Social and river networks for the trees: Wounaan's riverine rhizomic cosmos and arboreal conservation

  • Runk J
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The effects of environmental conservation and development are of significant anthropological interest. Recent focus on the politics of knowledge and translation has shown the importance of cosmology in conservation encounters. I examine how Wounaan indigenous peoples and extralocal conservation practitioners "translate" eastern Panama based on their own cosmologies.(1) Specifically, I explore how Wounaan's social and river-networked rhizomic cosmos is overlooked in the practice of forest-focused conservation. This results from Panama's environmental history, in which actors simplified early representations of a complex landscape to one characterized by forests, as well as a Western bias toward forests with scant attention paid to cosmology. Finally, I note how Wounaan negotiate this cultural disconnect by emphasizing their ties to forests. In so doing, they buttress the arboreal bias, in turn reinforcing power relations, but also giving themselves political leverage in conservation activities. These results inform recent discussion about politics and scientific praxis in conservation.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Conservation
  • Forests
  • Politics of knowledge
  • Rivers
  • Wounaan

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  • Julie Velásquez Runk

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