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Community / Land projects / A cultural politics of nature reserves: resource tensions, state-formation, and indigenous Bedouin

A cultural politics of nature reserves: resource tensions, state-formation, and indigenous Bedouin


08/22 - 12/23


This project is part of


"This research will be the first sustained geographical study of nature reserves in Jordan and will use interdisciplinary thinking and decolonising methodologies to examine the relationships between resource politics, indigeneity, and postcolonial state formation. Global resource scarcity has seen increasing tensions between states and indigenous groups over the control and management of natural resources. Existing literature often reduces these tensions to simple binaries between states which want to exploit resources and indigenous populations who have traditional, ecological relationships with resources. These tensions are therefore often portrayed as violent indigenous and non-indigenous confrontations. This research brings nuance to these long-held assumptions through a focus on nature reserves in Jordan to investigate how resource struggles occur in everyday sites and are connected to postcolonial state formation, differing social histories and relationships with resources and situated understandings of indigeneity. With resource tensions predicted to increase it is important to understand the everyday spaces in which these struggles occur. By focusing on nature reserves in Jordan, I hypothesise that tensions between states and indigenous populations over resources are the result of (post)colonial state formation, contested understandings of indigeneity, and ideas of resource management rooted in North American and European models. Geographically, this project focuses on nature reserves in Jordan for three primary reasons: it is an understudied postcolonial location; it faces growing natural resource scarcity, especially water scarcity; and indigeneity, resources and national identity are entangled in complex and contested ways. In nature reserves in Jordan, resource tensions are not violent confrontations over extraction of resources such as oil, but instead everyday tensions over how states, NGOs, and Bedouin relate to and understand resources, alongside their role in national identity formation. The control and management of natural resources in Jordan is connected to colonial legacies of land management and the struggles of forming identity and controlling transborder resources as a result of postcolonial state formation. Nature reserves in Jordan illustrate how indigenous identities are selectively incorporated into nature reserves to forge national identity, while indigenous groups are simultaneously displaced from these sites and their relationships with resources ignored. Despite the rise in nature reserves throughout the Middle East remarkably few studies have explored the unique ways resource tensions are connected to (post)colonial state formation and indigeneity in these sites. This research will provide politically urgent insights that move beyond dominant and binary framings of resource tensions by putting this specific instance of (post)colonial state making into dialogue with existing explorations of indigeneity and nature reserves to produce an original re-conceptualisation of the relationships between indigeneity, resources, and postcolonial state formation. This research is taken from a decolonial methodological perspective in which indigenous scholars argue the persistence of colonialism and Eurocentric knowledge systems is in part due to the methods used by researchers. This project will employ a decolonial methodological approach by combining textual analysis of official state narratives of nature reserves with participatory methods that centre Bedouin relationships with resources. The outputs will be co-produced with participants and benefit indigenous communities beyond the end of the project. This research will fundamentally alter the way in which resource tensions between indigenous groups and the state are understood, the links between resource politics and postcolonialism, and the everyday spaces in which these tensions emerge." COVID-19


Research and development activity contributing to the UK’s strategy to address key development challenges.

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