NGOs, USAID, the US Congress and private corporations and how since 1970s these have reflected and contributed to the contemporary rise of neoliberal conservation. Now, in the 21st century, such organisations opposition to economic growth has now become its conduit. Chapter 5 presents the irony of a wealthy organisation travelling expensively and hoping to enhance conservation outcomes with t-shirts to illustrate the well intentioned but often disconnected nature of conservation. Referring to personal experience, Sachedina understands the centralised power in AWF (African Wildlife Foundation) to isolate and disconnect locals with importance placed upon international donors and government elites as it is those who then matter most to such international conservation NGOs. Similar recognition is made in chapter 7 where the idea is argued that pressure for conservation to ‘pay for itself’ allowed the private sector to step in. Here the role of communities is seen to have diminished, leaving a trail of unintended outcomes as programmes are not fully considered and individuals may invest for personal gain not for conservation. Chapter 6 uses Dominican Republic as a positive case study of a vigorous indigenous conservation movement. However in this case it is understood that the strong focus on protected areas has resulted in the neglect of other impacts of capitalism.

The penultimate chapter presents neoliberalism as it exists on the ground and local responses whereby it is not seen to obliterate existing nature values but mixes with local dynamics to create new ones. Finally, everyday responses to neoliberal policies and pressures on resource use and governance in Mexcio are examined in the last paper of this resource. The book offers a timely exploration and critique of these two key concepts. Neoliberal conservation distributes both fortune and misfortune and explicit recognition of this needs to be better communicated with the conservation community. The editors themselves suggest this collection of papers is “probably not the best way to do it, but we hope it will play some role” (p13) and opens avenues for future communication and research with the field of economic geography. While this book successfully overcomes any notions of the intrinsic ‘good’ of conservation programmes, it perhaps overcasts any the achievements of these agendas or suggest ways in which conservation could occur without fuelling or buying into capitalism.

This book is suitable for a range of audiences seeking a more in depth understanding of the pervasion of neoliberalism in conservation and the peripheral role of conservation to neoliberalism. It would be useful for politics, geography and tourism researchers while also being a potential pertinent resource for practitioners pursuing greater understanding of the processes. It is good value for money for these individuals.

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