Day 1, Stream 2

Conservation Politics

A Provocation on Living Together: Unmaking, Excluding, Setting Limits, and Not Burning Out

Keynote Address by Bram Büscher

Dewilding ‘Wolf-land’: Understanding historical drivers of human-wildlife conflict in Ireland
Dara Sands
Norwegian University of Life Sciences

Conviviality and the Bay of Bengal Littoral
Debojyoti Das
University of Sussex

(Click here to view the video with an integrated transcript)

Becoming-with pewen: Understanding human-tree entanglements and its challenges to conservation
Robert Petitpas
University College London

Paludiculture as conviviality on peatland: A farming system that supports ecosystem restoration
Ibnu Budiman
Wageningen University and Research

Thanks to Anselmo Matusse for acting as the Discussant for this panel.

To respond to the Presentations, leave a reply in the comments section below.

If you would like to include an audio or visual reply, email this to before October 9.

 Serena Stein is the Chair for this panel.

Comments 33

  1. Thanks very much for your thoughtful response and reflections, Anselmo. Your emphasis on the importance of a radical refusal is very relevant and I would like to follow up on that. I did not get the name of the author you referred to, can you perhaps share this again in the comments? Thanks so much!

    1. Thank you very much Bram for your excellent and thought provoking key note – would you be able to share a link to your recent article you referred to?

        1. Hello Bram, I see that Sita has sent the link.

          Here is another text by Jessica Whyte on Giorgio Agamben’s interpretation of Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener which also offers insights on how one could choose to not be part of an hegemonic power, in this case, state sovereignty and its unjust laws.

          That conversation also ties to the idea of refusal by Carole McGranahan and I think could offer insights into the kinds of politics that could help materialize a convivial conservation.

          1. Great suggestions, Anselmo, and thank you, again, for your thoughtful commentary to the presenters! To all presenters: I’m curious – perhaps in your own work or even in a more personal sense specific to experiences during the pandemic – how useful (or not) you find the concept of “conviviality” in these discussions of connections and limits, given the rich vocabulary we see blooming around multispecies entanglements toward emphasizing the limits and dangers of connections, the necessary exclusions, as Bram highlights, that comprise connections, and alienation.

            It strikes me that a correction is taking place, to the recent literatures on relations beyond the human showing a bias toward identifying “good” relations, relations we can emulate, even relations we can salvage especially from indigenous peoples whose webs of relations we hope can be fiercely defended, or that we mourn in elegy from their loss or corruption. Such idealized relations can flatten diverse ontologies and epistemologies of living with other species across different times and places. It also asks whether humans, especially those practicing agriculture, have ever at any time lived — not at the expense of others?

            The purpose of the conference is not to promote “conviviality” as a neologism in multispecies ethics for its own sake, but to test whether it helps us see anew the broader politics, possibilities and tensions across scales of post-capitalism and post-imperialism, environmental advocacy, and changing eco-values and practices on the ground. A challenge for me in my work, for example, since I use conviviality centrally to evoke these tangled issues, is that it carries a persistent connotation of positivity (convivial merry-making) that may give the first impression that I am viewing my field in rose-colored glasses, when, in fact, “conviviality” and its intellectual and political genealogy helps me draw out important tensions and hold many kinds of “living with” together, dynamically, as my research follows people navigating many kinds at once.

            I’d love to hear more on this, given that the conference is an experimental space for considering the term in political ecology, and we are working toward a writing project together.

          2. Hi Anselmo and Serena,
            thanks for the great comments and thoughts Anselmo. I have read the McGranahan piece with much interest and look forward to reading Whyte’s paper.
            Thanks, Serena, for your spot-on observations: I also feel a correction is taking place, and have tried to contribute to this in recent publications precisely because of your point that a fixation on (certain ideas of) relationality can do more harm than good in the contemporary political economic context. Still, I find the concept of conviviality critical, because the point is not to move away from relationality, but to critically interrogate and think about relationalities (multiple) and then to think through which ones we want and which we need to set limits to (though, clearly, the ‘we’ here deserves another big discussion!). So relationality in and of itself is critical to continue to engage with and the more-than-human literature has helped to highlight this (though in the process swinging the pendulum too far, perhaps). conviviality has a rich history, as you say, that tries to help think through this, hence why I thikn the concept is generative, but I’ve also felt it has political potentialities, precisely because it invites rather than merely resists.. curious what you thikn of all this!

      1. Thank you very much Sita ! Do you happen to also have a link to Bram’s own recent article he referred to – I think it was in the context of human geography/ontological/epistemological considerations? I can’t seem to find anything along those lines. I do have a copy of his ‘Conservation Revolution’ book he co-authored with Robert Fletcher.
        Thanks so much for organising this very cool and timely conference. I am a first year PhD student at Centre for Science in Society at Vic and looking at science and community in the context of Marlborough’s podocarp forests and this event is very inspiring and helping to contextualise some of my thinking. I hope our paths may cross one day.
        Kind greetings to you,

        1. Nice to meet you virtually Andreja, I think we might know lots of people in common! It’s lovely to watch these discussions grow :)!

  2. Hi Bram – thank you for your direction through your presentation. I found this a useful extension of my thinking about conviviality – to focus on the exclusion, unmaking and limits that may be required to make space for conviviality. The ‘ethics of exclusion’ is an interesting notion. In my recent reading I came across the notion of ‘both-and’ practices rather than ‘either-or’ alternatives to capitalist marketplaces, (Veen and Dagevos, 2019) and I wondered where you might see this sit in relation to a ‘radical refusal’.

    1. Hi Heidi, thanks so much for your great comment and question. Ether Veen is actually a former colleague at Wageningen and her work is a good way to think through actual situated practices along the capitalism/non-capitalism divide, while steering clear of dichotimising the two. I think the article does that well, and believe this is also the value of the broader diverse economies approach. However, I do feel that in the process, as I explain in a recent piece in Dialogues in Human Geography, the political importance of limits and exclusions is thereby downplayed. It foregrounds (forms of) relationality at the expense of a broader historical awareness of how certain relations came into being and why or why not these might need to be challenged (or refused). I believe the Veen and Dagevos paper falls into the same trap by concluding:

      “Nevertheless, alternative economic spaces remain precarious; the pressure of capitalist arrangements does not disappear. Hence, rather than assessing diverse economic practices on their effects of breaking down the dominance and norms of mainstream capitalist economies, we suggest evaluating them on the basis of the ways in (and the degree to) which they enable practitioners to expand their repertoires of economic action and become more empowered in coping with that dominance”

      That is highly unsatisfactory to me: it states, first, that the problem does not disappear, and then, second, making a plea for basically accepting this problematic situation (‘that dominance’) and evaluating repertoires on how well they cope with it. This ultimately sounds like a defeatist politics to me, and I wonder why we cannot do both? I.e.: look at repertoires coping with or subverting broader capitalist dominance, while trying to build or contribute to broader platforms that envision something truly different. In doing so, one inevitably needs to reassess certain relations made by historical capitalism whereby some will need to be unmade (and certain actors excluded, etc). This fits with forms of radical refusal that – through their refusal or disconnecting – allow for new and other relations to emerge.

      How do you view these issues/challenges?

      1. Thank you, Bram and Heidi, for your exchanges taking place here. I struggle similarly with the question of “empowerment” and ways of envisioning the “otherwise” in my work on transnational peasant advocacy and environmentalism in relation to agricultural development in Mozambique. This includes close analysis of the role of foreign scholars in the past decade of civil society mobilizing and resistance politics. In short, I want there to be greater transparency, recognition, and clarity on the wide range of relations made by historical capitalism in southern Africa and Mozambique, specifically, whereby – as Bram says – some practices will need to be unmade and certain actors excluded from shaping convivial landscapes. In my reading of the scholarly writing and advocacy discourse, bias toward the environmental relations we as critics of capital want to see and disgust for those that undermine this vision leads, in my view, to very convenient narrations of who smallholder farmers are, how they do (or do not do) commodity agriculture or small-scale extractivism, diminishing their numbers in agrarian communities, and so on. At the same time, while for me, an ethnographer, the grounded complexity is everything, others might say that this is precisely the rub of scholarship and advocacy: embedded in these narrations is the normative refusal of these farmers’ histories, practices, and eco-relations under capitalism, that allow them to push for new and other relations to emerge. I’d like to see more of us comment on the tensions of scholarship and advocacy through the notion of refusal and disconnecting, and the necessary disconnecting of fostering multispecies convivial politics and ethics. However, I also urge us, as I made the call in my welcome comments for this conference, to understand the utility of this empirical and historical work, on the specificity of relations, that are worth knowing if not vital to the success of transnational advocacy and political mobilization. In short, we can’t ever simply “empower” farmers; moreover, scholars have an ongoing tall order of work ahead figuring out who these subjects are, what they do, the historical shaping of why and how, and the many ways this factors into making and unmaking, coping and transformation.

      2. Yes, that’s a good critique Bram. I’ve moved away from my more idealistic musings the further I’ve got into my research on the ground (incidentally, this is the Massey University PIVOT project that started out as a joint venture with WUR via Dirk and some students. My crop swapping presentation on day 2 was an output of this project).
        There is most definitely a political and economic project that needs to occur, and which does people more service in terms of social and environmental justice. What I feel is required is top down and bottom up action. I would also like to see the lower levels of legislation, bylaws and regulatory frameworks adapted to better facilitate the needs of regenerative food system producers, for example. Perhaps when these limitations are removed, the bottom up initiatives can flourish and serve as a rationale for larger scale changes.

        1. Hi Heidi,
          yes, I agree! It is, always, both: bottom-up and top-down, just like the concrete and the abstract or the short and long term always need to be dialectically connected for actual, meaningful change. Thanks for the great comment!

  3. Hello Robert – I really valued your presentation. It demonstrated to me the convivial nature between Pewenche and Pewen, and your explanations exemplified the diverse intersections of conviviality. The discussion of pest control vs control of humans was an interesting tension to explore. I don’t really have any questions, just admiration for how you showcased conviviality :)!

  4. Hi Anselmo,
    thanks for the great discussion and the challenging questions. Here are my answers:

    Q: What means for Pewenche to safe keep their relation to the trees and forests, in the context of the growing presence of what Pablo Mariman et al, and colleagues called winka, meaning the ones that are not Pewenche, or being pewenche, but do not behave like one.

    First, the relation with the pewen is vital, as they are the people of pewen; according to them, there is no people without pewen, losing the connection they have with pewen could lead to embracing winka way of life even more. Also, the interactions with pewen are important instances of cultural transmission, Pewenche people identified the loss of knowledge and traditions as a threat to pewen forests; they relate this to harmful practices, such as overharvesting for profit or removing green cones for tourist buyers. In turn, they include in their conservation proposals education based on traditional knowledge. There is a reciprocal effect; becoming more winka like threaten pewen, and threatening pewen facilitate the conversion toward winka ways.

    Q: What kind of property regimes could enable the Pewenche to maintain their relationship with nature, beyond that been render at best touristic commodities, rentillas, foot soldiers, surveillance apparatus to help control the area, and at worse, dangerous to nature, hence they need to be controlled or even separated from nature, as your study presented.

    First, I think that the concept of property is in itself part of the problem. Pewenche people, part of Mapuche people, see themselves as belonging to the land, not the other way around (Mapu = land, che = people). But in the current context, the primary demand of Mapuche people is their self-determination and autonomy on their territory; thus, I think that these rights, including what will be considered as property rights to the land, should be restored. Then, it is up to them which management regime to establish. Traditionally, and still, in some communities, they use the land as a common, with traditional rules to manage the activities in the territory.

    Q: What kinds of economies are found on the ground that offers hinds of conviviality, even in the context of prevailing awinkamiento and extractivism in Chile?

    In general, their land-based economies, such as small agriculture, livestock herding, pewen seed collection, still keep a convivial spirit with the land in terms that they depend on it, and this is similar to other rural communities, indigenous or not. However, the balance of caring for and be cared by the land is weaker since the reduction of their lands and other issues. Quinquén community, which recovered some of their lands in the 90s, has some communal projects of local managed tourism and pewen seed products, and it is convivial, I think, in terms that are based on a relationship of respect with the land, according to Pewenche kimüm (wisdom or knowledge).

    1. Thank you, Petiptas for you answers.

      The challenges that the Pewenche face are similar to ones that I found during fieldwork in Lugela district, in northern Mozambique. Residents wanted to have the self-determination to live with their significant mountain, however, to achieve that the language through which they have to resort to was the property and legal one, since land and all natural resources are state property in Mozambique, and the state was increasingly privileging extraction. Those aspects further alienated residents from their ways of living.

      One of the consequences was that residents started modelling their way of speaking of nature around the NGOs’, conservationists’, and state’s ontologies, as that was framed as the only way for them to get hat self-determination to related with the landscape their, including generating income. When my fieldwork ended in 2018, they were still struggling to get the land use rights certificates that only then could enable them to start their activities of creating a community conservation area and other small economic activities. They are still waiting. I still wonder in the context where

      Hence, the questions I made were more in line with the challenges of materializing a convivial conservation in contexts where the legal language, state policies, and extractivism most often enable alternatives relations to nature to occur when that nature is not of economic interest. Once the economic interest is established, then residents and their ways of living become a threat to be controlled or cheap labor power to be exploited by the development or conservation agents, much like you explained in your presentation.

      Thank you for your responses.

  5. DARA, your presentation “Dewilding ‘Wolf-land’: Understanding historical drivers of human-wildlife conflict in Ireland” was a pleasure to watch. The regional-historical approach to current human-wolf relations really offers a different context than current policy research could. It also offers avenues for moving forward, ameliorating our relationship with other animals. Thank you very much for sharing!

    ROBERT, your work “Becoming-with pewen: Understanding human-tree entanglements and its challenges to conservation” was very informative, thank you. I really enjoyed how you contrasted the two conservation approaches. It was very useful how you contrasted them as being either sensitive to past multi-species relations or not. It really raised the question: how can there be pewen conservation without the preservation of existing social-ecological systems of the Pewenche ? Is it even possible? Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Ursula, thanks for the comments and the questions. What I am researching right now is that conservation depends on how we understand what is nature. I think it is not possible to conserve pewen without considering the social-ecological system of Pewenche, at least not as Pewenche understand pewen. For the geneticists of the case study, if you safeguard the genetic material, you are conserving pewen, even if you lost the current habitat. This does not amount to conservation for traditional ecologists, neither for Pewenche people. For ecologists, in order to conserve, you need to remove humans. I think in both cases, you will be conserving something, but the same thing, thus the focus on ontology; what is pewen? In this case, we have 3 ontologically different pewen. The problem is that some of these do allow the existence of others, and some are based on a practical and historical interaction (Pewenche) and the others on dominant western ideas about nature.
      And the political ecology question is, who bears the costs and who the benefits of the choose conservation model.

  6. Thank you Anselmo for your highlight and the question, please find below my responses
    1. Tropical peat-land in Indonesia have long faced competition between industrial demand for timber and palm oil, the subsistence requirements of local communities/farmers and, more recently, global concern about the need to conserve tropical peat carbon stores, ecosystem services and biodiversity. There have been tensions between conservation and livelihood goals have played out on the ground and so far the industries have gained and local farmers often lost out from recent peat-land exploitation, conservation and restoration initiatives. Many peat-based communities have started to adapt their livelihoods to changing peatland conditions and management policies with particular emphasis on the livelihood impacts of conservation-with-development initiatives in the area. Despite recent emphasis on ‘win-win’ initiatives, the costs of environmental conservation/restoration are rarely distributed in proportion to their benefit.

    2. Implementation of restoration needs to be more participatory by increasing level of participation by local agents in planning, implementing and monitoring impact of restoration. Currently, the governance of restoration is quite centralised with dominant role of national government, with lack of consideration to various local contexts >

    3. Restoration can be achieved with win-win impact to the poor and to environment by using paludiculture approach, there have been some studies identified commercial paludiculture food crops (quickly harvested) that bring economic impact to farmers’ income. >

    4. Peatland restoration is important to restore degraded peatlands and conserve it. The current drainage-based peatland management systems (due to massive large scale plantations) in Indonesia result in high fire risks, soil subsidence and very high CO2 emissions from peatland. In 2015, in South Sumatra, the fires created a haze that contributed to lung and respiratory disorders affecting more than 30,000 people. The World Bank estimates that the 2015 fires cost South Sumatra at least US$2.57 billion. This number is much higher in Indonesia level.

    Persistent and intensive drainage for logging, plantations, and community agriculture has caused extensive peatland drying and degradation (Cattau et al. 2016; Page and Hooijer 2016). These conditions, and the absence of consistent policy measures for sustainable peatland management, contributed to the fires that burned 1.4 million hectares (ha) of peatland in 1997 and 0.4 million ha during the 2015 El Niño in Indonesia. This number still increased in 2019, despite national peatland restoration was started.

    1. Thank you for your responses Ibnu.

      When I listened to your presentation, the work by Tania Li on plantations in Indonesia came to my mind namely The will to improve: governmentality, development, and the practice of politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press and The price of un/freedom: Indonesia’s colonial and contemporary plantation labor regimes, where she tackles issues of exploitation of labor in plantations in Indonesia by the state and corporations.
      Paludiculture seems to be a form of relation to peat-lands that considers the well-being of the peat-lands and the farmers who work with it. However, my question is how to ensure that the seductive language of win-win narratives does not blind us from seeing the kinds of exploitation that Tania Li and others have studied?

      1. Thanks for your sharing Anselmo. It is an interested topic, but it is out of the scope of my research and could be an avenue for further research. Paludiculture itself is a cultivation technique, not including issues such as labor exploitation. As mentioned in our study, in the discussion section, further research is required on how to govern the implementation of paludiculture itself, if it is implemented in large scale plantations by corporations, then labor issues will be part of paludiculture governance.

        In general, I think that issue is currently addressed through schemes such as Nucleus estate and smallholder (NES). The nucleus is the part of such a plantation that is under concession and management of the company, while another part of the plantation is operated by smallholders typically on their own land but planted by the company. NES farming is a particular form of contract farming.

        Also, there has been some certification schemes (RSPO, etc.) that regulate labor issues in plantation.

  7. Hello Debojyoti, your presentation “Conviviality and the Bay of Bengal Littoral” was very informative! Thank you for sharing. In particular, I really liked the idea of ‘ecological continuum’ for describing the set of relationships between humans and ‘others’ . This concept is complimentary to the social-ecological approach that I often apply. I agree also that convivial practices are an alternative avenue for ‘building a better world’ as you say. In my presentation on Farming in Niagara, Canada I focus on how the farming community strengthens convivial practices to stand up to the dominant -economically-oriented system that surrounds them. Very exciting work, I look forward to reading your paper 🙂

  8. Thank you all for continuing your exciting engagement in the discussion. For anyone watching videos on demand, please consider reciprocating with comments, even if a message of appreciation for sharing work in progress in this venue. Also, please keep in mind that the comments will be open through Oct 15, so these discussions can continue even as we move onto new days and content of the conference. Thanks!

    1. Thank you Serena for your sharing and the question. I found the concept of “conviviality” is useful in these discussions of connections and limits, especially in broader context of human-nature interaction and experiences during the pandemic . This study reviewed Human-Nature Interactions Through the Lens of Global Pandemics:

      The frequency of pandemics occurrence has increased, from every 200 years in period before the 18th century, to occurring every 10 to 50 years in the last century. The illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade, the devastation of forests and other wild places (opposition to conservation), and rapid human mobility were the driving forces behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans. Global pandemic such as COVID-19 is altering human-nature interactions in three major global ecological issues: wildlife, (urban) emission, and land use. Some positive impacts from pandemic policies on environment may end once COVID-19 ends and human activities return to previous pattern. Structural change is required to trigger a new normal of human-nature relationships.

  9. Thank you for your talk Dr. Büscher–it was very interesting.

    Can you clarify something that you said in the talk. You described “natural capital” models as a form of further “separation” of humans from nature. I don’t quite understand that. From one perspective, natural capital does quite the opposite, doesn’t it: it intimately “couples” (to use the language you used in your talk) nature and humans, doesn’t it? It further incorporates the natural world into the circuits of valorization and exploitation inherent in capitalism by transforming all natural values into economic ones.

    1. Dear Christopher,
      Thanks for your great question – I think it is a crucial point. Intuitively it indeed seems that natural capital is capitalism’s way to reconnect what was separated and alienated; a correction by capital of capitalism’s own history, if you will. But the way this is done, by rendering nature capital, inevitably means that natures need to be abstracted from their emergent environments and turned into value abstractions that can be ‘accounted’ for in international markets. Hence, no matter how often natural capital proponents like Mark Gough ( and others say that natural capital approaches do not necessarily means pricing or commodifying (non-human) nature, it does turn it into capital (which I earlier referred to as ‘nature on the move’), which ultimately depends on (further) alienation and separation (and, indeed, on pricing, as this is the ‘universal equivalent’ that enables global capitalist growth). Hence, natural capital is part of the problem, not any solution. It serves to further deepen and prop up the logic that is the problem in the first place. If the ideologues of natural capital werent very serious about what they are doing, it would almost be funny.. but it really isnt, of course, precisely because it says it aims for reconnection, while actually further estranging humans from the rest of the natural world.

      1. Thanks, Bram, for the reply. I was guessing that is essentially what you meant, but wanted to be certain.

        To be clear, I find natural capital approaches to be as unfortunate as you (and actually just finished a thesis arguing to that end). And I fully agree that the protestations of natural capital advocates that they do not price or commodify nature are disingenuous. Same goes for the argument that the economic value of nature can happily exist alongside other sorts of values (which is why the addition of the ‘cultural ecosystem services’ to the pantheon of ecosystem services has always struck me as a bit of a farce). I can’t remember right now if it was Lukacs or Alfred Sohn-Rethel who argued that reification or the “real abstraction” of the commodity form “crowds out” other forms of value and other forms of relationships, but it’s a useful way of thinking about the problem.

        I think though a real challenge arises from the fact that the phenomenon of the commodification of nature/its integration into the workings of capital more fully is a dialectical phenomenon: no matter the degree to which the sort of alienation identified by the early Marx is universal, the further extensive and intensive spread of capital relations is also integrative. It does bring things together (and not just nature and people), even if in a condition of alientation. The brilliance of Marx’s approach was to understand this dialectically. This poses a huge problem, I think, for the sort of “unmaking” you rightfully advocate and the sort of limits that you say must be set.

        But the time and space are not available to me at the moment to expand on that. It’s good to be thinking about these things and I thank you for your work.

    2. Hi, I would like to comment on this issue as well, as it was an important question that I came across in my thesis. In the case of conservation, new conservation (which embraces capitalism) describes itself against the nature-culture dichotomy. Some people that I interviewed are against the idea of untouched nature in national parks. When I contrasted this approach with the indigenous conservation approach, I got more details about their understanding of nature, beyond if they see it as not separate from humans. One conclusion is that the capitalist conservation approach replicates the human-culture dichotomy with the subject-object dichotomy, viewing nature as a human-controllable object, exploitable, manageable, etc, through science and business. Thus, they do not advocate separation as “do not touch” as in neoprotectionist conservation, but as something different from humans, in opposition to the views of indigenous people (in my case study). I think it is a more ontological separation , rather than a normative one.

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