What is Manu? Wilderness, Science and Subjectivities. Exploring how Conservation Practitioners Make Places in Peru's Biodiversity Hotpsot
Conservation is, among other things, a way of making places. By intervening in spaces to attempt to form and reform an ideal state of nature, conservation reflects and sustains discourses about nature and the social structures that these discourses emanate from. As part of these place-making processes, people working in conservation play vital roles in navigating various discourses and structures within complex political dynamics. From a postcolonial and political ecology perspective, this thesis examines the relatively under-explored views of conservation practitioners, the people who do conservation, to unpack how they make sense of their experiences in conservation spaces. Grounded in the case study of the Manu National Park in the Peruvian Amazon, this exploration highlights the ways in which conservation practitioners understand this space and navigate the tensions inherent in conservation interventions by exercising their power and agency within the existing structures of conservation institutions.
Despite persistent Indigenous presence, the Manu National Park is frequently portrayed by the conservation movement as a pristine space where nature without people can be studied to facilitate the restoration of disturbed areas of Amazonia. This questionable characterization of place has significantly influenced the relationship of conservation institutions and the local and Indigenous communities of Manu. So, how do conservation practitioners shape conservation places in Manu and beyond? Answering this question, this study argues that the politics of place-making in Manu are key in the way conservation practitioners understand their work and positions in this conservation space. To unpack the multiple ways in which these politics are enacted and reworked by conservation practitioners, this thesis engages with current debates around wilderness, knowledge hierarchies and environmentalities. Using critical discourse analysis to interpret online interviews and archival data, this thesis highlights the urgency of facing and addressing colonial legacies within the conservation sector, as well as the multiple ways in which individuals’ discourses and practices intersect with, and can disrupt, structural forces and processes.