Conservation Law Enforcement: Policing Protected Areas

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18 Citations (Scopus)
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This article examines how recent increases in commercial poaching of wildlife intensify the dictates that underpin conservation law and its enforcement; namely, the securing of space, punishing of transgressors, and protecting of nonhuman life. Drawing on ethnographic research with antipoaching personnel in Mozambique, I examine how rangers translate these legal and normative manifestations of conservation law enforcement on the ground and in their daily practices to police protected areas and the wildlife within them. This article makes two contributions. First, drawing on insights from the political geography and ecology of conservation with the political geography of policing, I demonstrate how territorial, sovereign, and biopolitical practices and logics coalesce to secure the spaces and the lives of the nonhuman from ostensible human threats. Second, it is rangers who are deployed as petty environmental sovereigns to achieve these objectives through often violent practices. Although many rangers might feel uncomfortable with the use of violence, their agency to commit or resist using violence is authorized, enabled, and constrained by the normative and legal structures of conservation law enforcement within which they operate. The social differentiation among rangers also means that some have more agency to navigate these structures than others. These insights help understand the actually existing operationalization of delegated and performative power over bodies, space, and the use of direct violence. I suggest that critiques of conservation violence, and the use of violence by those acting as petty sovereigns more broadly, should be primarily oriented at the broader structures within which they operate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)758-773
Number of pages17
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number3
Early online date26 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


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