With and without them: thinking through binaries in Serengeti conservation science
Stith, Mary Mildred Boutin
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This dissertation critiques the nature-culture divide by examining the relationships between binaries in postcolonial wildlife research in Tanzania. I focus on the work of wildlife scientists, particularly scientists from Tanzania, who work in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park (SNP). Tanzanian scientists and their foreign counterparts are addressing the theoretical challenges of incorporating park neighbors into ecosystems shaped by the colonial inheritance of national parks as non-human places. I make three broad analytical moves in this endeavor. First, I develop a multi-dimensional method to compare the development of a people-park binary in the Serengeti context by analyzing ethnography, conservation science, and recent scientific debate on a proposed road through the northern part of SNP. Second, I explore connections between the people-park binary and other binaries in the broader Serengeti context using text analysis and ethnographic methods based on eighteen months of fieldwork. Last, I develop a future plan for theoretical and applied research that explores how and why binaries may or may not change concurrently. I conclude that the people-park binary is weakening through the process of “dilation:” a multi-dimensional and reversible process of change during which the borders, substance, and connectivity of dichotomized categories become less rigid. In the broader effort to understand how the people-park binary is dilating, I explore the preliminary conclusion that other binaries (visual-verbal, Tanzanian-foreign, women-men, Kiswahili-English, insect-charismatic wildlife) are also shifting as conservation science becomes more diverse. I propose future research to investigate inter-binary relationships as linked through thematic meaning, conceptual processes, and structural context. This research demonstrates that scientists are using multiple binaries and contexts to conceptually reimagine the colonial legacy of conservation. In essence, their work asks: can the park boundary be maintained as the detrimental social boundaries (national, gender, language, and, perhaps, discipline) that have been historically embedded in the park boundary are transformed? Through intellectual confrontations with dichotomies, knowledge production and reality-making in Africa can be understood as both universally and locally applicable.
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