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Instituting Nature

Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests

Andrew S. Mathews
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Instituting Nature
    Book Description:

    Greater knowledge and transparency are often promoted as the keys to solving a wide array of governance problems. In Instituting Nature, Andrew Mathews describes Mexico's efforts over the past hundred years to manage its forests through forestry science and biodiversity conservation. He shows that transparent knowledge was produced not by official declarations or scientists' expertise but by encounters between the relatively weak forestry bureaucracy and the indigenous people who manage and own the pine forests of Mexico. Mathews charts the performances, collusions, complicities, and evasions that characterize the forestry bureaucracy. He shows that the authority of forestry officials is undermined by the tension between local realities and national policy; officials must juggle sweeping knowledge claims and mundane concealments, ambitious regulations and routine rule breaking. Moving from government offices in Mexico City to forests in the state of Oaxaca, Mathews describes how the science of forestry and bureaucratic practices came to Oaxaca in the 1930s and how local environmental and political contexts set the stage for local resistance. He tells how the indigenous Zapotec people learned the theory and practice of industrial forestry as employees and then put these skills to use when they become the owners and managers of the area's pine forests--eventually incorporating forestry into their successful claims for autonomy from the state. Despite the apparently small scale and local contexts of this balancing act between the power of forestry regulations and the resistance of indigenous communities, Mathews shows that it has large implications--for how we understand the modern state, scientific knowledge, and power and for the global carbon markets for which Mexican forests might become valuable.The hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29853-7
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Peter M. Haas and Sheila Jasanoff

    As our understanding of environmental threats deepens and broadens, it is increasingly clear that many environmental issues cannot be simply understood, analyzed, or acted on. The multifaceted relationships among human beings, social and political institutions, and the physical environment in which they are situated extend across disciplinary as well as geopolitical confines and cannot be analyzed or resolved in isolation.

    The purpose of this series is to address the increasingly complex questions of how societies come to understand, confront, and cope with both the sources and manifestations of present and potential environmental threats. Works in the series may focus on...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Glossary of Institutions
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    In the filmUmberto D. (Rizzoli et al. [1952] 2003), the title character, an elderly, retired civil servant, climbs onto a nearly empty tram. He is carrying a small suitcase and leads a small dog on a leash.

    Conductor:No no,col cane non si puó!

    Umberto D:Prima delle otto si puó...

    Conductor:Lo insegna a me? Se é cacciatore sí,se non é cacciatore no.

    Umberto D:Io posso dire che vado a caccia.Perche non potrei avere il fucile nella valigia?

    Conductor:Va bene...dove scende?

    Conductor: No, no, you can’t travel with the dog!...

  7. 2 Building Forestry in Mexico: Ambitious Regulations and Popular Evasions
    (pp. 31-60)

    Over the last 200 years, governments all over the world have taken up the burden of knowing, managing, and protecting nature, accompanied by the task of developing economies and caring for citizens. Most citizens, of First or Third World countries alike, now take it for granted that the state is responsible for preventing environmental degradation and developing natural resources in the national interest. This is a relatively new event, a massive expansion of state presence that is manifested through towering glass and steel office buildings in capital cities or more modest offices in state capitals, through government technicians who travel...

  8. 3 The Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca: Mobile Landscapes, Political Economy, and the Fires of War
    (pp. 61-92)

    Standing at the crest of the Sierra Juárez, one feels far from cities, governments, and forestry bureaucracies. Range after range of fir and pine-clad mountains recede into the distance (see figure 3.1). The air is cool, the tropical sun stingingly hot. At first this might feel like a forest in Arizona or Spain, but the combination of fir trees, cactuses, and flowering agaves quickly reminds one that this is a tropical mountainous place, not a temperate pine forest. How did these mountain forests become entangled in the projects of the Mexican state? What kinds of resistances did bureaucratic projects of...

  9. 4 Forestry Comes to Oaxaca: Bureaucrats, Gangsters, and Indigenous Communities, 1926–1956
    (pp. 93-116)

    The pine forests of Oaxaca may appear peaceful, but they are not always so. When forestry science began to travel from Mexico City to the provinces in the 1920s and 1930s, forestry bureaucrats based in the city of Oaxaca encountered a tangled web of political intrigue. Struggles to gain control of valuable timber could become violent, as officials, loggers, and community leaders manipulated forestry regulations and environmental theories to claim control over forests. A distant echo of gunfights, murders, and possible bribery reaches us if we can imagine events in the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca on a winter morning in...

  10. 5 Industrial Forestry, Watershed Control, and the Rise of Community Forestry, 1956–2001
    (pp. 117-146)

    In the end, the Mexican state lost its patience with the small logging companies. It had had enough of violent conflicts and tax evasion by wildcat loggers, enough of the disorderly habits of rural people who burned forests and degraded the environment and who lied or evaded visiting officials. In 1956, the right to log the vast majority of Oaxaca’s forests was awarded to two large timber companies,Fabricas Papeleras de Tuxtepec(FAPATUX) andCompañía Forestal de Oaxaca, extinguising the logging rights of the small logging companies and effectively subcontracting the enforcement of logging regulations from the federal forest service...

  11. 6 The Mexican Forest Service: Knowledge, Ignorance, and Power
    (pp. 147-178)

    In November 2000, I attended a convention on community forestry in a hotel on the outskirts of the city of Oaxaca. For three days, government officials, scientists, and the occasional NGO representative occupied an elevated stage and presented their views on the state of Oaxaca’s forests before an audience of indigenous community representatives. Officials and NGO representatives were easy to spot; they got to sit on stage, they participated confidently in debates, and they wore clearly “modern” clothes—polished street shoes, button down shirts, or occasionally the plaid shirts preferred by many urban Mexicans who work in the countryside. Although...

  12. 7 The Acrobatics of Transparency and Obscurity: Forestry Regulations Travel to Oaxaca
    (pp. 179-202)

    State mandates to control forests and protect nature do not travel smoothly through the world. On the contrary, knowledge is continually remade, a practice in translation, rather than an item that travels smoothly from a forestry laboratory or a government office. In the end, a small number of officials and technicians who work in a few office buildings have to build and sustain a web of documents that reaches into distant forests. Returning to Oaxaca from Mexico City, we shall see how forms of official authority and knowledge of forests were sustained by an ecology of relationships among officials, foresters,...

  13. 8 Working the Indigenous Industrial
    (pp. 203-234)

    Let us return for one last time to the community of Ixtlán to look at how indigenous people and their community institutions entangle distant pine forests with the content of national forestry statistics and the stability of federal forestry institutions. A central argument of this book is that what appear to be insignificant details are not necessarily so, that national statistics and official knowledge are coproduced between states and publics rather than simply imposed by fiat. If this is so, the textures of these moments of coproduction are all important and not incidental at all. Ethnographic details can tell us...

  14. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 235-242)

    This book has described how the science of forestry traveled to Mexico, how it came to be institutionalized by the expanding Mexican forest service, and how, ultimately, forestry was domesticated and turned against the state by particular indigenous forest communities in the state of Oaxaca. By traveling the length and breadth of Mexican forestry in time and space, I have found something that was surprising to me. Far from being an expanding and authoritative bureaucracy, the Mexican forest service, in its various guises, was hesitant, faltering, and frequently reconfigured. Forestry officials had to deal with competing institutions, skeptical publics, and...

  15. Appendix
    (pp. 243-250)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 251-266)
  17. References
    (pp. 267-290)
  18. Index
    (pp. 291-304)