Western Conservation as an Accidental Vector for Capitalism: A Socioeconomic Cross-National Comparison of Irrawaddy Dolphin Conservation Projects
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As sites of global environmental degradation continue to emerge and pose significant threats to life on the planet, the world's natural resource managers persist in attempts to mitigate and reverse this degradation. While approaches to conservation have evolved over the years to include locals in the policy-making process, the experiences of those policies by locals - once in place - are often overlooked. This dissertation examines the socioeconomic and political changes associated with conservation projects from the perspectives and experiences of the people most affected by these projects. Through 128 individual interviews, 25 focus group discussions, and participant observation, I compare two approaches to Irrawaddy dolphin conservation: one in Myanmar that focuses on preservation of livelihoods and the other in Cambodia that focuses on economic development. I endeavor to bring local experiences and perceptions of these projects to the forefront to examine their impacts on livelihoods and to help identify potential gaps in policy intentions and effects. I also draw on political ecology theory to assess and critique the relationship of capitalism to international conservation. After explaining the unique issues and barriers associated with this project, I lay out the direct socioeconomic and ecological effects of each conservation project by comparing participant experiences and perceptions of the projects with those of conservation officials. I then compare conservation projects to examine the indirect effects of each approach. I trace the pathway of the capitalist conception of nature as commodities upward from 'developed' countries to its global institutionalization through the process of eco-governmentality and then downward to 'developing' countries through the delivery system of NGO governmentality. I explain how Myanmar blocked this delivery system while Cambodia embraced it and attribute the apparent shift from a 'communal ideology' to a 'consumerist ideology' in Cambodia, and lack of such a shift in Myanmar, to these opposing tactics. I then focus on the capitalist approach to conservation in Cambodia and show how this approach has led to the subsequent exacerbation of environmental and social problems it intended to fix. Lastly, I offer specific recommendations for each project, as well for international conservation in general, based on findings.