Caring For Nature: Anonymity, Conservation, and Jamaican Maroons.
So critical is the Kindah tree to community vitality that Maroons often told me Accompong simply would not exist in any recognisable form without it. Kindah is an essential non-human collaborator, intimately known and treasured. Conservationists, for their part, tend not to speak of singular beings like Kindah, but rather work in terms of general categories like the genus mangifera (of which mangoes are one sub-group). Given this, they differ significantly in how they relate to beings like the Kindah tree. Indeed, magnifera indica, or the "common mango", is currently listed on one prominent Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall 2012). Conservationists in places like Singapore, Namibia, South Africa, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Antigua, Australia, and many islands in the Pacific Ocean have officially labelled the mango an "invasive species" (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International n.d.). Rather than a constructive member of a more-than-human community, Kindah has significance within dominant modes of conservation only through the general category of the genus magnifera, as a weed that might do harm to non-human life in the abstract.
This paper seeks to elaborate some of the historical and cultural dynamics that have shaped this stark contrast in how Maroons and conservationists relate to not just the Kindah tree, but also non-humans more broadly. By conservation, I mean to evoke the unique constellation of practices and institutions that emerged out of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American conservation movement, launching the global rise of the "national park". Connecting this history to the contemporary moment, I focus mainly on conservation's institutional centre: a small cadre of NGOs with global reach and million-dollar budgets (such as the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Conservation International). I argue that while early conservationists had diverse philosophies and practices, they shared a particular imaginary of a "wilderness" untouched by human hands, thus gifting contemporary conservation an object of care best served when kept separate from humankind. As a result, conservationists tend to care for non-human life anonymously and in the abstract, for populations and not particular beings. To theorise the possibilities and limitations of this mode of care, I draw especially on anthropologist Lisa Stevenson's concept of "anonymous care", derived from a Foucauldian notion of "biopolitics" (Stevenson 2012, 2014). As a point of contrast, I then briefly specify some common tenets of Jamaican Maroon environmental thought. I identify a shared emphasis on immersion within ecology, involving intimate, personal interactions with diverse non-humans. In stark contrast to conservationist anonymity, Maroons tend to exercise care toward intimately known, non-human others.
In drawing out this disjuncture between the anonymous forms of care exercised by conservationists and the more relational, immersive forms of care exercised by Maroons, I hope to highlight the cultural pae can enact when exercised in places like Jamaica's Maroon towns. Tracking emergent trends in Jamaica, I also direct attention to Jamaican conservationists who seem to be departing from the forms of anonymous care typical of conservation globally. Finally, I derticularity of conservation and thus question its global uniformity. Further, I will reveal the potential harm conservationist anonymous carscribe an emergent effort by conservationists to help Jamaican Maroons locate, tend to, and teach the next generation about sacred sites in the Blue and John Crow Mountains. This would entail not an abstraction beyond the particularity of local, meaningful relationships as is typically the case within conservationist forms of anonymous care, but an elaboration and bolstering of those very relationships.
In focusing disproportionately on conservation, and in speaking mostly on a theoretical level, I am marshalling my claims around preliminary data from an ethnographic study with Maroons and conservationists in Jamaica that is just beginning. I also hope to participate in an emergent conversation within the ecological sciences concerning the place of culture in science and related public policy fields such as conservation. The lively debate following Courchamp and Bradshaw's (2018) recent attempt to compile a list of the hundred most influential papers in ecology--a list which disproportionately featured white men--is but one manifestation of this broader conversation. Indeed, in their published critique of the procedures of selection for that list, Ramirez et al. (2018) write, "now is the time to address ecology's cultural and historical biases. If we do not, we will continue to restrict our perspectives and growth". Sidestepping the loaded language of "bias", the time does seem ripe to think carefully about the cultural legacies that inform contemporary science and those public policy fields like conservation that carry its mantle. I hope this article can contribute toward this end.
A Brief Cultural History of Nature Conservation
Members of the nascent US-based conservation movement in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century solidified a set of heterogeneous discourses and practices around nature that continue to inform conservation interventions to this day. I argue in this section that early conservationists in the United States elaborated a vision of nature as a wilderness untouched by human hands, gifting conservation an object of concern that was best served when kept apart from humankind. This desire to care for nature while keeping it at a distance informs conservation's propensity to care anonymously--a propensity to care in the abstract, in terms of general categories, species, and populations.
Of course, the idea of "nature" has a long and complex history that I cannot elaborate in any detail here. (2) Simply put, people have not always had and do not everywhere have an idea of a wild realm of plants and animals utterly separated from humanity. Certainly, the constellation of cultural associations that surround nature--such as being a place of retreat from the ills of modern society or as a pure and timeless wilderness--tell us more about modern Western history than they do about animal or plant life. Even as recently as the Renaissance, Europeans most often equated nature with "waste" or "barrenness", those places at the edges of civilisation one entered only "in fear and trembling" (Cronon 1996, 8-9). Indeed, the aesthetic preference for an untamed wilderness among certain elite Europeans emerged alongside a nascent, urban bourgeoisie that valorised the progress of "modern civilization" while romanticising the mythologised "state of nature" from which it was said to depart. (3) Oppositions between civilisation and nature, the modern and the primitive, cut to the very heart of the West discourse about itself (Trouillot 2003).
In the nineteenth century, white Americans drew on and elaborated these imaginaries of nature in reference to their own particular settler experiences. Specifically, white America mapped that series of familiar dichotomies--modern and primitive, civilisation and nature--onto the developed East Coast and the "vacant" Western frontier (Cronon 1996). Looking westward, the settler gaze saw not an anthropogenic landscape cared for by generations of Native Americans, but an open terra nullius, a wilderness to be conquered. Such ideas about the frontier and its inevitable disappearance in the face of civilisation motivated early efforts at conservation. Yet the frontier had diverse significances even among the relatively constrained white, middle-class circles I mean to evoke here. As such, early conservationists cobbled together an effective cultural force from a variety of related, though distinct, discourses.
For instance, many early American conservationists shared a suspicion toward modernity, a valorisation of the primitive, the pristine, and the pure over the artificial. Henry David Thoreau, that paragon of American nature writing, evokes this pattern of thought in his essay entitled "Walking" when he writes that "hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in impervious and quaking swamps" (Thoreau 1851, 278). This is a simple inversion of the progress narrative of modern civilisation. Instead of the cultivated field, Thoreau valorises "wilderness", places that are "not yet subdued to man" (ibid., 277).
The role gender plays in Thoreau's description of wilderness as not yet subdued to "man", is far from accidental. Indeed, for many early conservationists, the wild frontier was most valuable for the rugged manliness it cultivated in those who dared to settle it. This brand of conservation is perhaps best represented by Theodore Roosevelt, a man who signed into existence five national parks, eighteen nationallent to the outdoorsman (Roosevelt quoted in Cronon 1996, 14). He endlessly romanticised the noble "rough rider of the pla monuments, fifty-five national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests (Sierra Club n.d.). Though his reasons for joining the conservationist cause were diverse (Haraway 1989, 26-58), among them was the "fine, manly qualities" wilderness experience ins", wandering the Western wilderness.
There [on the frontier] he passes his days... Brave, hospitable, hardy, and adventurous, he is the grim pioneer of our race; he prepares the way for the civilization from before whose face he must himself disappear. Hard and dangerous though his existence is, it has yet a wild attraction that strongly draws to it his bold, free spirit (Roosevelt 1888,100).
The desire to preserve such a landscape for the urban man--lest he become too accustomed to the luxuries of modern living, made effeminate from a life of ease--motivated much early American conservation, as well as the founding of such vaunted institutions as the American Museum of Natural History (Haraway 1989). (4)
To others, the impulse to preserve the frontier was rooted in a desire to see God's creation left unpilfered by the corruption of man. John Muir, for instance, a nature writer instrumental in the founding of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Club (the longest-running conservation organisation in the United States and also one of the largest), combined an enduring critique of modern life with an idiosyncratic reading of Christian doctrine. Muir echoes Thoreau, writing of the "thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, overcivilized people" who "are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity" (1901, 1). Yet for Muir, the retreat to wilderness was not merely an escape from the modern but a pilgrimage, a sacred right and duty. Perched atop Yosemite dome, Muir described himself as "humbly prostrate before the vast display of God's power, and eager to offer self-denial and renunciation with eternal toil to learn any lesson in the divine manuscript" (1911, 132). He would describe Hetch Hetchy Valley as "one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples" and those who would see it dammed as "temple destroyers" (1912, 255, 261).
Despite the heterogeneous cultural forces mobilised by this cast of early conservation figures, they shared a vision of nature as a reified place over there, a unique wilderness to be visited, never occupied. Indeed, so enamoured was Thoreau of untouched wilderness that he bore a certain resentment for the populated New England forests with which he was acquainted, calling them "an emasculated country... a maimed and imperfect nature" (quoted in Cronon 1983, 4). We hear the fetishisation of the untouched wilderness too in Muir's sharp juxtapositioning of the civilised world and that of the purifying "mountains". Elsewhere, Muir describes "God's wildness" as "great, fresh, unblighted", emphasising its utter detachment from humanity (1979, 317). Indeed, it was where "the galling harness of civilization drops off" (ibid.).
If it is less obvious in Roosevelt's mournful tribute to "the rough rider of the plains", who "must himself disappear" before the face of civilisation, we hear the valorisation of wild nature in his address on the Grand Canyon, after naming it a national monument: "I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind... Leave it as it is... The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it" (National Park Service 2017). Whether a refuge from supposedly inauthentic urban life, a stage upon which to hone one's masculine instincts, or God's unaltered creation, many of conservation's earliest architects envisioned nature as a separate non-human domain, a wilderness untouched by human hands.
Figures like Thoreau, Muir, and Roosevelt (among many others), concretised a lexicon and an array of practices around nature that inform conservation today. Perhaps this movement's most enduring legacy is the solidification of the national park, or other kinds of vertically managed protected spaces, as conservation's flagship intervention. The park is in essence a material instantiation of the wilderness ideal, an attempt to barricade a "wild" landscape that would be otherwise consumed or contaminated by human civilisation. Prior to Yellowstone, only one other national park existed anywhere on the globe. (5) Yet, over the subsequent decades, this particular model of conservation, the preservation of nature in various sorts of "protected status" managed by the state or conservation NGOs, exploded across the map (Brockington, Duffy, and Igoe 2010, 28-38). Indeed, now as much as fifteen per cent of the Earth's terrestrial surface has protected status of one kind of another (International Union for Conservation of Nature 2016). The cast of figures I have elaborated here had no small role to play in this process. Africa's first park, now Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, came into being based in part on the recommendations of Carl Akeley, the noted taxidermist and dear friend of Theodore Roosevelt (American Museum of Natural History 2016). Akeley hoped his African Hall in the American Museum of Natural History would be a testament to "the Africa that was, the Africa that is fast disappearing", exporting the logic of the American frontier to the African interior (Akeley 1923, 54-55). Elsewhere, the individuals I have mentioned were less directly implicated, although the ways of seeing landscapes that they articulated were central to the founding of national parks and protected spaces across the globe (Neumann 1998; Igoe 2004; Brockington, Duffy, Igoe 2010).
Relatedly, the fixation on wilderness led early conservationists to certain kinds of collaborations and not others. An attachment to pristine nature positioned local people living in or around a wilderness landscape as potential threats rather than collaborators in preservation (Brockington, Duffy, and Igoe 2010, 9; Jacoby 2001). This proved especially harmful for indigenous communities who were sometimes violently removed from longstanding settlements to make way for conservation (Burnham 2000). Instead of local people--settler or native--Muir and other conservationists recruited urban and corporate interest groups as collaborators in the conservation enterprise. They found partners among those most like themselves: white, urban, people of status who were "refined enough" to appreciate wilderness and the railroad companies eager to transport these middle-class visitors to remote tourist destinations (Igoe 2004, 90). Colonial administrators and conservationists reproduced this pattern of local land dispossession followed by wildlife tourism in many places across the globe (Neuman 1998; Igoe 2004; West, Igoe, and Brockington 2006).
Especially critical to the claims of this paper, this imaginary of nature as an untouched wilderness created a situation where conservationists were at once compelled to care for non-humans and, at the same time, to keep a distance from them. In other words, conservationists took as their charter caring for objective, wild, non-human life, which they thought best preserved when separate from humans. Because of this, I want to argue that conservationists, even today, tend to relate to non-human life in the abstract. Conservationists often care generally, anonymously: the only way one can care is from a distance, from the other side of the fence around the national park, so to speak. In my next section, I theorise anonymous care more fully and highlight some of its potential consequences.
Conservation as Anonymous Care
I am drawing the term "anonymous care" from the work of anthropologist Lisa Stevenson, especially her recent Life beside itself: Imagining care in the Canadian arctic (2014, 82). Working in Inuit communities in the North American arctic, she is interested in the various public health interventions undertaken by the Canadian state, specifically, one aiming to stanch an Inuit tuberculosis epidemic in the mid-twentieth century, and another aiming to arrest a contemporary Inuit suicide epidemic. In each case she finds that Canadian state officials exercise care in Inuit communities not because of attachment to any specific person, but because of a sense of professional duty toward the life of the Inuit community at large, in the abstract. In this, Stevenson is essentially extending the Foucauldian thesis that "biopower" takes as its charter the fostering of life, the stewarding of the "population" (Foucault  1990, 138-39; 2003, 239-63).
Stevenson's "anonymous care" is a useful concept because of the subtle ambivalence contained in the compound term. Often we think of care as a necessarily positive phenomenon. Synonyms like love and adoration conjure feelings of tenderness and affinity; indeed, my intention is not to question the degree to which conservationists show genuine concern for the diverse forms of non-human life that flourish on our ailing planet. Yet the modifier "anonymous" prompts some productive unease. More specifically, it compels us to ask certain critical questions: On whose terms does care take place? Who or what specifically is the object of care?
Anonymous care is concerned with a strange object, namely what we might call "abstract life" or "bare life", the latter a term I am drawing on with significant modification from the works of philosopher Giorgio Agamben (1998, 65). (6) To care for a person as a member of a population is to care for someone inasmuch as they are comparable to any other member of that population. It is to care for that person based on whatever characteristics are generalisable as qualities of the population at large. The Canadian state, for example, cared for each individual Inuit person only as an instantiation of the broader, abstract category of Inuit life. This is the root of the anonymity in anonymous care: it does not matter precisely who is cared for. Indeed, the precise identity of the recipient of care must be ignored to think at the level of the entire population. Anna Tsing offers a compelling, micro-level example of this way of thinking in her Friction: An ethnography of global connection (2005). She writes, "as long as facts are apples and oranges, one cannot generalize across them; one must first see them as 'fruit' to make general claims" (89). In order to care for the population, state apparatuses need a generalisable abstract feature (like fruit), to make comparable all the individual members of that population (each, like an apple or an orange, distinct in myriad other ways). "Bare life", in my usage, is the general abstract feature that makes possible anonymous care for members of the population. Denuded of particularity, bare life in this sense is the simple fact of being alive that allows an equation of one individual in the population to any other. It is the essential fact of living, void of any qualitative markers or particularity and rendered quantitative; it is life as a tally.
We see anonymous care, the care for life in the abstract, manifest at a fundamental level in conservation's use of biodiversity metrics. Biodiversity metrics are complex statistical measures that seek to put the relative diversity of non-human life in a given place in global context. "Biodiversity hotspots" are those locations where the diversity of species is so numerous, or the rate of endemism (the number of species unique to that region) so high, that it deserves special conservation attention (Conservation International n.d.). Seldom do large conservation organisations make decisions about the distribution of funding, or measure the impact of their interventions, without reference to such biodiversity metrics (Chapin 2004). Regional offices of the big conservation organisations will almost always make claims to the urgency of their work in terms of the abundance of species or unique populations they steward. The Nature Conservancy's Caribbean website mentions almost immediately, for instance, that the region is host to "13,000 plant species" and "over 12,000 fish and other marine species" (Nature Conservancy n.d.). The Amazon specific webpage of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes that "the diversity of the region is staggering", including over "40,000 plant species, 3,000 freshwater fish species and more than 370 types of reptiles" (WWF n.d., "Amazon"). Where the species diversity is lower, uniqueness is emphasised. WWF's Southern Chile specific webpage mentions, for example, that "about 50 percent of the flora [in the region] is endemic--found nowhere else on Earth" (WWF n.d., "Southern Chile").
In either case, such claims to local biodiversity require abstraction on multiple levels. To think in terms of species is to abstract beyond the particularities of any singular being that constitutes that category. To think in terms of biodiversity is to abstract considerably further. Indeed, biodiversity metrics, we might say, aim for total, global comparability, the theoretical exchangeability of all non-human beings from vascular plants to aquatic mammals, from fungi to reptiles. Biodiversity metrics seek to measure non-human bare life such that international conservation organisations can efficiently intervene in the global non-human population, without getting caught up in the particularity of singular beings or places. To some, this may seem quite unremarkable. But we must remember that it is not at all inevitable that those concerned with non-humans would take such abstractions as their privileged way of knowing the object of their care. Instead, given the historical context of the previous section, we might say such abstract modes of care allow conservationists to care from a distance, and to care without the need to forge immersive, personalised relationships with non-human beings. (7)
Even when conservationists do highlight a particular being, they tend to evoke a "case" of a broader category, a single "unit" of bare life. For instance, the WWF calls on concerned donors to "symbolically adopt" Kamrita the tiger (WWF United Kingdom 2012). This could be seen as a personalised mode of care for a single tiger, yet this call takes place within a broader context of concern for the entire population of tigers. A recent WWF report from Bhutan's Royal Manas National Park notes that "from only 10 tigers in 2010", the tiger "population has now grown to 22" (WWF 2018). With "a global population of as few as 3,890 wild tigers", we are told, "every population increase matters" (ibid.). And what is even more important for my argument here is that all we learn of Kamrita is that she is, in fact, a tiger and that her species is under threat. The concerned caller who "adopts" Kamrita receives a "species card" in the mail offering precisely the sort of biodiversity statistics I mentioned above. Kamriti is then a "case", an individual member of the population, not a particular being with a specific age, unique temperament, and distinctive features. This difference is much the same as that between an example of magnifera indica and the Kindah tree.
We see the anonymous care of conservationists at its most dramatic and most violent in conservationist-led mass eradications of "invasive species". (8) Such techniques are now quite common, with one study finding 251 mass eradication programs on 181 islands across the globe (Jones et al. 2016). One especially large-scale eradication in the Galapagos precipitated the killing of roughly 80,000 goats over about five years on Santiago Island, a $6 million operation that enlisted sharp shooters with automatic weapons who would target goats from specialty helicopters (Cruz et al. 2009; Bocci 2017). My point in bringing up this morbid example of conservationist culling is not to enter into a discussion about the morality of such interventions, but to draw attention to the particular epistemological orientation such an intervention requires to be even thinkable. To intervene through abstraction, to operate on the basis of a generalised calculus of bare life, is to open the door not only to interventions that foster the life of endangered species, but those that extinguish the life of beings deemed unhealthy to the population at large. (9) Without specific attachment to any particular being, the anonymously caring agent can reduce the population, or destroy a particular category within it, as a matter of mathematics. "Bare life", Agamben tells us, can be "killed and yet not scarified" (1998, 73). Put more simply, one does not mourn the loss of a life rendered in the abstract.
Certainly, many conservation organisations depart from the logic of anonymous care as I have elaborated it here, and almost every organisation or individual conservationist will do so at some point (something I address more fully in my final section). However, the logic of anonymous care undergirds many conservation interventions, especially those undertaken by organisations at conservation's institutional centre. Further, my point is not that biodiversity metrics, as a form of anonymous care, need to be utterly abandoned as one method of interacting with the other beings that populate our planet. Given our impending climate crisis, a strong case could be made that we need to embrace every tool in the proverbial ecological toolbox.
Rather, I want to think about some of the limits, even the dangers, of anonymous care. Lisa Stevenson, for example, argues that bare life is best understood as a "failure of community" (2012, 605). Drawing on anthropologist Veena Das's definition of community as something "constituted through agreements and hence [something that] can be torn apart by the refusal to acknowledge some part" (2007, 9), Stevenson contends that bare life is in essence a "failure to recognize an Other as being embedded in a series of relationships" (2012, 598). By this she means to point out that to care in the abstract is to care at a remove from place and particularity, to care for an object divorced from the specific relationships that constitute it. Anonymous care generalises beyond the meaningful bonds that give any life its significance-in-situation. Here is the danger for conservation: in anonymously caring for the bare life of the non-human other, it risks the severance of relations, of more-than-human communities premised on intimate relationships between human and non-human. The example of Jamaica's Maroons, in particular, demonstrates this clearly.
Maroon Environmental Philosophies and Immersive Care
In my first section, I argued that early conservationists built their movement around the imaginary of the untouched frontier, a separate domain apart from human civilisation. In stark contrast, Jamaican Maroons historically had no possibility of separation from local ecologies. Jamaican Maroons descend from Africans and Tainos escaped to the island's mountainous forests in an effort to escape European plantations. Maroon history is a story of tactical integration with ecology, of militant land expropriation culminating in a series of peace treaties with the British in the mid-eighteenth century. In other words, while settler experience suggested to early conservationists that people and nature must be kept separate, lest the former destroy the latter, Maroon history has precisely the opposite implication. It involves thoughtful integration with non-human others. In this section, I tease out briefly a Maroon environmental philosophy that seems to valorise immersion within ecology. Maroons are far from a monolith, and I do not wish to make singular, traditional, or systemic their varied environmental practices. Yet in my brief fieldwork, I noticed some patterns that depart rather sharply from the ways of relating to non-humans which I articulated in the previous sections.
For instance, it is often non-separation from local ecology that Maroons narrate as decisive in their fight against the British. Maroons came to know intimately the forested spaces around them. Their ancestors, I was often told in my fieldwork, knew the landscape like no one else. They knew where one might find a hidden cave from which to surveil enemy movements, which plants contained water reserves or offered a cure to this or that ailment, which valleys were hidden from view and thus safe places to reside. I do not mean to gloss this non-separation as a purely positive phenomenon, some kind of a romantic embrace. Intimacy with tropical ecologies entailed myriad burns, bites, pricks, and other suffering. Indeed, contemporary Maroons often speak of their time in hiding as one of great struggle. Yet, through this suffering, Maroons carved out a domain of freedom from British plantation society. For instance, a Maroon identified as Dawg once told anthropologist Werner Zips, "They [the British] were children in the forest, but we [Maroons] are children of the forest" (1999, 81). Rather than visitors to a space apart from themselves, as the British (or today's conservationists) might conceive the forest to be, Dawg claims Maroons to be legitimately of, or we might say co-emergent, with the forest itself.
This non-separation from local ecology is embodied in traditional Maroon "ambush"--a ritually donned form of camouflage in which a Maroon totally covers their body with vines until they are undifferentiable from the surrounding forest. An innovative battle technique during the war with the British, ambush continues to be used at certain ritual moments or during important celebrations. The process entails "sacred Kromanti songs and incantations" as well as "libations of white rum to the ancestors" as the body is totally wrapped in vines head to toe (Bilby 2005, 150). (10) In stark contrast to the settler presupposition that nature was a realm separate from humanity, Maroons here enact an embodied merging of people and place, human and plant.
Further, this principle of ecological immersion is instantiated in the host of mnemonic sites that dot the landscape of the Maroon commons. This was evident in my stays in Accompong--the centre of Leeward Jamaican Maroon community in Cockpit Country. For instance, the many fruit trees that occupy Maroon yards in Accompong conjure the person, perhaps a few generations back, who planted that tree and tended to it such that their kin might later benefit. One informant, sitting on his veranda and looking out at the breadfruit trees in the yard, told me that those trees made him think of his father, mother, and other "long gone people". Outside the immediate yard, the commonly held landscape of Accompong is covered with sites that represent hundreds of years of interaction between Maroons and local ecologies: places like Old Town, where Accompong Maroons lived prior to the peace treaty, or Saucy Trail, where Maroons once corralled their cattle. Though these places would appear simply as natural meadows to the uninformed, they are important community markers, nodes of interaction between ancestors and the place of Accompong. In Accompong it would be impossible to differentiate between non-human and human space or between nature and society, so intimately intertwined are the two upon the landscape. Given this interpenetration, Maroons tend to show care toward personally known non-human spaces and entities--nodes of human and natural history tangled in one. Indeed, I hope, with this added context, the example of the Kindah tree has new significance.
Importantly, the more-than-human community of Accompong and its immersive modes of relating to dearly known non-human others are hard to square with the methods of conservationist anonymous care I elaborated above. In effect, this paper began by asking the following: what happens when Kindah is transformed from a known collaborator to an anonymous representative of the genus magnifera? As we saw, rather than a decisive, constructive member of a more-than-human community, the Kindah tree becomes an "invasive species", potentially destructive to non-human life. My point is not that conservationists are actively seeking to change the Maroon relationship to the Kindah tree. Indeed, because their care is typically directed at the population level, Kindah is not the subject of conservationist intervention. However, in Kindah we see what anonymous care, however caring, misses or renders illegible.
In the very least, this disjuncture should demonstrate that conservation is a culturally specific mode of care. Both conservation and Maroon environmental practices emerge out of specific, situated histories of interaction between people and landscapes. Yet only the former has claimed a global charter for intervention in the protection of non-human life on Earth. Recognising the cultural particularity of conservation should bring into question the uniformity of conservation globally. Is it everywhere culturally appropriate? While climate change certainly poses a uniquely collective global challenge, there is a real danger in the elision of human difference that comes with globally uniform policy prescriptions. Calls that "we" as an undifferentiated human race must conserve for the sake of "our" climate future not only obscure power differentials and the unequal role some humans (namely the wealthy) play in bringing about climate change (Moore 2016), they rehearse the colonial routine of elevating a particularly Euro-American cultural form to global best practice.
This point on cultural difference aside, I want to suggest that when anonymous care is undertaken in places like Accompong, where there are long-running attachments between people and place, human and non-human, it hazards a kind of harm. To my great displeasure, my argument here remains largely theoretical, even though Maroons and conservationists are indeed actively seeking to work out, in real world interactions, the different modes of care I have elaborated here (a process I hope to study and participate in). These attempts at reconciliation are diverse, and indeed my final section explores one such example in detail. Yet, as scholars have found in similar convergences of conservation and indigenous communities (Ross et al. 2011), a successful and equitable collaboration between conservationists and Maroons requires an honest accounting of the epistemological disjunctures at play. (11) My arguments here are partly observational and partly cautionary, highlighting the consequences of abstract, anonymous modes of care in Maroon spaces.
For instance, there is a kind of epistemological violence at stake. As Stevenson writes, "the particular violence of bare life... is that one conceives of life as artificially severed from community" (2012, 605). In Accompong, non-human bare life would need to be carved out of dense relationships, out of stubbornly maintained intimacies between human and non-human. "The breadfruit tree my father planted" would need to become a breadfruit tree, an example of artocarpus altilis, comparable to any other, at least in the grant application of the conservationist. In an odd way, this change from personal to abstract asks Jamaican Maroons to adopt the peculiar intellectual orientation of the American settler who, looking Westward to an "uncivilized land" imagined himself to be confronting a singularly non-human space. For the settler, each tree of a given species was comparable because each was unknown, except as a member of a broader category. This is decidedly not the case among many Maroons.
Second, anonymous care poses a potential danger to local memory. What if Maroons were to see only abstract non-human life in places where they currently see the accreted markers of centuries of interaction between kin and various non-human others? Because local history is read through the landscape, anonymous care hazards a kind of forgetting, an erasure of an ecologically materialised archive of revolt. For Kindah to become an example of magnifera indica is not just to abstract beyond a host of relationships in the contemporary, but to obscure a history of anti-colonial struggle.
What if conservationists were more concerned with the non-humans nearby, with knowing particular beings in their singularity rather than in a global context? What if conservation sought to build specific, irreducibly unique, more-than-human communities? What might personally invested, socially situated (and thus culturally variable) kinds of conservation action look like? In the next section, I point to some emergent trends within conservation circles in Jamaica that perhaps offer the beginning of an answer to such questions.
Possibilities for a Conservation Otherwise
Conservation need not care for non-human others anonymously. Indeed, in practice, conservationists often cultivate personal, embodied, affective attachment to particular places and beings. Working with marine conservationists in Montego Bay and Negril, James Carrier (2013), for instance, found that some conservationists started their career as environmental activists after first fostering highly personal attachments to specific environments. These sorts of attachments rarely translate into meaningful conservation policy. The reasons for this are complex.
For one, as Stevenson notes, the logic of anonymous care can come to permeate our sense of the available possibilities for action. "What is fascinating about anonymous care," she writes, "is that it becomes a privileged mode of care even in situations where one does or might have face-to-face relations with the other" (Stevenson 2014, 88). "Anonymity", in other words, "comes to structure our very definition of what it is to care" (ibid., 87). Personal attachment becomes a potentially corrupting bias, rather than a motivating force which can make care more specifically suited to the complex circumstances of any particular human or non-human life. That people with embodied attachments to a place, according to Carrier's text come to see anonymous care as the best way to express this sentiment is a testament to how thoroughly many have come to consider care is best when unbiased, neutral, and professional.
Further, real institutional constraints limit the range of policies any conservationist can undertake. For example, conservationists must seek funding from agencies with their own ideas about what counts as conservation. One Jamaican conservationist complained to me that while she would love to do a project on drainage in Kingston, her hinders considered this work an intervention in public infrastructure. In the eyes of those funders, infrastructure was something the government should address, not a matter of conservation, even though marine life in the coastal waters adjacent to Kingston has suffered from the city's poor waste disposal systems. In Carrier's research, he found that the dearth of national funding directed toward conservation compelled Jamaican conservationists to pitch their interventions in term of profitability, as a mode of preserving appealing landscapes for tourist consumption. This, in a pattern we saw in the American West, has aligned conservationists with international tourists rather than local fisherman whose embodied attachments to a place may have actually mirrored their own more closely.
Despite these centripetal forces, which homogenise the range of policy actions conservationists undertake, some Jamaican conservationists have envisioned projects that do not rely on separation and abstraction. The Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), the organisation that manages the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and World Heritage site (WHS), is a good example. JCDT hopes to help Windward Maroons locate and tend to sacred sites within the boundary of the WHS. Further, they hope to aid in the transmission of this knowledge to the next generation of Maroons. This would entail an elaboration of Maroon attachment to place, a solidification of a more-than-human community, rather than a severance of human from non-human for the sake of protecting non-human bare life. Such a project would direct conservationist attention and funding toward specific beings as places, as situated, named entities.
In a co-published chapter of an IUCN document, Kimberly John (an ecologist), C.L.G. Harris (a former Colonel of the Moore Town Maroons), and Susan Otuokon (the Executive Director of JCDT) elaborate the rationale behind the project. The chapter states that "The relationship between the [Blue and John Crow Mountain] protected area and sacred natural sites is seen to be synergistic since incorporating these sites into protected area management will help to preserve their knowledge and transmission within the Windward Maroon community and in turn reinforce the culture of Jamaica's only remaining indigenous group" (John, Otuokon, and Harris 2010, 1). Further, they write, "conservation efforts in Jamaica are faced with the dual task of restoring fragmented ecosystems and repairing or developing healthy linkages between people and nature" (ibid.). If these "healthy linkages" support not simply an attachment to distant, untouched natures, but thick entanglements with known non-humans nearby, this could be a radical kind of conservation.
Critical in both of these quotations is the inclusion of the Maroons and an ambition to strengthen their culturally specific attachment to place. The "nature" we hear of in this document is not a reified wilderness, but a lived-in landscape. Indeed, to begin this kind of conservation work, JCDT had first to perform interviews with Maroons, learning which spaces and specific non-humans were of local significance. This is a stark departure from the global, abstract perspective of the biodiversity metric.
The specific shape of JCDT's work with Maroons is still emerging. In regular meetings with Maroon leadership they are hoping to figure out what precisely conservation can do in the Blue and John Crow Mountains. If they continue in the direction outlined above, JCDT will be departing in some significant ways from the forms of anonymous care I articulated here. Rather than a conservation that cares anonymously for abstract non-human life, perhaps we can imagine, alongside JCDT, a conservation that cultivates culturally variable, thickly entangled more-than-human communities. Perhaps we can care not for nature, or at least not for nature alone, but for the known non-human nearby.
My thanks go first to the Accompong Maroons, the Charles Town Maroons and the Moore Town Maroons for hosting me in the summers of 2016 and 2017. Special thanks to my hosts in each community for allowing me into their homes. I am grateful as well to my partner, Sarah Winstein-Hibbs, for coming along, for her constant support throughout fieldwork and for her thoughtful commentary during the writing process. Thanks also to Susan Otuokon from the JCDT for generously giving her time to speak with me during my field visits. I am grateful to James Igoe, China Scherz, and an anonymous reviewer for extremely helpful commentary on earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks also to Fran Botkin and Paul Youngquist for their work organising the International Maroon Conference, for inviting me to present, and for extending this publication opportunity to a young scholar like myself.
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(1) Much as one might reply "me de yah" (or "I am here") when asked how they are doing, "Kin de yah" means something like ("Kin is there"), and became Kindah over time.
(2) Many scholars have historically situated nature within Western culture (Cronon 1996; Haraway 1989; Igoe 2004) and elaborated its convergences with gender (Merchant 1980) and race (Moore, Kosek, and Anand 2003; Outka 2008; Allewaert 2013).
(3) Many scholars, for instance, have traced the emergence of a wilderness ideal among England's nascent urban bourgeoisie in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries (Williams 1973; Neeson 1993; Igoe 2004, 79-84). Over the course of the enclosure movement, England's upper classes wrought the legal closure of the peasantry's common lands, thus alienating them from the landscape and forcing them to work for wages in the emerging cities. During this same time, aristocratic aesthetic tastes, as manifest in landscape portraits, shifted from the manicured garden to the rugged wilderness (Williams 1973). In other words, the English elite came to aesthetically appreciate the wild landscape emptied of humans at the same time as they materially produced such a landscape through the dispossession of the rural peasantry.
(4) H.F. Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History, expressed such an interest in the pedagogical possibilities of nature in 1908, writing that "[n]ature teaches law and order and respect for property. If these people cannot go to the country, then the Museum must bring nature to the city" (quoted in Haraway 1989, 26).
5 Bogd Khan Uul National Park in Mongolia, established in 1783, precedes Yellowstone by almost a century. Of course, the history of protected places or protected species is long and diverse, with people leaving certain places fallow or certain species unbothered throughout history (see Brockington, Duffy, and Igoe 2010, 20, for a host of examples). The model of conservation I describe here is one particularly American iteration of this broader phenomenon, which has now turned global.
6 My definition of bare life here does not precisely align with Agamben's use of the term. Indeed, there is some scholarly disagreement concerning the term's precise meaning, in part because Agamben seems to leave some ambiguity in his own uses of the phrase. At some points, he explicitly challenges the equation between bare life and "natural life" (1998, 88), instead equating bare life more precisely with life that is exposed to death. Elsewhere (ibid., 127), he does seem to equate natural life and bare life. Rather than mire the reader in a detailed analysis of Agamben, however, I have opted to move forward with a potentially reductive definition to see what it can offer us as a concept. We might easily replace bare life with something like "abstract life" or "denuded life", though it would reduce the possibilities for inter-textual connections.
(7) Here again a broader history would be useful though it far exceeds the limits of this paper. For example, conservation's tendency toward abstraction also has much to do with scientific epistemologies more generally, which also tend to rely on generalisable principles (Ross et al. 2011, 35). Further conservationist abstraction is perhaps best considered alongside the peculiarities of capitalism (Igoe 2017). Remember that money is itself an abstraction (money has abstract value), making comparable and thus exchangeable all kinds of commodities.
(8) Invasive species are typically defined as non-native species that do some kind of harm to the local environmental or to people. When precisely a species leaves the domain of "non-native" and becomes invasive is not always clear and is a matter of some contention among conservationists and ecologists (Davis et al. 2011).
(9) This is, in part, why Stevenson's informants feel there is a murderous potential to the Canadian state's anonymous care (2014, 71-73). There is a sense that the stripping of the particular meaning of life-in-situation, makes it something other than meaningful life all together, something which can be as readily nurtured as killed. It is much this same tension that leads Foucault to argue that, in claiming power over life and the population, modern states begin to fantasise genocide ( 1990,137).
(10) Kromanti is a distinctive Jamaican Maroon language with African roots. It is not typically spoken conversationally in Maroon communities today but is still found in many Maroon songs and phrases.
(11) Conservationists have sometimes been tempted to gloss over these differences, portraying indigenous people as natural conservationists (Dove 2006) or, in a rehearsal of old colonial imaginaries, as "ecologically noble savages" (Redford 1991).
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|Publication:||Social and Economic Studies|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2018|
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