Global Visions, Local Landscapes: A Political Ecology of Conservation, Conflict, and Control in Northern Madagascar by Lisa L. Gezon


Plymouth : AltaMira Press .

Lisa Gezon's intensive study of the political dynamics and conservation issues in Northern Madagascar involves a localized area in the far northwestern province of Antsiranana. In the central part of this region lays the Ankarana massif. This is a region of limestone outcroppings. In fact, the people inhabiting this region are appropriately named Antankarana, which means, “people of the limestone massif” (p. 4). Gezon's research was conducted throughout this region from 1990 to 2005. Additionally, historical research was utilized to analyze organizational and political relationships between people and conservation areas.

The book is divided into nine chapters in two parts. The first part examines the role of resource management in relation to protected areas, ethnic identity and history of Antankarana, patterns of production, and conjunctures of authority. The second part delves further into the social and political processes surrounding resource use and cattle-raising, rice growing, and cultural influences affecting land use among commoners and royal authorities, including the ampanjaka (spiritual head/political leader).

Gezon's basis for the book stems from a “… curiosity about how people living outside of protected areas reacted to this intensification in monitoring and enforcement, and, in a related way, from my interest in knowing how effective these conservation approaches have been in their stated goals of minimizing human encroachment on protected areas” (p. 8). Essentially, Gezon noted “… an appropriate approach would be able to account for how local and global spheres co-construct contexts of resource access according to complex and at times contradictory logics of the meaningful place of humans within a material environment” (p. 8). The incredible shape-shifting influence within “local” and “global” communities is discussed in relation to factors contributing to land use and degradation, although changes in human population, effects of tourism and biometeorological factors (fires, floods, drought, etc.) play a large role in the political ecology of the island when land and food availability is minimized. However, officials are often in a quandary over enforcing resource restrictions on governmentally protected areas, while considering the historical sociocultural land rights of formerly unprotected regions.

Gezon's extensive cross-referencing of nearly 370 separate sources provides comprehensive coverage and validity to many facets of her discussion. Through the study of ethnography, politics, gender, religion, race, and other sociocultural patterns, the complex dynamics of social interconnectedness and biophysical considerations, “contributes to the argument that knowledge of overlapping temporal systems is critical for understanding how landscapes unfold” (p. 23). Moreover, Gezon incorporates satellite images to examine land-cover changes over time, while examining physical spaces in response to the transformative effects of global and local political policies. Importantly, the difficulty in the ability for local analyses to inform depends on “… the wider theoretical and comparative significance of the types of actors involved in local interaction” (p. 12).

The issues of conservation and political policy are closely tied to the ethnic history and identity of the people of Antankarana. This is an important concept that shapes political ecology frameworks, because it determines and assesses resource management based on local rituals and customs. Historical genealogical lineages form the basis for royal authority on many local-level topics, including land acquisition, rice farming, and cattle herding. In addition to ethnic or religious lineages, traditional gender roles between men and women also contribute to the multifarious dynamics within the Antankarana.

Gezon also explores the notion of political interactions with relation to various types of authority, including state-based, royal Antankarana, and family/village-level political authorities. Essentially, the exploration of these local-level dynamics provides a basis for understanding issues in the global-level realm that depend on “a synthesis that recognizes the performative nature of their coexistence” (p. 25). One way Gezon explains the local-level impacts is through a case study on herding and agriculture rights, as well as examples from rice and water thefts. Overall, these examples illustrate the multifaceted dynamics of local and state-level courses of action that transform, and ultimately determine land and resource-use policy.

The final area of land-use and resource conservation revolves around local authorities and NGOs enforcing “global” conservation policies. The problem with this setup leads to a sociocultural disconnect between NGOs and local, indigenous authorities, because the indigenous people often side with local officials who not only understand, but practice the traditions of the society. Some of the support for indigenous leaders depends on situational circumstances. Gezon illustrates a few examples of issues facing people living near a protected conservation area and the involvement of an NGO, the Antankarana leader, and the state. In effect, this shows how land-use is contested, while unveiling strategic ideologies and approaches to local and global landscapes.

In summary, Gezon's extensive reference list, historical knowledge, and on-site observational research of the region, clearly showcases the tremendous complexity of local and global conservation efforts in an ethnographic context. However, the book's narrow focus should appeal to the “global” audience of researchers in island ethnography, political ecology, global studies, anthropology, Malagasy studies, and law.