A forest of dreams: Ontological multiplicity and the fantasies of environmental government in the Philippines

Noah Theriault
2017 Political Geography  
How do invisible beings in the forested hinterlands complicate the work of bureaucrats in the capital? What do dreams and the beings who visit them have to do with state power? Despite a deepening commitment to posthumanism, political ecologists have rarely opened our accounts of more-thanhuman assemblages to what have conventionally been termed "supernatural" or "metaphysical" forms of agency. To counter this lingering ethnocentrism, I argue here for an ontologically broadened understanding of
more » ... how environmental government is produced and contested in contexts of difference. My argument draws on ethnographic fieldwork on Palawan Island in the Philippines, where the expansion of conservation enclosures has coincided with the postauthoritarian recognition of Indigenous rights. Officials there have looked to a presumed Indigenous subsistence ethic as a natural fit for conservation enclosures. In practice, however, Palawan land-and resource-use decisions are based, in part, on social relations with an invisible realm of beings who make their will known through mediums or dreams. These relations involve contingencies that complicate and at times subvert the designs of bureaucratic conservation. As a result, attempts to graft these designs onto Palawan practices do as much to engender mutually transformative encounters between contrasting ontological practices as they do to create welldisciplined eco-subjects or establish state territoriality. To better understand the operation of environmental government e and to hold it accountable to promises of meaningful local participation e political ecology should, I argue, attend more carefully to the ontological multiplicity of forces that shape spatial practices and their regulation.
doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2015.09.004 fatcat:dy73fuck3nexxfz6tggspk5hvi