Commercializing conservation in South Africa

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19 Scopus citations


The field of development studies has produced a number of institutional ethnographies in recent years that evaluate the internal workings of development agencies such as the World Bank or grassroots social organizations. Although within the social sciences research on conservation often emphasizes the power of international conservation institutions, there have been few comparable studies assessing the internal workings of these organizations. In addition, less is known about the specific activities of national and provincial conservation agencies operating in the Global South. Ethnographies of these institutions are also needed in order to examine how conservation is variously understood and executed by organizations within different contexts. This paper presents an institutional ethnography of the Mpumalanga Parks Board, which is the chief conservation agency operating in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. Following the 1994 democratic elections, the Mpumalanga Parks Board pursued a neoliberal commercialized conservation mandate that reflected the position of natural resource management in relation to other national priorities. This paper traces out the construction of the commercialization discourse in order to understand the internal and external factors that produced it while assessing its implications for nature preservation. Although the commercialization drive emulated a general trend towards neoliberal decentralization in the Global South, I argue that its particular manifestations were deeply embedded in South Africa's particular spatial economy and history of racial segregation. In tracing out the commercialization discourse from within the conservation agency itself, this paper assists in an understanding of how neoliberalism shapes natural resource management and can become hegemonic at the expense of other possibilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-424
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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