Why this Research?
As more of what Canadians buy and consume is sourced from Southeast Asia, we have become increasingly aware of the environmental and the social issues associated with resource extraction in this region. For example, in recent years major controversies have emerged around what has been labelled slavery in the Thai fisheries sector, which directly and indirectly supplies a lot the seafood sold in Canada. Similar controversies surround the expansion of palm oil plantations, land grabbing for the purpose of growing cash crops like rubber, and the effectiveness of programs to pay rural people to conserve forests for the purpose of carbon sequestration to make up for carbon emissions elsewhere.
At the same time the tools and mechanisms for managing forestry, fisheries, plantations and aquaculture in Southeast Asia have been transformed in recent years. This includes a proliferation of schemes that aim to provide market incentives for sustainable management or conservation, and the growing influence of corporations, conservation organizations, and other non-state institutions in creating and enforcing rules for managing fisheries, forestry and land use practices. While many people see much promise in these sorts of approaches, others label them ‘neoliberalizing’, and criticize them for being ineffective, for their negative impacts on rural people and workers, their lack of democratic accountability.
Exploring New Directions in Environmental Governance
In this research project we explored the effects of new environmental governance mechanisms in Southeast Asia through grounded research of diverse programs and projects. We assessed the effects of new environmental governance approaches on both peoples and ecologies in the region. We are particularly interested in the effects for small scale fishers, farmers, forest users and hired workers. Our orientation toward effects can be distinguished from studies of effectiveness, understood as the degree to which a program achieves its stated goals. What we found throughout the project is that effects are often surprising and counter-intuitive, as different actors engage these programs for reasons that may not have much to do with the program objectives.
Our research highlights the importance of learning from the field, and avoiding generalizations such as the idea that markets always produce marginalization and inequality. In this project we aimed to avoid a fetishization of markets in favour of careful fieldwork that focused on class relations and the agency of both rich and poor as well as non-human actants.
In other sections of this website we describe some of the projects being undertaken by project participants. Much of the fieldwork is being carried out by graduate students, with over 15 students enrolled in universities in Southeast Asia, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia currently contributing. Faculty participants are also conducting research as well as working with graduate students on their research projects.
The project’s final outcomes, including publications, presentations and media, can be found here.