The University of Arizona

Transformation is what you expect, models are what you get: REDD+ and models in conservation and development

Adeniyi Asiyanbi, Kate Massarella


Models increasingly pervade conservation and development practice – model policies, model countries, model regions, model states, model projects, model villages, model communities and so on. These are idealized, bounded, miniature entities that seek to demonstrate the efficacy of a more substantive policy, scheme or intervention. Although political ecologists and critical scholars have analyzed models in specific interventions, there has been relatively little reflection on the common logics central to models more generally. Drawing on critical conservation and development literature and in-depth case studies of REDD+ in Tanzania and Nigeria, we identify and elaborate three core model logics: 1) problematization of the field of intervention and valorization of microcosms within it; 2) isolation and bounding which seek to order complexity and etch microcosms in space and time; 3) enrolment of actors. Although ambitious and transformational in its claims and aspirations, REDD+ has thus far manifested as an extensive network of models across socio-political scales. We argue that idealized REDD+ models enable proponents to demonstrate and 'sell' REDD+ as a 'successful' intervention, thereby allowing the scheme to persist in policy circles in spite of its failures on the ground and its lack of viability at scale. We therefore argue that models  often become an end in themselves, paradoxically failing to herald the transformational intervention they were originally meant to epitomize.

Keywords: Conservation, development, models, Nigeria, Tanzania, REDD+

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