Authors' Names

Elena LouderFollow

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Area of Focus

Social Sciences

Abstract

In recent years, critical geographers have examined how neoliberalism, or political economic ideology oriented to promote private property rights, maximize entrepreneurial freedom, and ensure free trade and unencumbered markets, has become increasingly intertwined with efforts to conserve biodiversity. One expression of the rise of neoliberal conservation is the development of privately protected areas (PPAs), or pieces of land purchased by wealthy individuals via the market for the purposes of conservation. Although literature on this topic is theoretically rich, empirical examinations of this type of conservation are few.

Due to its long and institutionalized engagement with neoliberalism since the 1970s, Chile presents a perfect context in which to study this phenomenon. Given its reduced role of the state in terms of conservation, the sanctity of private property rights and its powerful incentives for foreign investment, Chile has witnessed an explosion of PPAs in the past two decades. Two of the main drivers of this trend are Doug and Kris Tompkins, wealthy North Americans who made fortunes in the outdoor gear and garment industry. Working under the auspices of various NGOs, the Tompkins have purchased over 2.2 million acres in Southern Chile, making them one of the largest land owners in the region.

The Tompkins receive praise by some as selfless and visionary preservationists, and criticism by others as neocolonialists or land-grabbers. Their most recent project, Patagonia National Park (PNP) has been particularly controversial: what is now a North American style park formerly operated as a sheep ranch where many local residents earned their livelihoods. Removing fencing, eliminating grazing, and establishing tourism infrastructure are among the park’s main goals, and many locals have been outspokenly resistant to the changes in both land use and livelihood.

To understand the interaction between the global force of neoliberalism and changes in local reality around PNP, I take a discourse analysis approach. Through the study of discourse, or language, stories and images, this approach explores how different actors construct narratives surrounding PNP, and how language can be a tool for some groups to maintain power over others. To understand the role of discourse surrounding PNP, I conducted interviews with former ranchers who lost their jobs, former ranchers who now work for the park and park administrators. I also analyzed park websites, blogs, and videos in order to capture the park discourses that reach a global audience.

My research reveals two very distinct discourses. Many local residents expressed feelings of a loss of culture, erasure of history, domination by foreign elites, and frustration at the transformation of a working landscape to one of spectacle. Meanwhile, park discourses present two conflicting stories: one of saving a threatened landscape from destructive practices of the locals, and a second of a beautiful wilderness, Eden with altitude. Importantly, they present the park as the only option to conserve Patagonia. By close examination of discourse, my research suggests that park narratives obscure the political and economic nature of the project, and reinforce the hegemonic power of neoliberalism to transform local realities.

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Apr 27th, 10:20 AM Apr 27th, 10:35 AM

Transforming Patagonia: A critical discourse analysis of Patagonia National Park

UC Ballroom, Pod #3

In recent years, critical geographers have examined how neoliberalism, or political economic ideology oriented to promote private property rights, maximize entrepreneurial freedom, and ensure free trade and unencumbered markets, has become increasingly intertwined with efforts to conserve biodiversity. One expression of the rise of neoliberal conservation is the development of privately protected areas (PPAs), or pieces of land purchased by wealthy individuals via the market for the purposes of conservation. Although literature on this topic is theoretically rich, empirical examinations of this type of conservation are few.

Due to its long and institutionalized engagement with neoliberalism since the 1970s, Chile presents a perfect context in which to study this phenomenon. Given its reduced role of the state in terms of conservation, the sanctity of private property rights and its powerful incentives for foreign investment, Chile has witnessed an explosion of PPAs in the past two decades. Two of the main drivers of this trend are Doug and Kris Tompkins, wealthy North Americans who made fortunes in the outdoor gear and garment industry. Working under the auspices of various NGOs, the Tompkins have purchased over 2.2 million acres in Southern Chile, making them one of the largest land owners in the region.

The Tompkins receive praise by some as selfless and visionary preservationists, and criticism by others as neocolonialists or land-grabbers. Their most recent project, Patagonia National Park (PNP) has been particularly controversial: what is now a North American style park formerly operated as a sheep ranch where many local residents earned their livelihoods. Removing fencing, eliminating grazing, and establishing tourism infrastructure are among the park’s main goals, and many locals have been outspokenly resistant to the changes in both land use and livelihood.

To understand the interaction between the global force of neoliberalism and changes in local reality around PNP, I take a discourse analysis approach. Through the study of discourse, or language, stories and images, this approach explores how different actors construct narratives surrounding PNP, and how language can be a tool for some groups to maintain power over others. To understand the role of discourse surrounding PNP, I conducted interviews with former ranchers who lost their jobs, former ranchers who now work for the park and park administrators. I also analyzed park websites, blogs, and videos in order to capture the park discourses that reach a global audience.

My research reveals two very distinct discourses. Many local residents expressed feelings of a loss of culture, erasure of history, domination by foreign elites, and frustration at the transformation of a working landscape to one of spectacle. Meanwhile, park discourses present two conflicting stories: one of saving a threatened landscape from destructive practices of the locals, and a second of a beautiful wilderness, Eden with altitude. Importantly, they present the park as the only option to conserve Patagonia. By close examination of discourse, my research suggests that park narratives obscure the political and economic nature of the project, and reinforce the hegemonic power of neoliberalism to transform local realities.