New book on Nature Conservation in Masoala


Eva Keller, founder of Human Rights in Masoala, has been working for many years on a social anthropological research project concerning perceptions of nature conservation in Masoala. Her book BEYOND THE LENS OF CONSERVATION. MALAGASY AND SWISS IMAGINATIONS OF ONE ANOTHER has now been published.

This is what the book's about:

Nowadays, items of every kind are being driven, shipped and flown around the world. In December, Swiss supermarkets sell Malagasy litchies while the people in Madagascar use Nestlé's empty condensed milk tins as measuring cups for rice and almost any other non-liquid item. However, not only goods travel the world but also ideas, values and visions which become articulated in global agendas. Nature conservation is one such very prominent contemporary agenda leading to innumerable conservation projects all around the world. The Masoala National Park is one such project, administered by the Malagasy authorities and an US-based conservation NGO and heavily supported by the zoo in Zurich.

The key question that is addressed in the book is this: Does such a cooperation between conservation actors in Switzerland and in Madagascar trigger a connection between people living in these two far-flung places? Does the project provide a bridge of contact between them? In order to answer this question, Eva Keller examines the Masoala National Park from two different points of view: from that of visitors to the Swiss zoo exhibit about the park, on the one hand, and that of Malagasy farmers living at the park's edge, on the other. What do people in Switzerland and what do people in Madagascar "see" when they look at this particular nature conservation project? Is there anything like a shared view, a shared vision? Unfortunately, the answer is "no". From the point of view of those who look from Switzerland towards Madagascar through the lens of nature conservation, the  farmers in Masoala appear as ignorant and deficient. From the point of view of the farmers who look at the park through the lens of Malagasy culture, on the other hand, those who support the park appear as being ill-disposed towards them. Thus, instead of building a bridge, nature conservation in Masoala widens the gap between people in the global North and South.

Eva Keller, 13 March 2015