Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
Secondary Theme: The Political
This panel examines the new politics of distribution in the age of sustainable development. Over the last three decades, scholarship on sustainable development has focused on green development logics and market-based instruments—touted by big environmental NGOs, international financial institutions, and the UNEP, among others—to protect the “natural capital” of ecosystems while facilitating community development and national uplift. There is also a robust literature that has pointed to the discrepancies between vision and execution within sustainable development programs, as well as the social and environmental problems provoked by a misguided faith in green capitalism. What has yet to be rigorously explored by scholars, however, is how social and political networks of distribution have always accompanied, operated parallel to, and frequently subsidized so-called market-based solutions. Indeed, green capitalism often seeks to render invisible the social economy of redistribution, reciprocity, and mutual aid networks upon which markets fundamentally depend. This panel draws inspiration from James Ferguson’s exploration of a new politics of distribution emerging in the global south, which highlights the creation of novel welfare systems, cash transfer programs, and non-work-based forms of claiming a “share” within the nation-state. Building on this, the panel seeks to highlight the networks of distribution and wealth sharing that have become constitutive of green development schemes such as ecotourism industries, payments for ecosystem services, REDD+ programs, sustainable fishing, and alternative energy. While undertaken in the name of green development, sustainability initiatives—whether by states, NGOs, or foreign aid organizations—have frequently operated as surplus recycling mechanisms to channel public and private resources from one region to another. Though these projects may fail to accomplish their sustainability goals, these monetary transfers—whether through direct payments, social programs, or infrastructure—often provide communities with vital sources of income. Moreover, states may use green distribution programs to address conflicts in resource frontiers, build political support, curb protests and strikes, rebuild after natural disasters, or restore environments denuded by insurgencies and narco-violence. Across the globe, these distribution programs have been yoked to any number of national development ideologies ranging from neoliberalism to authoritarian nationalism to neo-developmentalism to twenty-first century socialism. What, then, are the politics of distribution emerging in concert with global sustainable development? This panel explores four key themes related to green distribution: 1) the water politics of hydroelectric dams, flood control, and population resettlement in China, as well as sustainable fishing, aquaculture, and cash transfer programs in Chile; 2) the resource extraction politics of ground rents and the post-petroleum imaginary in Oman, as well as mining royalties and food aid in West Papua, Indonesia; 3) the forest politics of pine resin plantations, environmental NGOs, and micro-credit in Mexico; and 4) the conservation politics of ecotourism and post/neoliberal development ideologies in Argentina and Costa Rica.