Scale Matters: Institutional Dynamics and Scalar Politics of Conservation Governance in the Pacific Islands
In an era of 'global' oceans crisis, marine conservationists have issued a resounding call to increase the spatial scale of ocean conservation. This dissertation examines the drivers and implications of recent efforts to scale up ocean conservation in places simultaneously celebrated for their revival of community-based conservation: the Pacific Islands region, the Micronesian sub-region, and the nation of Palau. Toward this end, this research engages and advances critical human geography theory on scalar politics and institutional theory on the governance of common pool resources to address the overarching questions: why and how are state and non-state actors rescaling ocean conservation, and with what social, political, and institutional consequences? These questions are approached empirically through a multi-sited case study that ethnographically tracks institutions, actors, funding, and agendas from the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to five Pacific Island nations and territories, revealing the links among macro and micro level processes in diverse political and geographical spaces.
This research conceptualizes the rescaling of ocean conservation as an integral component of social struggles for empowerment. Results illustrate how state and non-state actors pursue their contextually specific goals by working together to scale up the objects of ocean conservation. The means through which they achieve rescaling include discursive framings, performative acts, and institutional changes. Most significantly, these `scalar practices' have resulted in empowerment of environmental non-governmental organizations and Pacific Island governments within multi-level conservation governance processes; accumulation of international attention and funding at the regional level in Micronesia; and reduced local autonomy for conservation governance in Palau.
Overall, this work contributes an empirically grounded, theoretically engaged, and policy-relevant analysis of the scalar politics and institutional dynamics that are reshaping the actors, objectives, and institutions of contemporary ocean conservation across multiple levels of governance. Conclusions advance theory on the scalar dimensions of environmental governance by conceptualizing regions as strategically constructed tools of environmental politics; expanding understanding of the form and function of multi-level regimes for the governance of large common pool resources; and advancing constructive theoretical dialogue between critical human geographers and institutional theorists. This work may also inform policy discussions by illuminating complex tradeoffs that result from scalar rearrangements.
common pool resources
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