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Engaging Conservation: Forest-Employed Villagers and Intervention Bureaucracies in Central India

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Social science studies of Indian conservation have done well to expose the myriad conflicts between local people and conservation authorities, highlighting the realities of crop and livestock depredation, village relocation or interference in local forest-dependent livelihoods. Panna Tiger Reserve is no exception, where a critical tiger habitat, rich in forest and mineral resources, was brought back from the local extinction of the tiger population; a tense context for both villagers living around the reserve and the officers and officials managing and protecting it. While often pitted against each other, my research has focused on the interrelationships between these groups. The village and the forest should not be seen as always already monolithic entities perpetually in conflict, but instead as multiple groups entangled in complicated relationships, situated in local socio-political contexts. In many ways, locally-employed forest workers and safari guides are at the heart of these relationships, embroiled in the simultaneous dramas of both village and conservation life. They provide an excellent case study of how village-forest relations unfold and are negotiated, what that reveals about the character of conservation authority and intervention in this particular landscape, its inconsistencies and ambiguities, and how competing vulnerabilities speak to broader issues concerning rural citizens and the Indian state.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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