CfP POLLEN 20 – Papers, procedures, and plants: Expanding the political ecology of bureaucracy

Session organizers

Scott Freeman (American University) and Raquel Machaqueiro (George Washington University). Please, send your abstract (250 words) by October 25 to Scott Freeman ( and Raquel Machaqueiro (

Session description

Interdisciplinary political ecology has exposed environmental conservation efforts as a domain in which multiple conceptualizations of space, time, and nature intersect and are forged (Neumann 1998; Hughes 2005; West 2006). The institutions involved in these intersections are broad and varied: states, multi-laterals, non-governmental actors, grassroots organizations and combinations therein all contribute to the broad effects of conservation practice. What unites much of conservation practice, regardless of the organizations involved, is the negotiation and continuous deployment of bureaucracy.

In this panel, we interrogate the bureaucratic practices within conservation, and the social worlds that are produced as a result. Bureaucracies do not neutrally encounter an objective world, but interpret and create, defining problems and making them amenable to bureaucratic intervention (Barnett and Finnemore 2004). Accordingly, bureaucracies are machines for the production of documents, inscriptions which are then used to stabilize particular problematizations and interpretations of the world (Gupta 2012, Hull 2012). Such practices produce their own authority through regularity and repetition that may include the mundane filing of forms, ticking of boxes, or writing of formulaic reports according to standardized templates (Feldman 2008). In doing so, bureaucracies respond to calls for transparency, audit, or fiscal discipline, but may simultaneously produce social exclusion and precarity (Bear and Mathur 2015, Hetherington 2011). Rather than producing visibility, they may propagate secrecy and ignorances about the world (Weber 1973, Sanders and West 2003).

As bureaucracy comes to bare on conservation practice, new forms of environmental governance emerge and new social realms are produced. The needs of populations and their environmental problems are defined through environmental regulatory regimes (Goldman 2001). Yet the implementation of conservation through states is rarely monolithic. Environmental projects and policies are often faced with the “mundane set of everyday failures by local government” (Brockington 2007: 845), whose practices illuminate the inherent contradictory nature of state bureaucracies (Neumann 2001). In examining environmental bureaucracy, even the role of policy is limited, as bureaucratic forms like the project become far more important for implementers (Li 2016).

This panel explores both the many facets of bureaucracy and the conflicts, contestations, and negotiations that occur as bureaucratic governance unfolds. We hope to examine the way in which documents as well as soils and forests become sites for negotiation, and how practitioners as well as beneficiaries navigate projects. We are equally intrigued by the ways that time and space are forged through bureaucratic practices. In particular, we will address the following questions:

  • What kinds of powers, possibilities, and prefigurations are produced by bureaucracy within environmental conservation?
  • What types of ignorance, injustices, and irrationalities are produced by environmental bureaucracies?
  • What is the role of bureaucracy in the construction of “successful” environmental interventions?
  • How are space and time produced through the demands of documentation and measurement of conservation projects?
  • How are bureaucracies negotiated from within and outside of conservation organizations?

Papers may also address:

  • Bureaucratic expert knowledge (and its deployment)
  • Participation/enrollment of different stakeholders (practitioners, donors, local authorities, beneficiaries) in bureaucratic procedures
  • Forms of power/authority produced by bureaucratic procedures (including funding)
  • Intersection of bureaucracies and the role of market-based instruments in environmental governance
  • Audits and measurement in conservation practice


Barnett, Michael, and Martha Finnemore. 2004. Rules for the World – International Organizations in Global Politics. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Bear, Laura, and Nayanika Mathur. 2015. Introduction: Remaking the Public Good: A New Anthropology of Bureaucracy. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 33(1).

Brockington, Dan. 2007. “Forests, Community Conservation, and Local Government Performance: The Village Forest Reserves of Tanzania.” Society & Natural Resources 20 (9): 835–48.

Feldman, Ilana. 2008. Governing Gaza – Bureaucracy, Authority, and the Work of Rule, 1917-1967. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Ferguson, James. 1994. The Anti-Politics Machine – “Development”, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Goldman, Michael. 2001. “Constructing an Environmental State: Eco-Governmentality and Other Transnational Practices of a ‘Green’ World Bank.” Social Problems 48 (4): 499–523.

Gupta, Akhil. 2012. Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Hetherington, Kregg. 2011.Guerrilla Auditors: The Politics of Transparency in Neoliberal Paraguay. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hughes, David McDermott. 2005. “Third Nature: Making Space and Time in the Great Limpopo Conservation Area.” Cultural Anthropology 20 (2): 157–84.

Hull, Matthew S. 2012. Government of Paper – The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Li, Tania Murray. 2016. “Governing Rural Indonesia: Convergence on the Project System.” Critical Policy Studies 10 (1): 79–94.

Neumann, Roderick P. 2001. Africa’s ‘Last Wilderness’: Reordering Space for Political and Economic Control in Colonial Tanzania. Africa 71(04): 641–665.

Neumann, Roderick P. 1998. Imposing Wilderness: Struggles Over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Weber, Max. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Gerth and Mills. New York: Oxford University Press.

West, Harry G., and Todd Sanders. 2003. Transparency and Conspiracy: Ethnographies of Suspicion in the New World Order. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

West, Paige. 2006. Conservation Is Our Government Now – The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

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