“Who doesn't like dolphins?!” Neoliberalization, variegated environmentalities, and value alterations in a cross-national comparison of Irrawaddy dolphin conservation

Deutsch, Sierra


Critical assessments of the conservation-capitalism relationship based on Foucault's concept of governmentality have generated notions of environmental governance as forms of ‘green’ governmentality or ‘environmentality.’ This paper contributes to the environmentalities literature by demonstrating the utility of a variegated environmentalities approach in understanding how the process of neoliberalization unfolds in different conservation contexts to influence different subjectivities. In this cross-national comparison, I examine the value shifts associated with conservation projects from the perspectives and experiences of the people most affected by these projects. Using Fletcher's (2010) environmentalities typology, I compare two approaches to Irrawaddy dolphin conservation: one in Myanmar focused on community enrichment and preservation of traditional human-dolphin relationships; the other in Cambodia focused on individual monetary wealth and neoliberal economic development. I argue that the dominant governing rationalities in each country influenced the execution of neoliberal environmentality and the ways in which it articulated with other types of environmentality. I then show how these unique articulations led to starkly different subjectivities by reinforcing socioecological values in Myanmar while restructuring them in Cambodia to align with neoliberal rationalities. I do this by contrasting findings in the two projects to trace the alteration of values in Cambodia from dolphins to other socioecological relations. I conclude by suggesting that dominant governing rationalities that foreground community and reciprocity in socioecological relations may serve to temper neoliberalism and thus provide a path toward alternative socioecologies and sustainabilities.