Conservation in a multi-natural world
: an ethnography of private conservation in Australia

  • Benjamin Mcgowan

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The conceptual unity of contemporary conservation is being disrupted by the Anthropocene, a theoretical proposition that has been the basis for a call to abandon efforts to conserve natural environments, in favour of a ‘New Conservation’. A New Conservation calls for the creation of new, politically powerful versions of nature, which could form the basis of a more popular and therefore stronger conservation movement. The New Conservation emerges in the context an Australian public sector under pressure, increased privatisation of government services, and the growth of conservation service delivery by private and non-government actors. This thesis addresses this contemporary political moment with an empirical account of Australia’s emerging private conservation sector. It describes private conservation through a multi-sited ethnography, with ethnographic field research focusing upon private conservation practices at two Australian landscape scale conservation projects, as well as centres of philanthropic, government, and strategic support in Australian capital cities.

    As this account shows, private conservation practitioners are free to imagine and compose innovative and entrepreneurial versions of nature, provided they can simultaneously recruit an active constituency able to engender these with social and political force. The freedom of private conservation practitioners results in multiple versions of nature within the sector, and private conservation governance emerges as a style of governing characterised by the presentation of compelling options, and the application of consumer choice. Since the emergence of private conservation has coincided with the loss of important decision-making forums across Australia’s conservation sector, versions of nature and their protagonists are engaged in an ongoing political contest. This thesis attempts an account of this nature politics, as conservation approaches compete to govern a contested Australian nature whole.
    Date of AwardJun 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorStephen Garnett (Supervisor)

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