Book: Governing the Rainforest

Countless stories. Over a century of history recounted. A decade of research. Two years of field research, and three follow-up trips. One book.

My book manuscript is tentatively entitled Governing the Rainforest: Sustainable Development Politics in the Brazilian Amazon. It is based on primary field research in the Transamazon highway region of Pará state, where the Belo Monte dam is being built, where the Transamazon highway is being paved, and where some of the world’s largest conservation areas were recently created.  The book is based on my doctoral research, with considerable updates and revisions.

The book is about the politics of sustainable development, as plans for conservation and infrastructure become enacted in policies, lives, and on landscapes.  When planning is based on lofty ideals, what are the compromises that are made along the way? When plans for paving highways in the Amazon and building massive dams for energy are underway, in tandem with creating new conservation areas, how do people respond? How do social movement groups aim to shift those policies as they are being planned, and even, enacted?  While the Brazilian state aims to balance environmental protection along with goals of making Amazon lands economically productive, who wins, who loses, and why? I use ethnographic research and policy analysis as my main methodological tools. I use a theoretical lens concerning articulations of sustainable development as they relate to identity and policy, following from anthropologists like Paige West (2005), Tanya Murray Li (2007), and Arun Agrawal (2005).  The “anarchist squint”, to borrow James Scott’s language, is something I utilize in my own work, especially as my research conveys how people at local levels resist and respond to state plans, creating frictions (Tsing 2005) and also, at times, resistances to state power that are more aligned with Gramscian notions of resistance to hegemony.