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Negotiating the Panoptic Gaze: People, Power and Conservation Surveillance in the Corbett Tiger Reserve



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Simlai, Trishant 


In recent years, the use of new and existing surveillance technologies in the practice of conservation has increased rapidly. This includes the use of drones, camera traps, satellite, and thermal imagery for activities such as wildlife monitoring, anti-poaching, and law enforcement. In many respects surveillance is constitutive of modern society, especially in urban spaces (Lyon 1995) where its use has been widely discussed. In the conservation context, surveillance alters the demarcation of spaces between nature and people by intensifying territorialization (Adams 2017), and it has been suggested that it could impact the wellbeing of local stakeholders in various ways (Sandbrook 2015, Sandbrook et al 2018). However, the social and political implications of surveillance technologies in conservation and natural resource management remain an underexplored field of empirical inquiry.

Drawing from 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, India, this thesis provides novel empirical material, that unpacks the social and political implications of conservation surveillance on local communities, conservation labour and on conservation governance. By situating my inquiry in the social and political history of the region, I argue that these technologies are used to establish multiple surveillance regimes resulting in the production of disciplined people and securitized conservation spaces. I also argue that the impacts of conservation surveillance are unequally experienced depending on intersections with often hidden dimensions of difference such as caste and gender. I further demonstrate that conservation surveillance exacerbates already prevalent social injustices and structural inequalities of gender, caste, and class discrimination, resulting in mistrust, harassment, and negative perceptions of local communities towards conservation practice. By engaging with the disciplines of surveillance, gender and labour studies, this thesis provides novel empirical evidence that corroborates, and adds to the previous, largely conceptual work done on this subject and has significant policy implications for conservation practice





Sandbrook, Chris


Conservation, Technologies, Surveillance, Society, Political Ecology, India


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Department of Geography, Selwyn College, Cambridge Trusts