In Kumaon in northern India, villagers set hundreds of forest fires in the early 1920s, protesting the colonial British state’s regulations to protect the environment. Yet by the 1990s, they had begun to conserve their forests carefully. In his innovative historical and political study, Arun Agrawal analyzes this striking transformation. He describes and explains the emergence of environmental identities and changes in state-locality relations and shows how the two are related. In so doing, he demonstrates that scholarship on common property, political ecology, and feminist environmentalism can be combined—in an approach he calls environmentality—to better understand changes in conservation efforts. Such an understanding is relevant far beyond Kumaon: local populations in more than fifty countries are engaged in similar efforts to protect their environmental resources.
Agrawal brings environment and development studies, new institutional economics, and Foucauldian theories of power and subjectivity to bear on his ethnographical and historical research. He visited nearly forty villages in Kumaon, where he assessed the state of village forests, interviewed hundreds of Kumaonis, and examined local records. Drawing on his extensive fieldwork and archival research, he shows how decentralization strategies change relations between states and localities, community decision makers and common residents, and individuals and the environment. In exploring these changes and their significance, Agrawal establishes that theories of environmental politics are enriched by attention to the interconnections between power, knowledge, institutions, and subjectivities.
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"Arun Agrawal has written an amazing book that draws on a very-long-term case study to make general lessons. He analyzes the development of the mentality of citizens and officials related to the environment in a particular setting undergoing major shifts from centralization to a form of decentralization. All of us can take some important lessons from this book about how people's mentalities change when they have power and knowledge to cope with a problem. That shift in knowledge and power took time and effort, but is one of the rare success stories of recent history."--Elinor Ostrom, coeditor of "Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Human-Environment Interactions in Forest Ecosystems"About the Author:
Arun Agrawal is Associate Professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Greener Pastures: Politics, Markets, and Community among a Migrant Pastoral People and a coeditor of Agrarian Environments: Resources, Representations, and Rule in India, both also published by Duke University Press.
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