Feeds:
Posts
Comments

If we want to start addressing climate change and other major (socio!) environmental problems seriously, we need to take the critical social sciences and humanities MUCH more seriously as well. This is the core message of a paper recently published in Nature Climate Change, authored by a great team of scholars led by Prof Noel Castree of which I was fortunate to be part.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Calls for more broad-based, integrated, useful knowledge now abound in the world of global environmental change science. They evidence many scientists’ desire to help humanity confront the momentous biophysical implications of its own actions. But they also reveal a limited conception of social science and virtually ignore the humanities. They thereby endorse a stunted conception of ‘human dimensions’ at a time when the challenges posed by global environmental change are increasing in magnitude, scale and scope. Here, we make the case for a richer conception predicated on broader intellectual engagement and identify some preconditions for its practical fulfilment. Interdisciplinary dialogue, we suggest, should engender plural representations of Earth’s present and future that are reflective of divergent human values and aspirations. In turn, this might insure publics and decision-makers against overly narrow conceptions of what is possible and desirable as they consider the profound questions raised by global environmental change.

To read the paper, please go to the journal’s webpage: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n9/full/nclimate2339.html

Kirsten Horne from Earth Touch TV made this great video documentary on the promise and peril of social media’s role in nature conservation. Kirsten interviewed me while I was doing my fieldwork in South Africa last April. I think the video is very powerful, but do let me know what you think by posting comments below or on Facebook!

Last Saturday, an article came out in the Dutch NRC newspaper critically looking at the Postcode Lottery 14,4 million Euro dreamfund project to ‘save the rhino’ by poisoning their horns to deter poachers (see this link). The article, in brief, shows that the dreamfund project is based on deceptive statements and an unproven method but that these concerns were not mentioned until after the money and associated celebratory media publicity were received. As this article was partly based on my research into the issue I was invited to debate the issue on Dutch national TV news-program ‘Nieuwsuur’ (newshour), see this link. In the program, I debated Mr. John Loudon, director of the Peace Parks Foundation in the Netherlands.

 

A key element of Mr. Loudon’s debating strategy was to insist that I had not done ‘my homework’ and to stress that everything with the project is just fine and ‘right on schedule’. While he did not ask me about the work that I did to come to my conclusions, I decided to write this blog in order to alleviate Mr. Loudon’s worries and to provide more information for everyone interested to weigh the evidence for themselves. I am completely confident, and hence want to reassure Mr. Loudon, that indeed I have done my homework properly and through this blog want to invite anyone who wants to see the 23-page research report that came out of my work to get in touch with me to – confidentially – receive a copy (buscher AT iss DOT nl). The reason I am not simply putting it online is because I would like to protect some of my informants and it has not been formally peer-reviewed, but I have no problem showing it to people if they promise to keep it confidential.

 

I also want to give some background to the document and the research that followed. I heard the news of the dreamfund grant while doing research in the Kruger Park in South Africa on the 5th of February, the same night of the big award spectacle in Theater Carré in Amsterdam. Upon studying the award ceremony and the various promises made there, on the postcode lottery website and the next day by Mr. Loudon in the TV program ‘Koffietijd’, I knew immediately from my ongoing field research that some of the stated claims and promises were highly tenuous. But I decided, as a good academic should do, to take my time to work out the issue in full, and hear as many different sides of the story as possible. I spent the next three months researching the issue, which turned out to be entirely compatible with my NWO-sponsored Veni research on ‘Nature 2.0’ through which I was already studying the rhino-poaching crisis. This is how I produced the above-mentioned document (in April 2014), amended only slightly (in June 2014) to include several key issues that transpired afterwards. After concluding drafts of the document in March and April, I sent it to 4 or 5 academic colleagues, several SANParks colleagues and 4 journalists for thorough checking. I told them to take nothing for granted and to weigh the evidence for themselves. They all confirmed that my findings and research were sound. Bram Vermeulen from NRC decided to write about the topic and did his own research, and that is how the NRC article came about, in which all of the statements are based on his own interviews and research.

 

What I did not include in the document is how the PPF and postcode lottery have now changed their tactics from exclusively talking about horn infusion – as they did around the dreamfund gala early February – to their current, more cautious strategy of ‘looking into’ different ‘devaluation options’, including chemicals, rendering horns ‘radioactive’ or putting GPS chips in horns. I invite interested readers to judge for themselves how the discourse changed radically from positing chemical horn infusion as the key solution to the rhino crisis, which they would use to treat ‘the great majority of rhinos in 9 African countries’, or even ‘the entire world’ (see postcode lottery website, and Mr. Loudon in the program ‘Koffietijd’) to the current discourse that emphasizes the need to do careful research on different devaluation methods and whereby only 2500 rhinos will be treated in one province in South Africa later this year (see Mr. Loudon in Nieuwsuur). 2500 rhinos are of course only a fraction of what they had promised (the great majority of all rhinos on the planet), so it will be interesting to see A) whether this succeeds in the first place and B) whether this is indeed only the beginning and they will treat at least another 10.000 more rhinos in the next year or two to achieve their earlier stated promise. And since rhino horns continue to grow throughout their lifespan, it will be interesting to see whether they will keep following up the issue, and start the whole procedure with every rhino all over again after every 3 years (a full growth cycle).

 

In any case, these new developments do not in the slightest invalidate my research or Bram Vermeulen’s article. I also do not believe that these new tactics (GPS tracking or radioactive horns) will work in practice, as poachers have become highly inventive to circumvent or deal with obstacles, while I wonder whether rendering horns radioactive can be good for the animals or the environment. But be that as it may, the fact that the PPF and postcode lottery drastically changed their tactics and discourse only strengthens the central conclusion that the postcode lottery money was awarded based on dubious and deceptive promises and can be spent much better. Below, I have copied the last pages of my research report where I outline a different use of the money. But I would like to end the blog by inviting readers to judge for themselves and critically look at the evidence and come to their own conclusions. If indeed, as Mr. Loudon and the postcode lottery maintain, everything is completely on track and the project will be ‘extraordinarily successful’, then they should welcome critical research with open arms, as they would have nothing to fear or hide. But something tells me that – if they immediately start attacking opponents for not doing their ‘homework’ rather than asking them about what they have done to come to this conclusion – this might not be the case…

 

—————————————————

Final paragraphs from my report about what else could be done with the money:

 

“So what then about the rhinos and the poaching crisis? Clearly the money from the postcode lottery could be used in better ways than to have the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) try to push a contested, impractical and in any case temporary ‘solution’. The very first thing to acknowledge and emphasize is that magic bullets for a complex issue such as the rhino-poaching crisis do not exist. The way in which the PPF posits rhino horn infusion as the solution to the crisis reminds one of the saying that ‘if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is’, which in fact goes for most of PPFs activities and promises.[1] The rhino-poaching crisis should be recognized as an extremely complex political-economic, social, cultural and ecological issue, with many dimensions and embedded contradictions. In fact, it could be argued that the poaching crisis resembles a ‘perfect storm’ whereby different elements, in particular the changing dynamics of wealth and poverty across the globe and the interactions between them, come together to make this a truly complex and contracted problem (Duffy et al, in preparation).

 

If the rhino-poaching crisis is a complex political-economic, social, cultural and ecological problem that resembles a ‘perfect storm’, then this should be the basis of potential ways of dealing with it. This is the opposite of the current militarized and violent approach to tackling the crisis, which arguably will only worsen the situation (Lunstrum, 2014). As one informant, the director and founder of a private anti-poaching company – who, tellingly, makes his money with militarized approaches to combatting wildlife crime – argues: “Unfortunately everyone wants to thrown guns and killing against this issue, but every time we kill someone we turn a whole community against conservation, so we dig an ever bigger hole! Poachers are seen as robin hoods: stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, so they hate SANParks, etc”.[2]

 

Hence, the ultimate solution to the crisis lies in creating a social and political-economic situation in which poaching becomes something that is not beneficial, attractive or interesting but extreme, unattractive and undesirable. It means seriously dealing with the historical legacies of parks and protected areas (see Brockington et al, 2008), redressing historical and contemporary inequalities and seriously looking at bilateral and multilateral relations based on cooperation rather than cut-throat capitalist competition. These obviously, are no easy things to accomplish, but unlike the supposed magic bullet solution of the PPF they at least truthfully respond to and deal with the complex, integrated and contradictory problems of our times, one manifestation of which is the rhino-poaching crisis.

 

A far better use of the postcode lottery money could then, for example, be used to do research on the enabling conditions to allow these objectives to come about, while stimulating those grassroots initiatives that tackle inequality, redress historical injustice and support local and regional environmental justice initiatives. These – to be sure – will never be perfect, and whenever money from outside is thrown at a problem, it is likely to create as many problems as it aims to solve. The major advantage vis-à-vis the PPF approach, however, is that the money would bypass the wealthy elites that the PPF consists of and that support the organisation – many of whom are deeply implicated in and have hugely benefitted from creating the social and environmental problems they say they aim to address through the PPF[3] – and instead goes directly to those actors that could benefit from external support. That would, in line with the mission of the Dutch postcode lottery’s dreamfund, truly be ‘new, courageous and path-breaking’.”

 

 

[1] See the earlier quoted literature on this.

[2] Interview, 11 February 2014, Hoedspruit, South Africa.

[3] I refer to the Rupert family who founded the PPF, as well as PPFs ‘club 21’, consisting of wealthy elites and corporations that combined have a rather poor track record when it comes to their environmental and social impacts. See, again, the quoted literature on peace parks in Southern Africa.

… for Rhinos

I have been in South Africa since December and should have posted something long ago already. I guess I have been enjoying fieldwork too much to post anything online – which is weird considering that my fieldwork is a combination of studying online and offline conservation dynamics. Perhaps it is because when you are in ‘fieldwork mode’ it is simply more interesting to listen to and learn from others than to broadcast your own thoughts. Be that as it may, I have been listening to a lot of people, online and offline, over the last months, in particular in relation to THE biggest conservation issue in South Africa today: the rhino-poaching crisis. I guess we all know about it: rhinos are being poached in increasing numbers in South Africa and last year the teller only stopped at 1004. The first months of this year do not show a reversal of this trend. In response, a massive mobilization has taken place and the diversity of this mobilization is truly amazing. Everything in South Africa these days is ‘for rhinos’. Here are some of the more interesting ‘… for rhinos’ that I have found (not limited to South Africa…):

Image

Image

Image

Image

And related: naked skydive for rhinos

Image

Image

Image

 

Image

- running for rhinos

- and if running is too exhausting, you can join the groupwalk for rhinos

- Acting for rhinos

- Recipes for rhinos

- Mountainbiking for rhinos

- Horse racing for rhinos

- Drumming for rhinos

- and of course, at Woolies you can always shop for rhinos

Image

 

Call for Papers for fully funded work/writeshop – May 2015, Aosta Valley, Italy

on

Nature 2.0: Social Media, Online Activism and the politics of Environmental Conservation

Organized by: Bram Büscher (ISS, Erasmus University, the Netherlands).

Date: 24-30 May 2015.

Place: Plan del la Tour, Aosta Valley, Italy (2 hours from Milan) – see http://www.plandelatour.it/index.html.

The idea: through this CfP, I would like to invite scholars working on the links between new media (web 2.0 and social media) and environmentalism or conservation to submit an abstract for a dedicated work/writeshop in (late) May 2015 in the Aosta Valley in Italy. The idea is to come together with a small group of scholars (max. 10-12) to present and discuss draft papers on this topic and have them ready for submission to a journal by the end of the week. The workshop will be held in a beautiful agriturismo (plan del la tour), with plenty of time and space for hikes, discussions, good dinners and creative leisure time.

Below you can find some more information on the topic and the broad array of potential contributions we are interested in. If you feel that your research fits this description, or that you can quite easily extend your current research to fit the topic, do consider submitting an abstract. From the abstracts, we will chose 4-6 participants to join 6 others already involved in the project in this exciting workshop. If your abstract is selected, your participation will be fully funded. Scholars from the global south are especially encouraged to submit abstracts.

Deadline for abstracts: We request paper abstracts by 1 February 2014. Please send a 250 word abstract, with title, contact information, and three keywords as an attachment to buscher AT iss DOT nl. If approved, full papers are due 1 May 2015.

More information: if you want more information, please do not hesitate to get in touch: buscher AT iss DOT nl.

The topic:
With much global biodiversity, ecosystems and natural landscapes in persistent rapid decline, conservation actors and concerned individuals and organisations are looking for novel ways to pursue conservation objectives. A major new frontier is the so-called ‘web 2.0’ and related social media. Web 2.0 applications like Wikipedia and YouTube and social media such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to create, rate and change online content and share these within cyberspace. These developments enable internet-users to now ‘co-create’ and co-produce the online activities, services, spaces and information they produce or consume, at least within the limits of possible action. Conservation actors are rapidly deploying new web 2.0 and social media techniques and facilities, allowing those who are concerned about global biodiversity and ecosystem decline to (seemingly) more directly engage with conservation activities in other parts of the world. The term ‘Nature 2.0’ aims to capture these dynamics and the natures to which they lead.

The workshop and the special issue that it wants to produce aim to produce a set of papers on the concept (and practices) of Nature 2.0 and the way it changes the global political economy of conservation in our neoliberal times. We invite papers that critically interrogate how social media, web 2.0 applications and new forms of online activism change the politics and material/cultural forms and practices of global conservation and how they affect people and biodiversity in different spatial and temporal contexts. Of special interest are papers that connect spaces of online conservation consumption (through activism, images, videos, fundraising, etc) with offline spaces of conservation production (protected areas, biodiversity hotspots, wildlife corridors, etc) in/from different parts of the globe.

In sum, the workshop and related special issue aim to address the following core questions:

-       How can we conceptualize Nature 2.0 as a new space of enacting/practicing/experiencing global conservation and what new (or familiar) political conservation geographies follow from this?
–       Does the concept of Nature 2.0 reflect an emerging political economy of global conservation and what roles do variously positioned conservation ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’ play in this?
–       In what ways do web 2.0 technologies constrain and/or broaden the field of possible practices and discourses of environmental conservation?
–       What are the epistemological and methodological challenges of conducting Nature 2.0 research?
–       How can we identify the relevant negative and productive aspects of power at work in the spaces/bodies/publics of and in relation to Nature 2.0?
–       How have social media and web 2.0 changed online conservation activism and the cyberpolitics of global biodiversity conservation?
–       What are some of the dominant Nature 2.0 on-line practices and how do they influence the work and activities of conservation producers and consumers?
–       How do online and offline conservation spaces affect and involve each other, and how does that influence global, national and local politics of conservation?
–       In which ways is Nature 2.0 characterized and influenced by broader changes in neoliberal capitalism, and which aspects of nature 2.0 are not sufficiently explained by these dynamics?
–       How can race, gender, sexuality, class, emotion, and other concepts inform our understanding of Nature 2.0?

For more content info, see also the following two papers, both of which can be downloaded from the publications page on this website:

Büscher, Bram and Jim Igoe (2013). ‘Prosuming’ Conservation? Web 2.0, Nature and the Intensification of Value-Producing Labour in Late Capitalism. Journal of Consumer Culture 13, 3: 283-305.

Büscher, Bram (2013). Nature 2.0. Geoforum 44, 1: 1-3.

My book, ‘Transforming the Frontier. Peace Parks and the Politics of Neoliberal Conservation in Southern Africa’ is out now with Duke University Press. Go to the book page or click on the below picture to find out how to get your hands on a copy!

Beside the postdoc position, we also have an exciting vacancy for a lecturer / assistant professor position at the ISS!

International Institute of Social Studies (The Hague) of Erasmus University Rotterdam

 

The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) is a leading academic centre for international development studies, and a University Institute of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). It is one of the oldest institutes in this field, having been established in 1952 by Dutch universities and the Netherlands Ministry of Education as a postgraduate institute for research, education and capacity building. The institute offers a PhD in Development Studies, a 15.5-month MA in Development studies with five Majors, and several post-graduate Diploma courses. Students come from over 50-60 countries.

 

The Staff Group Rural Development, Environment and Population Studies has a position (1.0 FTE) for an Assistant Professor level in the field of:

 

Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies

 

The Staff Group is engaged in research, teaching, advisory work and capacity building in international development studies. It has recently formed a research program (RP), “Political Economy of Resources, Environment and Population”. This research program includes two main inter-related research areas, namely Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies (AFES) and Population Dynamics and Social Policy (PSSP). This RP focuses on agrarian and rural development, environment and conservation, poverty, socio-economic security, population studies, and child and youth studies, and shares an explicit engagement with a political economy framework of analysis of power relations and processes of global change that reinforce rather than reduce poverty and socio-economic insecurity.

 

Profile

 

We are looking for top-talent which will contribute innovative high quality research and teaching capacity to a number of crucial issues relating to Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies in developing and/or transition countries, in a rapidly changing global context. AFES is focused on the interface between agricultural and environmental change within the context of global, political-economic transformations. It addresses challenges associated with the ownership, control, use, management and distribution of natural resources and the dynamic relationships between nature, agriculture and socioeconomic development. It pays particular attention to contemporary environmental and resource-related conflicts and how these can be understood and mediated with an eye at bringing about just, equitable and sustainable development in developing nations and beyond.

 

The approach of the AFES research and teaching is built on its innovative interpretation of conflicts and governance related to contestations over wealth and power based on and around the interconnected agrarian and environmental political economies. Building on this integrated vision, the group members analyze conflicts over nature, environment and resources as well as critically investigating governance structures that aim to respond to them. This shapes the group’s ongoing interest in a variety of issues that are among the most pressing social issues of the day, globally, including food and energy crises, land grabs, natural resource conflicts, biodiversity conservation, environmental degradation and climate change. The AFES group works on these themes not only aims at producing cutting edge scientific knowledge, but also to help bridge the academic world, development policy community, and civil society. The group’s current work currently informs political and policy-making processes both in developed and in the developing world, and actively engages with emerging popular alternatives such as ‘food sovereignty’, agro-ecology, and the (trans) national social movements and civil society that spearhead these.

 

Tasks and responsibilities:

 

  • Production and publication of high quality research output at international standards
  • • Preparation (individually or jointly with other staff) of externally funded research grant proposals
  • • Contribution to teaching in the AFES Major; Supervision of MA and PhD students in the AFES field

 

Requirements:

  • • A completed PhD in one of the social sciences
  • • Evidence of publication capacity, including both a strong publication track record and clear research and publication plans
  • • Teaching experience, preferably at post-graduate level
  • • Proven evidence of the ability to attract external finance for research and other projects
  • • Ability to work in an inter-disciplinary team
  • • Experience with gender-based analysis is welcomed
  • • While open to all regional specializations, we hope that the successful candidate will have at least one area specialization in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, East Asia or Indonesia.

 

Appointment:

This position is offered under the EUR tenure track policy which aims to select people with high potential and prepare these people for an academic career.

 

As part of this policy, ISS/EUR will offer an initial three year appointment with possibility to extend for a further three years with a view to promotion to Associate Professor and a tenure appointment at the end of the second contract. A decision to extend for a second period will require a positive assessment that criteria have been met, which includes outstanding research output and superior teaching capabilities.

 

Employment conditions:

In accordance with those applied at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and indicated in the Collective Labor Agreement (CAO NU) of the Dutch universities. Salary being dependent on the candidate’s experience ranges from € 3.237,- to € 4.418,- gross per month (CAO NU scale 11) under full-time contract. In addition, ISS pays an 8% holiday allowance and an end-of-year payment which is for 2013: 8,3%.

 

Applications:

Applications, accompanied by a detailed Curriculum Vitae and the names of three Referees, should reach ISS before the 20th of May, 2013 addressed to the Personnel Office (Ms. Sabine Zebel), International Institute of Social Studies, P.O. Box 29776, 2502LT, The Hague, The Netherlands, preferably send in electronic form directed to vacancy AT iss.nl. With equal qualifications preference will be given to a woman. Short-listed candidates will be requested to supply samples of published output and at that stage their referees will be contacted. Interviews with shortlisted candidates will take place from 3-5 June 2013 in The Hague, The Netherlands. Additional information concerning this vacancy may be obtained from Professor Max Spoor, Chair of the Staff Group and Research Programme (spoor AT iss.nl, tel.: +31704260559). General information on the ISS may be found on our website: http://www.iss.nl.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 76 other followers