As the drone flies: Configuring a vertical politics of contestation within forest conservation

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This paper explores how the use of new monitoring technologies, including drones, are being incorporated into forest conservation, with emphasis on what is at stake politically for forest-based communities. This is a critical area to consider, as the cheapness and easy availability or drones has fostered their rapid proliferation in conservation practices, for activities as diverse as wild-life counting and fire prevention. Many have raised important political concerns about these technological developments, and their potential to be used for the surveillance and spatial discipline of minority groups. For example, recent scholarship within political ecology, human geography and conflict studies makes clear that the regulatory frameworks of international conservation are being appropriated by states to pursue racialized agendas of social exclusion in former conflict zones – often with the support of international environmental actors. By justifying increased military presence; surveillance technologies; and stop-and-searches, conservation frameworks have facilitated the containment of “risky” populations and the production of new kinds of borders. However, few have yet explored what it will mean to incorporate drones into the production of territorial claims that can protect commons-based livelihoods and resist new forms of spatial enclosure. By examining the introduction of drones in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in the Petén region of Guatemala, I reveal how satellite technologies and drones are also being used as part of community-led resistance to dispossession. Here, drones are used as part of everyday conservation practices, as part of a socio-legal process that I describe as the configuration of a vertical politics of contestation. Following the history of technological innovation in the MBR leads me to show how, despite
their associations with military containment, such technologies can be used to rework spatial orders imposed by states.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102163
Number of pages13
JournalPolitical Geography
Early online date27 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


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