Seminar: Capitals, commons and community-managed forests. Exploring the politics of sustainability in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala

Location: Department of Geography, Ron Johnston Research Room (C Floor)

Date: Tuesday 12th December 2017
Start Time: 4.15 pm

Refreshments will be provided from 4pm in the Geography Café (C Floor). All welcome!


Community forestry (CF) programmes have combined sustainable forestry with community empowerment and poverty alleviation since the late 1970s. In recent years, geographers have emphasised the neoliberalising governance contexts in which CF emerged, and the additional responsibilities that community governance frameworks bring into contexts where tenure insecurity and poverty are often already defining conditions. The borrowing of financial instruments into the practices of management, including metrics for assessing ‘natural capital,’ amplify concerns, with some suggesting that CF programmes have reinforced elites and existing patterns of exclusion in regions of intervention, even as sustainability targets appear to have been met. Having said this, an approach that traces longer social and more-than-human histories reveals other stakes and sites of political contestation. In the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in the Petén region of Guatemala, CF emerged in the context of social struggle and build upon a century of improvised practices for extracting non-timber resources. In this paper I draw on interview and ethnographic data as well as site-led oral histories to emphasise that there is a ‘sustainability before sustainability’ in the MBR – in other words, a history of conservation ethics and practice that long precedes, and still exceeds, NGO interventions. As such, the politics of sustainability in this region cannot be reduced to the logics associated with neoliberalism. Secondly, the role of intermediary organisations and processes of facilitation are essential to the ‘commoning’ processes in play with regard to forest livelihoods. Commoning cannot be reduced to management techniques; it is a process of making and organising in common and across disagreements. I conclude by drawing out critical factors that have affected collective capacity in the MBR, pointing toward implications for evaluating CF within critical geography, as well as in situated practice.

naomiNaomi Millner is a lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Bristol. Naomi's work focuses on issues of social justice and questions of the politics of knowledge, primarily in relation to forest and biodiversity conservation in Central America. She has worked on interdisciplinary projects relating to ecological agriculture, community managed forestry and food justice, and has a particular interest in processes of knowledge exchange and pedagogies of social change in these contexts.

Theoretically, Naomi's work engages problems of participation surrounding the evolution of neoliberal governance regimes, with an emphasis on changing dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, as well as implications for 'more-than-human' aspects of practice.