Divide and Rule: Nature and Society in a Global Forest Programme
Based on Signe Howells ongoing comparative research project on the high profile global REDD+ initiative (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) in developing countries, Signe Howell presents some findings from studies in the Amazon, Tanzania and Indonesia that show how a project, initially perceived by the financiers (UN, World Bank, Norwegian government etc.) as a straight-forward 'nature' (in this case forest) project, with technocratic solutions, has turned into a highly complex 'society' project.
The shift from a focus upon trees to a forcus on the people who live among the trees represents an important shift in the imaginary of what is at stake. Through the activists, the policy makers were made to acknowledge that there is a significant relationship between forests and the people who live and work in them. But does this represent an ontological shift in terms of the perceived categories of nature and society? Signe Howell doses not think so. There is little evidence to show that the activists thought so either. Their concern was to get the policy makers to acknowledge that existence of people whose rights were being ignored or abused. The arguments for rights were based on occupancy, not upon the metaphysics of their relationship with the forest as such which may, or may not, collapse a separation between 'nature' and 'society'.