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Culture, Conservation and the State in Mexico


Anthropologist Nora Haenn has been using ethnography to explore connections between state policies and rainforest protection. Her work addresses a series of questions that now challenge human-environment studies: How is the environment both an entity outside human society and the product of how people think and relate to each another? How should we prioritize the ecological, ideological, social, political, economic, and historical factors that all create todays environments? How might we better define both what counts as environmental degradation and solutions to environmental problems? Working in this broader context, Haenn asks: what paths of political organization and environmental discourses lead people toward environmental solutions?

Her recent book, Fields of Power, Forests of Discontent: Culture, Conservation, and the State in Mexico, explores this question by analyzing the rise and fall of a 1990s alliance between the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and a local peasant organization, an alliance that aimed at alleviating tensions between conservationists and slash-and-burn ariculturalists. To gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics surrounding the Calakmul alliance, research has involved comparing viewpoints of conservation-recipients to those of on-the- ground practitioners. The first research segment has focused on local people's livestheir history, livelihood strategies, expectations of government authority and village organization in order to undertsand their seemingly contradictory responses to conservation. The second segment has involved conducting extensive interviews and observations with Reserve staff and the Biosphere Reserve Director.

Teasing out the reasons why efforts to create a broadly accepted conservation movement were unsuccessful has led Haenn to suggest a new means for creating "sustaining conservation" that would better integrate social justice and local politics within a new conservation mandate. Future research will explore the viability of a sustaining conservation in light of diverse cultural definitions of justice as well as different understandings of environment and appropriate government activity.

Research Team
  • Nora Haenn, Principal Investigator

Haenn, Nora. (2005)
Fields of Power, Forests of Discontent: Culture, Conservation, and the State in Mexico, University of Arizona Press.

Haenn, Nora. and Richard Wilk, eds. (2005)
Environment in Anthropology: Readings in Culture, Nature, and Sustainable Living. New York: New York University Press.

Haenn, Nora (in press)
The Changing and Enduring Ejido: A State and Regional Examination of Mexico's Land Tenure Counter-Reforms. Land Use Policy.

Haenn, Nora (2003)
"Risking Environmental Justice: Culture, Conservation, and Governance at Calakmul, Mexico" in Social Justice in Latin America. Susan Eckstein and Timothy Wickham- Crawley, eds., pp.81-101. New York: Routledge Press.

Haenn, Nora (2002)
"Nature Regimes in Southern Mexico: A History of Power and Environment" in Ethnology 41(1):1-26.

Haenn, Nora (2000)
"Biodiversity is Diversity in Use: Community-based Conservation in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve" in Amrica Verde. Arlington, VA: The Nature Conservancy. (Additional Spanish language version published 2001.)

Haenn, Nora (1999)
"Working Forests: Conservation and Conflict in Tropical Mexico" in Delaware Review of Latin American Studies. 1(1).

Haenn, Nora (1999)
"The Power of Environmental Knowledge: Ethnoecology and Environmental Conflicts in Mexican Conservation" in Human Ecology. 27(3): 477-491.

Haenn, Nora (1999)
"Community Formation in Frontier Mexico: Accepting and Rejecting Migrants," in Human Organization. 58(1):36-43.

Haenn, Nora. (1997)
"New Rural Poverty: The Tangled Web of Environmental Protection and Economic Aid in Southern Mexico," Journal of Poverty, vol. 1:1 (1997).

Contact: Nora Haenn