A new semantics of nature: the extractive reserve as strategic power
(Universita degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca)
Based on the anti-essentialist category of "identity of nature" (Escobar, 1999), the paper analyzes the implementation of the Reserva Extrativista Quilombo do Frechal (Maranhão, Brazil), peculiar model of environmental protection. The case-study shows how the constant confrontation between the local community and governmental institutions that controls the Reserve has involved the need for the former to relate to a new semantics of nature, articulated around key categories like 'environment', 'preservation' and 'participatory management'. This discursively constructed political-managerial identity of nature, remains substantially autonomous in relation to the pragmatic identity of nature which is experienced through the incorporated subsistence practices. The very capacity to master actively the "language of the reserve" becomes a symbolic capital to be used strategically in the relations with authorities as well as in the political dynamics of the village. This perspective underlines not only the power asymmetries within the community, but also the importance of subjective forms of agency.
Engaging resources: anthropological perspectives on the formation and contestation of natural resource environments