Publisher: Duke University Press Date of Publication: 2005
Price: ISBN: 0 8223 3492 5
Pages: xvi + 325 Format: Paperback

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1 - Introduction: the politics of nature and the making of environmental subjects; 2 - Forests of statistics: colonial environmental knowledges; 3 - Struggles over Kumaon forests 1815-1916; 4 - Governmentalized localities: the dispersal of regulation; 5 - Inside the regulatory community; 6 - Making environmental subjects: intimate government; 7 - Conclusion: the analytics of environmentality.



On the surface this is a description of change in forest cover in a remote part of Northern India. However, it is also an investigation into the way in which people perceive their environment and the ways they react to it. Thus at the deepest level it is a questioning of what 'environment' means and how this can be reconciled with government requirements for environmental concern (or even governance of areas). In Western cultures we tend to accept the need for the 'conservation' of 'nature' and yet we tend to forget that notions of nature are often bound up with designation. For example, wildscape in the UK is largely artificial due to centuries of farming use and also that it was originally designated by a committee whose ideas of wild could be seen as 'West' and 'mountainous' - it's only recently that a low-lying area became a National Park. There's no surprise then when other nations and people start the same question. The interesting question is will they come up with the same answer?

The book opens with a description of the author's first visit and the responses he received from the local people. It becomes clear that the area has seen some considerable disruption for over 200 years. Initially there was the use of the forests and then a period of forest burning in reaction against the colonial edicts of the time. A later period, identified as being from the 1930s onwards, shows the development of the movement towards conservation. From this we move into the first of two parts - a look at the way in which the forests were first viewed. It started in 1805 with the need for more timber. The British government set out to find new sources. This came down to the local Indian district which set about surveying the area and making rules over the heads of the local people, to control the resources. This early control of the resources paid little attention to the needs of either the forest ecosystem or the requirements of the local inhabitants who used forests for many reasons. Chapter two outlines the new methods used to control the area. It was vital to find out the size and distribution of the resource and so statistics and quantification played a great part. This is an interesting departure from normal discussions on changing politics of land use. Here, the focus was not on military might but on the (seemingly) benign use of numbers to create a 'neutral' landscape for exploitation. Chapter three acts as a counterpoint by investigating the local response to this. It is clear that the two perspectives clashed. What seemed to one party to be a very reasonably use of its lands was deemed by the other party to be totally unreasonable. Although the more powerful 'won' this was to be a short-lived victory. Part two examines the 'technology' of government that ensued and the reactions to it. Chapter four focusses on the impact of decentralised power. Previously, control was from a central source but to manage the resource, it needed to be brought down to local level. This meant that a single resource had many managers with a resulting loss of comprehensive overview. Chapter five argues that this new structure of administration needed new tools to operate. In so doing it created a rift between locals. It was made all the more potent because power was no longer away with 'them' in a remote place but with some of 'us' in a locality. Whilst it might have made colonial sense it did create tensions. These tensions differ between individuals and between times. As chapter six describes, the regulations set up changed both the forest and the people involved with it. Eventually, the regulation and forest changed the nature of participation and participants (the so-called environmental subjects of the chapter). The final chapter shows us where we have been led. The subjects of the book are but one example of how politics, environment and society interact to produce a contextualised landscape within which human practices are regulated (and of which environmental concern is only one option). From this point, the author branches out to link this research into more theoretical considerations of government and society as well as investigating other perspectives such as postmodernism and eco-feminism.

This is an unusual text. It uses a deep, quite intense study of one small group and their forest to produce a framework from which and through which to view reactions to the environment. It is, in turns, both deep green philosophy and a measured method for the study of human-nature interactions over time. It ranges from the practical use of statistics to the more arcane world of theoretical feminist environmentalism. To appreciate this book one needs a fair degree of background knowledge thus making this text most suitable for undergraduate/graduate study.


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