Localising environment : Mustang's struggle to sustain village autonomy in environmental governance
Decentralisation of environmental governance is a general trend worldwide and its emergence has largely coincided with a neo-liberal shift in policies for the management of environmental resources. Decentralisation is based on an assumption that the participation of the local people in natural resource management regimes will produce better long term outcomes for communities and their environment. There is little concrete evidence, however, on what transpires when local inhabitants are explicitly included in resource management planning and implementation, and more specifically, why and how the environment becomes their domain of concern in terms of environmental practices and beliefs. It was this gap that inspired me to undertake this research. This qualitative research uses ‘environmentality’ as an underpinning analytical construct to study the evolution of institutional arrangements for environmental governance. The research was designed to examine the validity of Agrawal’s thesis to explain long term shifts in environmental governance by examining the complex relationships between changes in government and related shifts in environmental beliefs and practices of local inhabitants by subjecting it to empirical assessment in the socio-political and historical setting of the Mustang district in Nepal. My research findings suggest that the configuration of current institutional arrangements for environmental governance in Mustang can be characterised as multi layered and relatively fragmented. Conceptually, the environmental governance institutional framework comprises elements of three inter-related governance layers: the endogenous village governance layer; the central government led development governance layer; and the non-governmental organisation led conservation governance layer. This research suggests that while the concept of ‘environmentality’ is useful to examine the evolution of environmental governance in Mustang, its basic premise, that the process of governmentalisation has direct bearing on the transformation of local inhabitants into environmental subjects, is arguably not valid in respect to Mustang. Even when central government had limited jurisdiction over this district, natural resources such as forests, water, land and pastures were not treated as open access resources by the local inhabitants of Mustang. They were locally managed by villagers in the context of an endogenous village governance system under the leadership of the Ghempa and Mukhiya. This layer of environmental governance, prevalent across Mustang, is a historically rooted phenomenon. It did not emerge as a result of recent governmentalisation processes, but has been invariably shaped by processes of socio-political subjugation, marginalisation and exclusion from the power centres. My findings suggest that the environmental beliefs and practices were, and have continued to be, socially embedded in Mustang village institutions under the leadership of the Ghempa and Mukhiya. The local environmental beliefs and practices have invariably been motivated by a strong local desire to protect the village autonomy, and is inherently linked to village rights over the resources necessary to meet their basic needs. My case study highlights the local struggles as well as the adaptive capacity of the endogenous village based governance institutions in reaction to different central government policy regimes and allied institutional arrangement over centuries. Thus, arguably, the recent central government environmental and economic development and decentralisation policies coupled with a greatly increased role of non-governmental organisations in implementing central government conservation polices has not necessarily led to dramatic transformation in local environmental beliefs and practices as Agrawal’s Indian case study has suggested. My research also demonstrates that an exclusive focus on environmentality to analyse the effect of central government’s power in shaping environmental beliefs and practices has two drawbacks. It underestimates the influence of a wider range of different actors and power relationships. It does not provide adequate grounds to explain how this dynamic of power and power relations at the local level impacts on institutional building and ultimately in shaping people-environment relationships in changing socio-political contexts.... [Show full abstract]
KeywordsMustang Nepal; environmentality; people participation; Agrawal; environmental beliefs and practices; technologies of government; environmental governance; village-based governance; village adaptation and traditional resilience; environmental subjects; Foucault
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