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Marine Conservationists' Adoption of Neoliberal Discourse in the Context of the Convention on Biological Diversity

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Title: Marine Conservationists' Adoption of Neoliberal Discourse in the Context of the Convention on Biological Diversity
Author: Greenberg, Shannon Edana
Department: Department of Geography
Program: Geography
Advisor: Gray, Noella
Abstract: Discourse used in the field of conservation, be it of animals, land masses or marine zones, matters in that discourse and practice are mutually constitutive and discourse will therefore ultimately influence how conservation is practiced. Conservation discourses have shifted over time depending on the broader political economic climate. At present, neoliberal conservation discourse is gaining traction amongst terrestrial conservationists and has both proponents and detractors; however, it is less clear whether marine conservationists have similarly adopted the discourse of property rights, markets and incentives. Marine conservation is a newer pursuit, and has tended to follow in the path of its terrestrial counterpart. It is therefore of consequence whether and how the neoliberal discourse is beginning to impact marine conservation. While some academic literature has focused on neoliberal discourse in marine environments, to date it has been narrow in scope, mostly focusing on the privatization of fisheries and the role of neoliberalism in the privatization of marine protected areas (MPAs). However, the versatility of neoliberal approaches to conservation suggests that the impact may be much more widespread than this. With the potential to align itself with previously dominant discourses such as fortress conservation and community-based conservation, neoliberal conservation stands to gain traction. This thesis addresses the lack of attention given to neoliberal conservation in marine environments by conducting a collaborative event ethnography (CEE) of the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD-COP10). The CBD-COP10 is a forum where a diverse array of actors from the public, private and civil society sectors come together to discuss the future of the field of conservation. It is here that ideas about conservation are both conceptualized and contested, and those that become dominant discourses can ultimately influence how conservation is undertaken in practice. The research finds that as with terrestrial conservation, a wide range of marine actors are indeed invoking neoliberal conservation discourse. At the CBD-COP10, neoliberal discourse and its related practices were rarely challenged and often lauded, from NGO and government partnerships with the private sector, to economic valuation, to the drive towards a ‘green economy’. By revealing this usage, this thesis contributes to scholarship by addressing the lack of attention to the impact of neoliberal conservation discourses in the marine realm. It also shows that the study of discourse can be a useful mode of understanding how marine conservation is conceptualized. It helps to illuminate the power channels through which discourse travels and how a particular discourse can become dominant, which is important to understand because dominant discourses can ultimately impact how conservation is practiced.
Date: 2012-08
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