Cameroon Parks Research
Research in Northern Cameroon and beyond.
The Crumbling Fortress
Trained as a Political Ecologist, and having witnessed the negative consequences of protected area displacement from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Northern Cameroon, I planned to record a similar story in Waza National Park. When I arrived in 2010, however, my expectations were turned on their heads as local residents (many of whose families and villages had been historically removed from the park) called for more park guards, and even the return of one of the park's most brutal managers. After 12 months of feild research and over 300 interviews with villagers, pastoralists, local and regional law enforcement, and local, regional, and national conservation officials I began to understand this paradoxical situation. After over seventy years of violent and sustained park management, the park was abandoned by the government, and later NGOs for political and economic reasons. This left Waza as a 1700 square km open access space which was being used by kidnappers to hold hostages, smugglers to move illicit goods and livestock, and thieves to hide out. At the same time, this park which had once represented a site of resources that could be accessed only via negotiation by people who lived nearby or habitually used it became fair game to fishermen, wood-gatherers, hunters, and others seeking natural resources from further afield. Not only were residents close to the park facing physical insecurity at the hands of kidnappers and thieves, but also food insecurity as resources only they had access to were being stripped away at a rapid rate. I believe that understanding what happens to parks as they fall out of favor, lose funding, or are chronically underfunded is critical to both the sustainability of the biodiversity harbored by these protected areas, but also the security of the human populations surrounding them. For more on this work see my Antipode article: The Crumbling Fortress: Territory, Access, and Subjectivity Production in Waza National Park, Northern Cameroon.
Enclosing & Formalizing Nature
After living and working alongside people whose families and villages had been displaced from Mozogo-Gokoro National Park in Northern Cameroon from 2004-2006, I came to understand first-hand how National Parks criminalized livelihoods and inhabitants through the enclosure of land and resources with dismaying consequences. I continue to be fascinated with the relationship between protected areas, enclosure, and accumulation of capital. Exploring this relationship, I consider how in theory protected areas are meant to reserve land and natural resources from the effects of capitalism, in practice the protection of land for conservation delves these places deep into capitalist economic processes. Using this theorization I link Marx's Primitive Accumulation with conservation practices. For more on this work, see my Journal of Peasant Studies Paper: Conservation Practice as Primitive Accumulation.
In a broader context, I am interested in how land formalization and codification both play into processes of capital accumulation and the production and maintenance of state power. As Nancy Lee Peluso and I argue, today's frontiers of capitalism are not "newly discovered spaces," but are often carved out of lands once reserved from capital, or lands historically cleared as a result of capital's working through the state to dispossess competing land claimants. Here, we follow in the footsteps of Liz Alden-Wily who examines similar processes in Britain and British colonies. For more on this work, see my Society and Natural Resources Papers: Frontiers of Commodification: State lands and their formalization (Nancy Lee Peluso, co-author); and Formalization as development in land and natural resource policy (co-authors: Louis Putzel; Paolo O. Cerutti; Yustina Artati)
Security, Well-Being, & Protected Areas
I believe that documenting the effects of protected areas on human security and well-being is critical first in the larger project of raising awareness that "pristine nature" is rarely (if ever) what is being enclosed for the sake of conservation, but rather inhabited, cultivated, and managed spaces. Along these lines, Megan Ybarra and I challenge conservationists, planners, managers, politicians and critical conservation scholars to ask: for whom does conservation provide security, under what circumstances, and at what cost? For more on this subject, please see our forthcoming Geoforum article: Green Security in Protected Areas. Second, I believe that understanding how protected areas impact people's security in tangible and intangible ways can help us as a community of people who care about nature and people find sustainable means of protecting and encouraging both to flourish. For more on this work, see my co-authored paper in review at Environmental Conservation with Clare Gupta: Protected Areas: Offering Security to Whom, When and Where?
Research Methods: Giving Back
After speaking with many colleagues about field-work, and challenges faced while in the field a similar concern kept popping up--how to give back to the people and communities that helped us achieve our research goals, gather data, and kept us alive in so many different ways. Clare Gupta and I set about collecting stories of how researchers of all kinds tried to give back to the communities they interacted with during their research. This collection is one that is very close to my heart, it is still a topic that nags me everyday. I also believe that this is a topic that needs far more recognition and discussion in the academic sphere. None of us stand alone in our field research. How to give back fairly, enough, or at all are questions that should be considered before any field researcher steps into his/her study site. The complete collection of Giving Back articles can be found in the Journal of Research Practice with an introduction I co-authored with Clare Gupta "The Social Relations of Fieldwork: Giving Back in a Research Setting." My individual article is entitled "Drawing Lines in the Mud: Giving Back (or trying to) in Northern Cameroon."
While trained as a Political Ecologist, I am also trained as an Ecologist. I studied the effects of burn frequency on the browse species of Black Rhinocerious populations in Nairobi National Park. I also conducted feild research in the Eastern United States to understand what vegetation types were most likely to be invaded by exotic plant species. This study involved surveying 139 plots, identifying the 209 plant species occurring in this region within the plots, as well as DBH for woody species, topography, soil moisture and fertility, and current/historical disturbance. I found that moist sites were invaded most frequently, especially those with high species richness, lower canopy cover, and those dominated by Red Maple (Acer rubrum) or White Pine (Pinus strobus). Site disturbance, particularly roads, trails, and former land use, also was correlated with invasive abundance. For more on this work, co-authored with Christine J. Small and Glenn D. Dreyer, please see our paper in the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society: Vegetation classification and invasive species distribution in natural areas of southern New England.