The University of Arizona

Whose Knowledge, Whose nature? Biodiversity, Conservation, and the Political Ecology of Social Movements

Arturo Escobar


This paper proposes a framework for rethinking the conservation and appropriation of biological diversity from the perspective of social movements. It argues that biodiversity, although with concrete biophysical referents, is a discourse of recent origin. This discourse fosters a complex network of diverse actors, from international organizations and NGOs to local communities and social movements. Four views of biodiversity produced by this network (centered on global resource management, national sovereignity, biodemocracy, and cultural autonomy, respectively) are discussed in the first part of the paper. The second part focuses on the cultural autonomy perspective developed by social movements. It examines in detail the rise and development of the social movement of black communities in the Pacific rainforest region of Colombia. This movement, it is argued, articulates through their practice an entire political ecology of sustainability and conservation. The main elements of this political ecology are discussed and presented as a viable alternative to dominant frameworks.

Key words: political ecology, social movements, rainforest, biodiversity,
afrocolombians, global networks.

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