A story of “communities”: boundaries, geographical composition and social coherence in a forest conservation project, Northern Cambodia

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Explicit notions of “communities”, as key actors in conservation and development projects across the
Global South, are common. Narratives about “indigenous people” or “forest-dependent communities”
in forest conservation programmes prevail, portraying a picture of “communities” as homogeneous
and harmonious entities. In this study, we unfold “communities” as a construct with an empirical
example of a community-based forest protection project, Northern Cambodia. Based on qualitative
interviews, field observations and document analysis, we examine the “community” construct in
terms of establishment of boundaries, geographical composition and social coherence. We not only
find that the establishment of forest “community” boundaries are dominated by powerful external
actors rather than the “community members” themselves, but that the spatial composition of
“communities” is complex, and affects the ability of local people to benefit from the project. We also
find that the studied “communities” show low levels of social coherence and mainly consist of migrant
farmers, as opposed to common policy narratives. Taking these inconsistencies into account, we
discuss implications of constructing “communities” for the success of forest conservation projects,
and argue in favour of more discursive and political analyses to better understand, acknowledge
and adapt to existing and changing conditions in present and prospective project locations
Original languageEnglish
JournalGeografisk Tidsskrift/Danish Journal of Geography
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)134-146
Publication statusPublished - 2016

ID: 164297552