Transforming the Frontier

Peace Parks and the Politics of Neoliberal Conservation in Southern Africa

Transforming the Frontier

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 4 photographs, 3 tables, 4 maps Published: April 2013

Author: Bram Büscher

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Geography

International peace parks—transnational conservation areas established and managed by two or more countries—have become a popular way of protecting biodiversity while promoting international cooperation and regional development. In Transforming the Frontier, Bram Büscher shows how cross-border conservation neatly reflects the neoliberal political economy in which it developed.

Based on extensive research in southern Africa with the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Project, Büscher explains how the successful promotion of transfrontier conservation as a "win-win" solution happens not only in spite of troubling contradictions and problems, but indeed because of them. This is what he refers to as the "politics of neoliberal conservation," which receives its strength from effectively combining strategies of consensus, antipolitics, and marketing. Drawing on long-term, multilevel ethnographic research, Büscher argues that transfrontier conservation projects are not as concerned with on-the-ground development as they are purported to be. Instead, they are reframing environmental protection and sustainable development to fit an increasingly contradictory world order.


"Transforming the Frontier is a brilliant and original achievement and a highly readable one at that. As I read, I became increasingly awed by the magnitude of Büscher's feat, in terms of both the expansiveness of ethnographic field work and the complexity and nuance of his theoretical interpretation. I fear that this review might fall short of doing full justice to Büscher's accomplishment."  — Roderick P. Neumann, AAG Review of Books

“Like a skilled jurist, Bram Büscher pieces together a compelling argument about the corrupting influences of neoliberalism in environmental policy by using the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Project as a case study…. Using an ethnographic approach that combines political ecology with international relations to delve into these elements, Büscher makes insightful arguments to show how governance structure emerges and why it evolves as it does. At its best, the book uses this to contrast community-based natural resource management with bioregional conservation planning.” — Michael Schoon, Global Governance

Transforming the Frontier is a concise book-length analysis of one particular transboundary conservation initiative. It expertly combines extensive theoretical discussion with the results of in-depth . . . field work. At the same time, it demonstrates how the MDTP is illustrative of a wider trend in contemporary conservation discourse and practice. Büscher’s efforts to link MDTP dynamics to the regional and global neoliberal political economy are convincing.” — Jörg Balsiger, Mountain Research and Development

Transforming the Frontier is a sophisticated, theoretically heavy text, one that provokes the reader to seriously reflect on the effect of the increasingly common neoliberal governance of conservation. It is well worth the read.” — Jonathan Clapperton, Conservation Biology

"[A] masterful piece of scholarship that should find a hallowed place on our bookshelves . . ." — Larry Swatuk, Review of Policy Research

" . . . [Buscher's] approach immerses the reader in cutting edge academic thinking on conservation in the modern world . . . and gives the reader an idea of what tools are needed to conceptualise and analyse complex governmental systems in action . . . Buscher's book will surely help on the road to greater understanding." — James Middlemass, International Journal of Environmental Studies

"The book makes an interesting and important contribution to the field of transfrontier conservation studies. ... [It] offers an interesting, relevant and original contribution, and while tourism forms a relatively small segment in Büscher’s overall approach, its role is critically highlighted through the analysis and discussions. … The book may potentially interest postgraduate students and scholars of conservation and environmental studies, geography, anthropology, development and tourism studies and those researchers in social sciences and humanities working with issues linking governmentality and power to the relations of nature conservation and localities. In addition, the book will hopefully provide insights for policy-makers, planners and numerous consultants working in the field of cross-border nature conservation globally, and especially in Southern Africa." — Jarkko Saarinen, Journal of Sustainable Tourism

"Bram Büscher has written an excellent book about the intricacies of conservation discourse." — Albert Farré, Social Anthropology

"Transforming the Frontier offers a rich political ecology and a fascinating look not only at how the real and material are both discursive and nondiscursive categories but Büscher also clearly points to how these lines are blurring as conservation and development delve further and further into neoliberal arenas." — Alicia Davis, PoLAR

"Bram Buscher offers an original approach to conceptualizing and examining neoliberal modes of government in action. He uses a richly grounded empirical analysis to shed light on a key puzzle with important political stakes: How are implausible win-win scenarios sustained despite their manifold contradictions, and what kinds of critical work are needed to puncture them? An excellent read." — Tania Murray Li, author of The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics

"Making a major contribution to political ecology, conservation studies, and the critical analysis of neoliberalization, Transforming the Frontier will appeal to a wide readership of anthropologists, sociologists, Africanists, historians, geographers, and those in development and environmental studies. Bram Büscher sheds new light on our understanding of environmental conservation and economic development projects by providing a truly brilliant critique of the intersection of conservation development and neoliberalization in southern Africa." — Paige West, author of From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bram Büscher is Associate Professor of Environment and Sustainable Development at the International Institute of Social Studies at Erasmus University in The Netherlands, and Visiting Associate Professor of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Introduction. Frontiers of Conservation 1

1. Forging (Trans)frontier Spaces 27

2. Neoliberal Amplifications 49

3. Compressing Reality 81

4. Divergent Interpretations 109

5. Processing Politics 135

6. Images of an Intervention 169

7. Neoliberal Alignments 195

Conclusion 219

Notes 233

References 263

Index 285
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5420-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5404-8
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