Vital Connections: A Multi-scalar Exploration of the Conservation Corridor Assemblage in Tanzania
My research investigates corridors for wildlife conservation in Tanzania. I draw from political ecology and science and technology studies to shape my enquiry, examining processes of discursive and material construction of this form of conservation space, and exploring what happens when the idea of the corridor ‘touches down’ in particular places. I approach the corridor as a socially and politically contingent outcome of negotiations taking place at multiple sites, at different scales, presenting data on these processes as they take place at the (broadly defined) national, regional and local level in Tanzania. I use Q methodology, semi-structured interviews, workshops, observation and documentary review to inform my interrogation of the corridor’s presence in Tanzania’s literal and figurative conservation landscape. At the national level, I offer an in-depth exploration of perspectives on corridors held by professional conservation stakeholders using Q methodology. I uncover three perspectives, and argue that the dynamic between them contributes to the corridor’s burgeoning hegemony in conservation. At the subnational level, I analyse the discursive construction of a specific regional corridor purportedly connecting two protected areas in central Tanzania – the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and the Selous Game Reserve. I explore how the idea of this regional corridor gained a foothold, and highlight the resilience of the idea even as its original advocates began to abandon it as a lost cause. At the local level, I explicate the manifestation of a village-level corridor project within the same region. I show how multiple elements – including the ‘mappability’ of the corridor, state-sanctioned spatial planning mechanisms, profit-making motivations of international voluntourism organisations and ideas of immutable nature – combine to result in a socially intractable and ecologically questionable corridor manifestation. My results show that corridors in Tanzania are not products of the straightforward ‘application’ of scientific knowledge, but rather can be understood as an assemblage – a confluence of diverse elements, connecting and colliding, and sustained by a diffuse and relational power. By highlighting selected examples of diverse manifestations of corridors at different scales, and tracing connections between them, my research draws explicit attention to processes of forming and maintaining the broader corridor assemblage in Tanzania. I emphasise that there is both an ethical and intellectual imperative to interrogate intuitively appealing conservation strategies, and to question why and how ideas gain momentum and staying power.