Intimacy Geopolitics of REDD+: Exploring Access and Exclusion in the Forests of Sungai Lamandau, Indonesia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Indonesia remains the largest contributor of greenhouse gases from primary forest loss in the world. To reverse the trend, the Government of Indonesia is banking on carbon market mechanisms like the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) programme. Geographers have made significant progress in detailing the relationships between private and public interests that enable REDD+. Less understood are the materialities of everyday life that constitute the substantive nodes – the bodies, the subjectivities, the practices and discourses – of political tensions and conflicts within Indonesia’s nascent REDD+ implementation framework. Concerns for ‘equity’ rooted within an economistic frame of ‘benefit sharing’ seem to be high on political agendas. Yet, relatively few studies have investigated the basic principles and intimate processes underlying benefit sharing approaches within sites of project implementation.

Focusing on Sungai Lamandau, Central Kalimantan as a case study, I consider the powers local actors mobilise to access, and exclude others from the diverse and, at times, elusive set of ‘benefits’ within one ‘community-based’ REDD+ project. Reflecting on over 150 interviews and ten months of ethnographic observations, the exploration provides a timely alternative to overly reductive REDD+ research, which remains focused on links between benefit sharing, safeguards, additionality, monitoring and verification. Instead it addresses the need to ‘bring people back in’, centring human agency within studies of REDD+.

The sometimes violent processes of access and exclusion, which occur within the Sungai Lamandau project, cut across conventional bounds of places and scales and are connected by political relations that traverse realms of intimate and transnational geopolitics. The thesis therefore proposes a feminist-inspired ‘intimacy-geopolitics’ as an analytical approach that connects seemingly close-knit and disparate people, places, and events orbiting issues of REDD+ implementation. I draw attention to the outwardly ‘apolitical’ (or ‘a-geopolitical’) realms of the body, the home, and intimate relationships as key sites where geopolitical power is (re)produced and challenged.

The thesis helps demonstrate the importance of dissolving the boundaries between the global and the local; the market and state; and the personal and political, within critical investigations of REDD+. Intimacy-geopolitics is used to articulate the inseparability of politics from economic, environmental and emotional geographies. Through such a framing this thesis uncovers the nuanced multi-local livelihoods of people as they adapt to violent upheavals, or make REDD+ part of a mix of options to clear paths towards more secure futures. While some farmers are able to counter their exclusion from benefits, others start to lose their precarious foothold on the land and must diversify their income sources as a result, with many bidding farewell to farming and forest-based livelihoods. The complex survival strategies, which this thesis helps make sense of, can be seen as both a cause of, and a reaction to, imposed social and environmental protections – a kind of ‘everyday’ counter-movement.

I suggest that REDD+ rooted in market logic, competition and individualism instills in people a nessesity for exclusionary practices. Masculinist models of REDD+ will therefore not only continue to fail in addressing the root-causes of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, but will continue to be highly exclusive – disproportionately impacting women and those already marginalised.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Victoria University of Wellington
  • Gavin, Mike, Supervisor, External person
  • Mcgregor, Andrew, Supervisor, External person
Award date18 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


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