How do humans come to care for their environment and what turns them into conservationists are central questions in environmental politics. Recent scholars have turned to Foucault’s ideas of ‘‘governmentality’’ to understand how technologies of power intersect with technologies of the self to create ‘‘environmental subjects,’’ that is, people who display a sense of commitment to the conservation of the environment. In this article, I argue that the applications of governmentality tend to privilege technologies of power and pay insufficient attention to the role of affect, emotions, and embodied practices in shaping human subjectivities.
I draw on Spinoza’s framework of affects and Hardt and Negri’s idea of ‘‘affective labor’’ to bring attention to the processes through which human beings make themselves and the role of affect and environmental care practices in shaping subjectivity. Using the example of community-based forest conservation efforts in Odisha, India, I argue that we need to look beyond economic and political rationalities to explain human action and behavior. I suggest that villagers’ efforts to regenerate degraded forests involve affective labor in which mind and body, reason and passion, intellect and feeling are all employed together. Through the daily practices of caring for the forest and helping the forests grow, villagers not only transform natural landscapes but also transform their individual and collective subjectivities. I conclude by elaborating on the ‘‘biopower from below’’ of these environmental care practices.
LEAP is pleased to have the author’s permission to publish this article under the scholarly sharing of information. The article was first published by Elsevier in GeoForum, Volume 47 June 2013, Pages 189–198 doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.01.010
In view of current global environmental crises, the question of whether we can fundamentally change our ways of relating with nature is becoming increasingly urgent. These ecological crises and the arrival of the ‘‘Anthropocene’’ are challenging us to invent a ‘‘different mode of humanity’’ (Plumwood, 2002) and new ways of ‘‘caring for nature’’ (Milton, 2002) and of ‘‘belonging’’(Gibson-Graham, 2011) in a ‘‘post-natural’’ world (Castree, 2004; Escobar,1999). There is now a growing body of scholarship by human geographers and anthropologists – under the labels of posthumanism,vital materiality, and performance ontology – that provides tools to reimagine a new ontology of human beings and to rethink human subjectivity, modes of being, and drivers of human action (for a detailed review see Braun, 2004, 2008).
However, academic theorizing and policymaking for environmental conservation have yet to fully embrace the radical potential of this work. At the same time, there is evidence coming from other disciplines, including evolutionary biology (Alexander, 1987; De Waal, 2008, 2010), neuroscience (Decety and Jackson, 2006; Maturana and Varela, 1987; Preston and De Waal, 2002) and behavioral economics (Bowles and Gintis, 2011; Falk and Fishbacher, 2005; Levine, 1998), that shows that reciprocity, empathy, and affect play central roles in shaping human behavior and actions. However, environmental policy-making continues to treat human beings as rational economic actors and relies on economic incentives to transform human behavior. According to this view, subject positions and preferences are seen as fixed and pre-given and shaped by the perception of self-interest; meanwhile, the ‘‘self’’ that drives selfinterest is largely left unquestioned. While the question of subject formation has long engaged the attention of philosophers, it has only recently begun to engage those in nature-society studies.
Notably, Arun Agrawal’s work (Agrawal, 2005a,b) has been influential in drawing attention to issues of subjectivity and subject formation within environmental politics. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of governmentality, Agrawal (2005a, p. 166) uses the term ‘‘environmentality’’ to denote a ‘‘framework of understanding in which technologies of self and power are involved in the creation of new subjects concerned about the environment.’’ Despite the richness in Foucault’s later work on how human beings make themselves, Agrawal’s analysis remains closely tied to rationalities of governance and the role of disciplinary practices in the production of subjectivity. This paper brings Agrawal’s notion of environmentality (and similar applications of governmentality) into conversation with ideas about subjectivity that are informed by a Spinozian perspective on affect and Hardt and Negri’s concept of affective labor. Affects refer to the power to affect and be affected; and a focus on affects in our laboring (and everyday practices) draws attention to the potential of these practices to produce new ways of being, new subjectivities, and new forms of human communication and cooperation. Using ethnographic research from community-based forest conservation initiatives in Odisha,1 India, I illustrate the role of affect and environmental care practices in the production of new subjectivities.
In Odisha, about 10,000 villages are actively protecting state-owned forests through elaborate community-based arrangements (Nayak and Berkes, 2008; Singh, 2002). They had been doing so prior to the state’s provision of ‘‘incentives’’ to conserve forests or the invitation to ‘‘jointly’’ manage forests through the Joint Forest Management (JFM) program (Kant et al., 1991; Sarin et al., 2003). This paper shows that villagers’ daily practices of caring for and regenerating degraded forests in Odisha can be seen as affective labor in which mind and body, reason and passion, intellect and feeling are employed together. Through the environmental care practices involved in ‘‘growing forests,’’ villagers not only transform natural landscapes they also transform their individual and collective subjectivities.
This paper is based on my long-term engagement as an activist and researcher with these community-forestry initiatives. In 1990, my first job with a Swedish consulting firm managing the Social Forestry Project took me to Odisha, where I found that villagers were actually protecting the state-owned forests that the Project sought to ‘‘protect’’ from them. After my initial, naïve efforts to make visible local forest-conservation efforts, I spent about a decade with Vasundhara, a Bhubaneswar-based NGO, supporting the community-forestry initiatives in their struggle to gain rights over forests, before coming to academia. This paper uses data from ethnographic research conducted from 2004 to 2007 in the form of village case-studies, oral histories, village songs, and poems and also draws upon insights from my practitioner work. During this longterm engagement with communities in Odisha, the question that I had initially set aside with easy answers has come back to engage my attention – that is, Why have villagers invested their labor (and love) in protecting forests over which they have few formal rights?
Economic reasons and subsistence dependence on forests provide a partial answer, but they do not explain how subjectivity is produced through processes of ‘‘becoming’’ at work and through the dynamic relations between people and forests. Reading Agrawal’s Environmentality against my experience of shifts in environmental subjectivities in Odisha left me frustrated – as the analytics of environmentality did not seem to provide enough space for local agency (dispersed over forests and people) and for the processes of ‘‘becoming.’’ I turned to Spinozian philosophy and to the biopolitical potential of affective labor to open up ways of theorizing local agency and emergence that are creative and life affirming.
I state my positionality in order to emphasize that I did not read local conservation practices through the lens of the ‘‘in-vogue’’ theories of posthumanism, liveliness of matter, and affect; rather, I turned to these theories in my restless quest to better understand and explain how people’s sense of self and subjectivity are intertwined with their biophysical environment and with the forms of human cooperation that emerge in response to changes in this environment. Spinoza’s philosophy, as taken up in the works of Deleuze, Massumi, and Hardt and Negri, provided the tools to better understand the ‘‘becoming’’ of people who care for their environment. In stark contrast to the application of Foucauldian ‘‘governmentality’’ to the making of environmental subjects in Agrawal’s framework of ‘‘environmentality,’’ Spinozian optics of affect help us understand how people’s sense of self is shaped by their affective capacity to respond to other bodies, both human and non-human.
The article begins with a discussion about the analytical framework of environmentality and its limitations, then explores Spinoza’s perspective on affects and Hardt and Negri’s employment of Spinozian affect theory, in their notion of affective labor and biopower from below. Next, it describes villagers’ efforts in Odisha to protect local forests; illustrates the everyday practices and affective dimensions involved in the laboring practices of caring for forests; and discusses how their affective labor transforms local subjectivities. It concludes with a discussion of the biopolitical potential of such environmental care practices to produce new subjectivities and to challenge state and capitalist projects to discipline and commodify life.
2.Beyond Environmentality: Affects, affective labor and intimate environmental practices
Through his study of forest councils in Kumaon, India, Agrawal (2005a,b) traces the transformation in rural residents’ attitudes toward forests, from apathy in the 1920s to active support for conservation in the 1990s, and he attributes this change to their involvement in the government (in a Foucauldian sense of guiding the conduct of others’ conduct) of the environment. Agrawal’s work opens up new ways of understanding environmental subjectivity ‘‘beyond the limited perspective of structure and agency’’ (Raffles, 2005) and illustrates that, contrary to the expectation that actions follow beliefs, actions – such as participating in the governing of the environment – often lead to new beliefs and, thus, new subjectivities. Agrawal uses the term ‘‘environmentality’’ to draw attention to technologies of self and power at work in the creation of new subjects.
Agrawal’s work has been critiqued for insufficient attention to local agency (Acciaioli, 2006; Gupta, 2005), an ahistorical view of different identity categories and positions (Hathaway, 2005; Narkotzy, 2005), and for insufficient engagement with the ‘‘complex and deeply biographical practices’’ through which environmental subjects make themselves and are made (Raffles, 2005). His work also tends to privilege technologies of power and pay insufficient attention to techniques of the self (Cepek, 2011; Singh, 2009). This is a common shortcoming in many of the applications of Foucault’s ideas of governmentality, which I believe arises due to the uneasy mixing of Foucault’s ideas of ‘‘neoliberal governmentality’’ (the material that was not fully developed by Foucault and remained inaccessible till recently) with the notions of power and subjection found in his earlier work. This work, by Foucault’s own admission, had insisted too much on the ‘‘technology of domination and power’’ (Foucault et al., 1988), while his later work was more engaged in the ‘‘technologies of self’’ (Foucault et al., 1988, p. 19).
Foucault’s ideas on subjectivity evolved from the view of ‘‘docile bodies’’ under a disciplinary gaze (Lemke, 2001, p. 203) to that of bodies resisting techniques of domination and engaged in liberation through techniques of the self. In ‘‘neoliberal governmentality’’ Foucault is more concerned with ‘‘the points where the technologies of domination of individuals over one another have recourse to processes by which the individual acts upon himself. And conversely, . . . where the techniques of the self are integrated into structures of coercion and domination.’’ (Foucault, 1993, cited in Lemke, 2001, p. 204). This nuanced analysis is usually missing from other scholars’ applications of governmentality, and Agrawal’s work is no exception.
In the following sections, I discuss the Spinozian perspective on affects; Hardt and Negri’s concept of affective labor and its biopolitical potential to transform societies and sociality; and I elaborate on how this perspective allows us to reconceptualize the subject and better understand the more creative processes of human becoming and the dynamics of human-environment relationality.
2.1 Affects and subjectivity
Within the humanities and social sciences, there is now an explosion of interest in the role of affects (Clough and Halley, 2007; Hardt, 1999, 2007; Negri, 2000; Pile, 2010, 2011). This ‘‘affective turn’’ is partly fuelled by an engagement with Spinoza’s ideas about affects (Hardt, 2007; Ruddick, 2010). According to Spinoza, affects are a subclass of the body’s ‘‘affections’’ that augment or diminish the body’s power of acting (Deleuze, 1988), wherein ‘‘a body can be anything; it can be an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic corpus, a social body, a collectivity’’ (Deleuze, 1988, p. 127).
Spinoza’s philosophy advances a thesis of mind and body parallelism that refuses to give primacy to the one over the other and insists that ‘‘what is an action in the mind is necessarily an action in the body as well, and what is a passion in the body is necessarily a passion in the mind’’ (Ethics III, 2 cited in Deleuze, 1988, p. 18). Affect includes autonomic bodily responses and the ‘‘visceral perception preceding perception’’ (Massumi, 2002). Spinoza’s conception of the body as something defined in terms of affect makes its capacities emergent instead of innate (Braun, 2008). His provocative declaration – ‘‘We do not know what the body can do’’ – shifts attention from what a body is to what it can become (Latour, 2004a) and opens a space for conversation about the indefinite nature and indeterminacy of the human body and, in fact, all matter (Deleuze, 1988). Spinoza, thus, gives us a new ontology of the human that is ‘‘constantly open and renewed’’ (Hardt, 2007) and drives a perspective in which bodies are understood not in terms of eternal and immutable essence but in terms of relations and affect (Braun, 2004).
This ontology embraces a concern with the posthuman, the contingent, and an indwelling and immanent concept of power as potentia (Ruddick, 2008). Moreover, as Ruddick (2008) shows, Spinozian thought offers a ‘‘dialectics of the positive’’ that replaces ‘‘negation as the driving force of social transformation with an understanding of essence based on affirmation, or potentia – that is, the impulse to preserve and expand our powers to act’’ (p. 2589). In recent years, many theorists have picked up on the connection between joy and empowerment (Ruddick, 2010) and the centrality of positive affirmative life in Spinoza’s work (Deleuze, 1988). The argument that we organize encounters to maximize joy has become a cornerstone in many contemporary approaches to the production of subjectivity (Ruddick, 2010), including in Negri and Hardt’s ideas about the biopolitical potential of immaterial labor (2000, 2004).
While some scholars have alluded to a Spinozian imprint on Foucault’s work (Juniper and Jose, 2008), there are important differences in the two philosophers’ perspectives, especially in their conception of power and of the subject. Spinoza makes a distinction between potestas, the power to dominate, or alienate, which exploits and ‘‘separates something from what it can do’’ and potentia, translated roughly as empowerment, or an ‘‘indwelling capacity to act’’ (Ruddick, 2010, p. 24). In the Foucauldian framework, these two powers are expressed as ‘‘technologies of power’’ and ‘‘technologies of the self,’’ and scholars of governmentality have given more attention to potestas than to the human capacity to act. The difference between these two powers forms the basis of Hardt and Negri’s inversion of Foucault’s ideas of biopower, discussed below.
Spinozian philosophy, as taken up in Deleuze’s work, also leads to new ways of looking at the ‘‘self’’ and subjectivities as ‘‘spatialized, decentered, multiple and nomadic,’’ as opposed to the conventional image of the self as ‘‘coherent, enduring and individualized’’ (Rose,1998). Paolo Virno (2004) articulates this alternate conception of the subject very evocatively using the idea of an ‘‘amphibian subject.’’ Drawing on Gilbert Simondon’s (1989) ideas in his book L’ individuation psychique et collective, Virno proposes that the subject is a composite mix of ‘‘I’’ and ‘‘one’’ that brings together ‘‘unrepeatable uniqueness but also anonymous universality’’ (p. 78). According to Virno, two of Simondon’s theses help us to reconceptualize the subject and elaborate on the principle or process of individuation. 2 The first principle states that individuation is never concluded, which suggests that the pre-individual, that is the universal or the generic, is never fully translated into singularity. The second states that, ‘‘the collective or the collective experience is not, as we usually believe, the sphere within which the salient traits of a singular individual diminish or disappear; on the contrary, it is the terrain of a new and more radical individuation’’ (p.78). Simondon, thus, concludes that ‘‘within the collective we endeavor to refine our singularity, to bring it to its climax’’ (Virno, 2004, p. 79). These theses lead to the idea of the subject as ‘‘the interweaving of pre-individual elements and individuated characteristics’’ (Virno, 2004, p. 78). A focus on affects becomes a useful analytical optic to reveal and understand this subject and the dynamics that lead to its becoming in an open-ended process.
Similar ideas about the self and subjectivity emerge from the work of anthropologists Tim Ingold (2000) and Kay Milton (2002). Ingold (2000) draws upon James Gibson’s insights on human perception (1979) to show that human perception is not only an ‘‘achievement of a mind in a body, but of the organism as a whole in its environment,’’ and that ways of acting in the environment are also ways of perceiving it. They both argue that the boundaries between the ‘‘self’’ and the environment are porous, and that human subjectivity is shaped by a human being’s engagement with its total environment, not just its social environment.
2.2. Affective labor and biopower from below
Hardt and Negri use the term affective labor to characterize the changing forms of labor in post-Fordist economic production (Hardt, 1999; Hardt and Negri, 2000, 2004) and to emphasize the centrality of affect in new forms of production, recognizing that such labor engages at once with rational intelligence and with passions or feeling (Hardt, 2007). They also use the terms ‘‘immaterial’’ or ‘‘biopolitical labor’’ to denote the non-material outputs of such labor in the forms of ‘‘knowledge, information, communication, a relationship, or an emotional response,’’ and to bring attention to the biopolitical potential of such labor practices to produce not just means of life but ‘‘social life itself’’ (Hardt and Negri, 2004, p. 109). Hardt and Negri argue that ‘‘immaterial’’ or ‘‘affective’’ labor has become ‘‘hegemonic in qualitative terms’’ (p. 109) in the post-Fordist economic order in a similar way as industrial labor exerted hegemony over other forms of production 150 years ago,even though it accounted for only a small fraction of global production. However, they recognize that work in even pre-industrial production, or in production that falls outside of its modern forms, has been (and continues to be) in the ‘‘affective’’ mode. For example, they acknowledge that agriculturalists have always used the knowledge, intelligence, and innovation typical of immaterial labor (p. 110). In addition to the physical labor agriculture is also a science and agriculturalists constantly renovate traditional knowledge through intelligence and experimentation. The difference is the qualitative hegemony of affective labor in today’s context that is compelling labor and society to ‘‘informationalize and become intelligent, become communicative and become affective’’ (p. 109).
Hardt and Negri’s use of ‘‘immaterial labor’’ has been critiqued as being too broad and all-encompassing because it brings together disparate workers under the same umbrella, and even blurs the distinction between immaterial and material labor through their emphasis on the biopolitical potential of labor to produce society and subjectivities (Camfield, 2007). For my purpose here, this ambiguity is productive and allows me to apply the concept of affective labor somewhat selectively to the non-post-Fordist third-world setting. The characteristics of affective labor that I mobilize are its capacities to produce and manipulate affects; its biopolitical potential to produce sociality, society, and subjectivity; and the seamless flow between work and life. 3
Feminist theorists have long engaged with the idea of affective labor as ‘‘caring’’ or ‘‘emotional labor’’ or ‘‘reproductive labor’’ even if the term itself is a recent invention (Weeks, 2007). Similarly, anthropologists have described many human practices in the environment as ‘‘affective labor’’ – without using this label. For example, Ingold (2000, p. 85) problematizes the dichotomy between production and collection, between gathering and cultivation, and between hunting and animal husbandry, and discusses how the produce of the farm is neither made nor found – but grown. And many laboring practices in the environment, such as clearing fields, fencing, planting, weeding, or tending livestock establish the conditions of growth for plants or animals as they are ‘‘mothered, nurtured, assisted – generally cosseted and helped along’’ in their growth and development (Ingold, 2000). Ingold contends that such practices are similar to raising children – as exemplified by the Achuar women, who compare children to the plants in their gardens, or by the Hageners of Papua New Guinea, who use the language of planting for both children and pigs (p. 86–87).
Hardt and Negri’s work elaborate on this idea of the biopolitical potential of affective labor in their discussion of ‘‘biopower from below.’’ Hardt’s (1999) notion of biopower from below ‘‘adopts and inverts’’ Foucault’s use of biopower; Similarly, Negri (Casarino and Negri, 2004, p. 167) ‘‘reelaborates and expands’’ Foucault’s concept of biopolitics ‘‘to turn it into a fully Spinozist concept,’’ and describes it as the ‘‘power to produce the totality of social life, the bios, in each and every moment of the present’’ (Negri, 2003, cited in Coleman and Grove, 2009, p. 499). Drawing upon Spinoza’s differentiation of power as potestas and potentia, Negri differentiates between Foucault’s concept of biopower as biopotere and his own use of biopower as biopotenza (Casarino and Negri, 2004). The former he describes as a constituent power or a ‘‘power that creates the bios’’; while the latter he describes as the ‘‘potentiality of constituent power’’ and the ‘‘bios that creates power’’ (Casarino and Negri, 2004, p. 167). At the center of Negri’s idea of biopower is the Spinozian concept of productive life, that is, the ‘‘immanent ability of humans to constitute a social reality that enhances not only the ability to exist but also the scope of this existence’’ (Spinoza, 2000, EIIIP7, cited in Coleman and Grove, 2009, p. 499).
Even though affective labor is incorporated in capitalist production, Hardt (1999) argues that a focus on affects in our labor and social practices also provides a useful ground for challenging capitalist projects. Not all production (both material and immaterial) of affective labor is appropriated by capital, and the biopolitical production of immaterial labor is ‘‘always excessive with respect to the value that capital can extract from it because capital can never capture all of life’’ (Hardt and Negri, 2004, p. 146, emphasis in the original), and some of the surplus value in the form enrichment of minds, ideas generated and relationships formed, escapes capital’s grasp even as it continually devises new ways of appropriating it.
For Hardt and Negri, the biopolitical potential of immaterial labor characterizes the generative abilities of the multitude4 to ‘‘mobilize what it shares in common and what it produces in common against the imperial power of global capital’’ (2004, p. 101). The distinction between biopower-as-biopotere and biopower-as-biopotenza constitutes the guts of Hardt and Negri’s criticism of Foucault’s functionalist account of power (Coleman and Grove, 2009). Their ideas of affective labor – as a ‘‘biopower from below’’ that produces new ‘‘subjectivities, sociality, and society’’ – offer powerful analytical tools to enrich our understanding of social transformation. With these analytical tools in hand, I now turn to discussing the forest-care practices of villagers in Odisha. These practices can be seen as affective labor, which brings together the mind and the body and involves reason and passion simultaneously. This labor works on affects, builds community, and produces sociality and subjectivity. In the process, villagers enhance affects of joy from environmental care and diminish the pain and sadness associated with the degradation of their landscape. In the ‘‘collective action’’ to conserve forests, not only do villagers ‘‘come together’’; there is also a ‘‘coming together’’ of forests, plants, animals, and trees due to the affective capacity of a body to form relations with other bodies, that transforms landscape and local subjectivities.
3. Community initiatives to conserve forests: Local responses to changes in the landscape
I first encountered community efforts to protect forests in 1990 when, as a newly recruited employee of a Swedish consulting firm working with the Social Forestry Project, I accompanied an ‘‘Annual Appraisal Mission’’ (a team of mostly white men) to assess the progress of a project focused on plantations on village common lands. As our team was ‘‘inspecting’’ the plantation of eucalyptus and acacia trees, I got interested in the luxuriant patch of Sal (Shorea robusta) forest nearby. On inquiring about this anomalous growth of forest amidst paddy fields and otherwise degraded forest, I found that when the forest become degraded, villagers (mouza) had decided to ‘‘protect’’ it, instituting rules to regulate the extraction of wood and sending four people on patrolling duty every day. The story of this village went against the premise of the social forestry project, which was based on the assumption that villagers need incentives to get into the ‘‘conservation mode.’’ The project not only planted trees on community land but also paid villagers wages for 3 years to ‘‘guard’’ these plantations. Against this backdrop, it was surprising to see that in the same village (and in many others), invisible to the project, the villagers were actually protecting the state-owned forest through community-based patrolling efforts. 5 Even after people like me ‘‘discovered’’ community initiatives to protect forests – sprawled across the landscape with forests growing back for everyone to see – these efforts remained invisible to the state for a long time.
Located on the east coast of India, Odisha is one of the most forested states in the country; about 38% of the state’s geographical area is classified as state-owned forestland. It is India’s least developed state with a high concentration of poverty in the tribal-dominated forested areas. Socially marginalized groups like tribals (indigenous people) and dalits (‘‘untouchable’’ castes) form almost 40% of Odisha’s population. Almost half the rural population lives below the official poverty line, and poverty is exacerbated along the lines of social groups. For instance, 72% of Odisha’s tribals live under the poverty line (De Haan and Dubey, 2005). Population density in Odisha is high, with as many as 269 people per square kilometer (GoI, 2011). More than 80% of the state’s population is rural and depends heavily on forests for livelihood and sustenance; and this high dependence on forests prompted several thousand villages in Odisha to actively protect them.
In Odisha, as in the rest of India, most forests are state-owned. The state came to own these forests through processes of appropriation rooted in the colonial right of conquest, similar to what happened in the other parts of the colonized world – and with similar outcomes of alienation of the local people from the forests and its conservation (Gadgil and Guha, 1994; Kumar and Kerr, 2013). The local populace responded to the colonial take-over of their customary lands through vehement protests in many places (Padel and Das, 1995; Pati, 1993). The contestations over forests that were ignited during the colonial period have been aggravated in the postcolonial period due to a continuation of colonial policies and an intensification of the state’s penetration into people’s lives (Gadgil and Guha, 1995; Shiva, 1991). In Odisha, between the 1950s and the 1970s, there was heavy deforestation due to industrial logging, high market demand for timber, diversion of forestland for other purposes, and heavy subsistence use. Prior to that, forests had suffered massive losses during World War II. Local communities responded to forest degradation through community-based efforts to protect forests and assist forest regeneration. Most of these initiatives started in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Kant et al., 1991; Singh, 1995), though there are some examples of community conservation occurring as early as the 1930s (Sundar et al., 1996).
Community-based conservation of forests involved the creation of rules to restrict outsiders’ access to ‘‘their’’ forest, placed restraints on their own use, and specified penalties for non-adherence to the rules. In the initial years of protection, villagers generally stopped any extraction from the forest. 6 As the forest regenerated, access was gradually restored and more complex rules about forest produce extraction were instituted. These rules were quite dynamic, adaptive, and flexible, and there was a high degree of cross-learning between villages (Conroy et al., 2001; Human and Pattanaik, 2000; Kant et al., 1991; Singh and Singh, 1993). Various studies attribute the emergence of these community-forestry initiatives to the presence of traditional community institutions and to villagers’ experience of managing other commons; to failing state authority over forests; to local culture; to the weak presence of formal, local self-governance institutions; and to the regenerative capacity of forests (Kant et al., 1991; Singh and Singh, 1993). It is important to note that the forest – mostly Sal – responded well to protection, and the visible luxuriant regeneration provided impetus to neighboring villages to follow suit.
In many places, villagers started protecting the local forest after they experienced a scarcity of forest produce and a decline in environmental benefits. While narrating changes in their landscape, villagers recounted changes in the availability of wood, berries, and tubers and specific incidents when they experienced an intense scarcity of wood, and they noted that it was these things that led them to protect the forest. Women described how much easier their lives are when there is a well-stocked forest at hand, ‘‘so that we can initiate a fire and then just dash to the forest and get some leafy vegetables or a tuber to put in the lentils.’’ Or, they would lament the loss of ‘‘cover’’ for responding to nature’s call. In one village close to the town of Baripada, the men described how the loss of tree cover led to the town becoming visible from their village. These narratives show how people in a landscape experience changes in their environment in embodied and material ways. In many cases, villagers drew connections between forest cover and microclimate and linked their experience of intensifying heat or failed rains with forest degradation. Their concerns about changes in the landscape were also linked to concerns about their children and their future needs. Villagers commonly said, ‘‘We are protecting [the forest] for our children [Pila mane pain jagichu].’’ For outsiders, it is intriguing that villagers decided to invest their time and efforts in restocking state-owned forests over which they had few formal rights. From the villagers’ perspective, however, the rationale for protecting them was clear: As one woman put it, ‘‘Even if we don’t own [the forest], this is the forest that we use, the only one that we have. The forest guard will still get his salary [even if the forest is gone]. For us, nothing will be left’’ (Singh, 2009).
The emergence of community-forestry initiatives coincided with the ascendancy of environmental discourse in the mid- 1970s and early 1980s. Following the 1972 United Nations’ conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm, and the Chipko movement (that started in 1973), several ‘‘environmental awareness’’ programs were launched in India. In Odisha, under the National Social Service program, college students were involved in organizing environmental awareness camps in the rural areas. The Social Forestry Project also had a strong environmental extension component. In one of my interviews, a prominent environmental leader in Odisha recounted how he stumbled upon one such community-forestry initiative in 1982, when, as a university teacher, he led a group of students for an environmental-awareness camp to a village in Dhenkanal. Thereafter, he helped spread such initiatives through the NSS program. Even though many of the community-forestry initiatives predate the environmental-awareness campaigns, environmental discourse played a critical role in influencing how the forest-conserving communities ‘‘saw’’ their efforts and how they choose to represent them to outsiders as ‘‘environmental’’ actions benefitting the rest of the humanity, and not as ‘‘territorial’’ conflicts with the state for claims to forests. This was an important repositioning.
While environmental discourse shaped local perceptions, the everyday embodied experiences of changes in the landscape played an equal, if not more important, role. Their understanding of environmental crises was not merely delivered to them through discourses about the environment and the techniques of environmental governance; rather, it was perceived and lived in affective relations. Even though the initial impetus to protect forests came from their material dependence on them, villagers developed affective relations with the forests through everyday intimate practices of environmental care and nurturance of the forest over the years. In the next section, I discuss the intimate practices of taking care of forests and the affective labor of ‘‘growing the forest.’’
4. Intimate environmental care practices and the affective labor of ‘‘growing’’ forests
Villagers commonly say, ‘‘Aame jungle jagunchu [we are looking after the forest]’’ or, ‘‘Aame jungle badhaunchu [we are growing the forest],’’ to refer to their actions to protect forests. The expression ‘‘jungle jagunchu’’ in some ways invokes bringing the forest into their realm of consciousness or rendering it alive through care and attention.
‘‘Caring for the forest’’ involved active patrolling measures, especially in the initial years, usually undertaken through a community-based system of labor sharing termed ‘‘thengapalli.’’ Thengapalli is an Odiya term signifying a wooden baton (thenga) that is passed on from house to house to signal the household’s turn (palli) to send a person on patrolling duty. Usually two to six people patrol the forest each day. Sometimes instead of thengapalli, villagers keep a general watch on the forest. In some villages, women have told me that since they are in the forest for several hours each day (to gather forest produce), no formal patrolling is needed.
Through these patrolling practices and other everyday activities of gathering in the forest and assisting the forest to grow, villagers develop (or strengthen) embodied relationships with the forest in a similar way as one develops affective ties through taking care of plants in one’s garden or pets at home. In villages where thengapalli is used, regulatory authority is dispersed, and everyone gets an opportunity to participate in the regulatory and care functions. While on patrolling duty [palli], the palia stops to pick berries, remove weeds, get a creeper out of the way, assess whether any trees have been freshly cut or lopped and if there are any signs of pilferage or other violations of forest rules. Through these everyday actions, men and women develop affective ties with the growing plants, trees, birds, and animals wherein their capacity to affect and be affected is articulated and strengthened in the ‘‘in-between’’ region of their relation. Similarly, in the process, the subject positions of a provider-of-nurturance or a caregiver also emerge from that in-between space, as the forests are transformed from nature out there and become a part of the self that is nurtured through care.
These subject positions are also performed and shaped by these performances (cf. Butler, 1990). Different members of the community partake differently in these practices and thus have different experiences of ‘‘growing forests.’’ Agrawal (2005a,b) also discusses the role of social practices and participation in regulatory practices in transforming subjectivity; my point here is that this participation is embodied and performed, and the practices are ‘‘intimate.’’ 7 Women, especially those from the lower castes and poor families, tend to make daily trips to the forest for gathering fuel wood, tubers, leaves, mushrooms, or medicinal plants and, thus, spend several hours of the day there. Such trips also provide opportunities for ‘‘affective sociality’’ (Raffles, 2002), where the forest becomes a site for forming or strengthening social relations (cf. Gururani, 2002). These daily activities in the forest are also the ways through which the forest is perceived (Ingold, 2000), and through which villagers develop knowledge of the forest that is intimate and lived (Raffles, 2002).
Villagers also enter into relationships with each other and with the forest through their embodied everyday practices. This affective sociality is expressed in narratives in which the knowledge about the forest and the concern for its health are interwoven into the fabric of social relationships and care for each other. Several examples help highlight this affective sociality: as one said, ‘‘When I came to this village as a new bride, the village had just started protecting forest, and my mother-in-law told me about the forest-related restrictions and showed me how to light a fire using dry leaves and twigs’’; another said, ‘‘my father taught me how to looking out for signs of bamboo flowering in the forest.’’ Moreover, these subject positions of forest conservationist are not just performed at the individual level; this performance comes to full effect at a collective level, when villagers mobilize their positions to advance moral claims over forests.
Villagers display an enormous sense of pride in having reversed forest degradation through their care, and in having done so together, as a community. In the peak heat of summer afternoons, villagers have taken me on long treks to show me ‘‘their forest.’’ Often, I awaited the invitation, ‘‘Come, let us take a short walk to the forest’’ [Aaso, jungle tike bhuli aasiba]. This ‘‘short’’ walk would last a couple of hours with my tour guides taking the longest possible route, stopping frequently to point out medicinal plants, pick berries, check out some recent signs of an axe, pick dried twigs and wood for the hearth, and generally show me the results of years of protection and sacrifice. In the process, what stood out clearly was the relationship of nurturance and care that they share with the forest and its vegetation. In this relationship, gender and other social identities are not as salient as the embodied day-to-day practices and relations with wild plants and animals.8 Their invitation to walk in the forest with them, I believe, was also a means of extending me an invitation to be part of the network of relations that flows and connects them to each other, and to their forest.
The intimacy of villagers’ relationship with their forest is expressed in songs about the cool, lovely shade of trees (e.g., ahare chai kete sundara chai) and in narratives in which they refer to the forest as a friend (companion in sorrow and happiness), mother or child. The word mamta, maternal love, is used to describe the love that they feel for their forest. One song, for example, describes the forest as ‘‘our country,’’ and it goes onto pledge to treat it as their son, who needs care at this moment, but will return that care in the future, like a dutiful son (Singh, 2009). And women have often told me, ‘‘We would protect the forest as we would protect our own child from any danger.’’
There is extensive anthropological literature that describes how hunter-gatherers of tropical forests, in widely separate parts of the world, view forests as parents. Ingold (2000) refers to these examples (Bird-David, 1990; Turnbull, 1966) and emphasizes that, ‘‘to speak of the forest as a parent is not to model object relations in terms of primary intersubjectivity, but to recognize that at root, the constitutive quality of intimate relations with non-human and human components of the environment is one and the same’’ (p. 47). Anthropologist Nurit Bird-David (1992b) makes similar observation in the context of her work with the Nayaka in South India, and she describes how the Nayaka develop intimate relations with the forest in the very same way as one develops these relations with other people, ‘‘by spending time with them’’ and by investing in these relations the same ‘‘care, feeling and attention’’ (p. 29–30). This explains why hunters and gatherers consider time devoted to forays in the forest to be well-spent, since it allows them to stay in touch with the non-human environment and know the environment intimately (Bird-David, 1992a).
It is important to note that the metaphors of forest-as-parent or forest-as-child arise from everyday interactions with the affects that these interactions produce. The forest, its capacity to regenerate, the berries and the leaves, the trickle of water turning into a stream, the shade of the trees, and the humus and organic matter trickling into the fields – these are all what Latour (2004b) refers to as actants, who participate in the human coming together and staying together. One village leader simply described the collective action to protect forests as, ‘‘Samaste samaste ko bandhike achanti,’’ that is, ‘‘each and every ‘one’ holds the other together.’’ I think he was also referring to the affective capacities of all bodies, human and nonhuman, to come together and get entangled in relations of affect and accountability. Through forest protection, villagers have built and strengthened communities, with the forest being a part of the affective community. This has also led to the production of new subjectivities – of being a ‘‘jungle surakhayari’’ or a forest care-giver.
As Simondon’s theory of individuation tells us, the subjectivity of the ‘‘jungle surakhayari’’ is an interweaving of the individuated ‘‘I’’ and an anonymous collective ‘‘one’’ that depends on sensory perceptions of the species, the collective heritage of language and forms of cooperation, and the general intellect. The day-to-day embodied practices in the forest, through which one sees the mahua flowers spread on the forest floor, smells its intoxicating scent, and feels the shade of the tree in the smoldering heat as one gathers and touches the flower are all affects that depend on senses that are part of a generic biological endowment.
5. ‘‘Jungle Surakhyakaris’’ of Odisha: New individual and collective subjectivities and biopower from below
Abe to gote nasha hai jaichhi; mado-pado khaile bhi aame jungle chadibu nahin.
Now, this (forest protection) has become a passion, an addiction.Even on getting beaten-up or crushed, we won’t leave the forest (forest protection).10
The subjectivity that jungle surakhyakaris in Odisha display can be considered the ‘‘dream outcome’’ of any ‘‘governmental’’ intervention to produce environmental subjects. Ironically, however, the state has, by and large, ignored these conservation efforts. As a result, villagers have had to fight for their right to conserve the forests against various threats, including against the forest bureaucracy’s efforts to retain control over forests. The state’s refusal to ‘‘see’’ these initiatives is not simply a struggle over resources but also a struggle over meanings and the state’s unease with what Foucault invoked as the ‘‘surpluses of life’’ that escape disciplining when he first introduced the concept of biopower (Foucault, 1978 cited in Anderson, 2012). In what follows, the politics of ‘‘recognition’’ and the mobilization of new identities by the jungle surkhayakaris of Odisha can be seen as expressions of biopower from below.
Even though community efforts to protect forests date back to the 1970s, they remained unacknowledged by the state until the mid-1990s. In 1988, Odisha became the first state in India to come up with what can be seen as a pre-cursor to the Joint Forest Management (JFM) policy, prior to the much-celebrated West Bengal policy. This policy resolution was issued after several thousand villages wrote to the Chief Minister’s office demanding recognition of their conservation efforts, and it provided for village communities’ involvement in the conservation of forests. However, this policy intent and two other government orders remained dead letters, as the forest bureaucracy was reluctant to devolve power to local communities. In the mid-1990s, after JFM gained prominence on the national stage, the forest department in Odisha tried to bring the community-forestry initiatives under the fold of JFM. The forest- protection communities in Odisha, however, saw JFM as a step-backward, and likened the Forest Department to an absentee landlord stepping in at harvest time to take away the fruits of villagers’ labor. These forest conservation communities have variously rejected, resisted, and tried to work around JFM over the years. (For detailed discussion of some of these problems see Sarin et al., 2003; Singh, 2002).
Community leaders in Odisha have pointed out that JFM represents a very different worldview of managing forests in comparison to the local worldview. They have asserted that ‘‘the Forest Department sees forests as a crop, and models forest-management on those lines. For us, the forest is not a crop to be harvested, but a living resource.’’ (Singh, 2009). In 1992, when I was facilitating a village discussion on policy recommendations for the benefit of sharing information between the Forest Department and the local communities under the then-proposed JFM program, an old man stormed out of the room in protest. Before leaving he said, ‘‘We have protected this forest as a child. Now you are discussing who will get what part [of the child].’’
In the initial years of forest protection, villagers did not face significant opposition from other villages or from the Forest Department, because the degraded forests were not a productive resource. After the forest regenerated and gained in value, the tussle over control and rights to harvest its produce became pronounced. In Odisha, formally, the state exercised strict control even over the trade of non-timber forest produce (NTFP). In the past, the state had allocated monopoly rights over NTFP trade to private companies. In 2000, local communities had to engage in a long and protracted struggle to gain rights over NTFP. In many places, villagers have protested against the extraction of bamboo, from the forests protected by them, by paper-and-pulp industries that were allocated bamboo rights by the state. In some cases, villagers are fighting industrial take-over of their ‘‘community’’ forests. Not only have villagers struggled to have their rights recognized by the state but there have been ongoing struggles at the local level as well – with other villagers and petty timber smugglers.
Due to these ongoing struggles and conflicts over forest access and use at various levels, including the local level, villagers have experienced a need for supra-village-level institutional mechanisms to resolve local conflicts over access to forests and related issues. In many areas, villages came together in the form of loose networks or coalitions. NGOs and environmental activists noticed these cross-scale organizing efforts and subsequently encouraged scaling-up of these initiatives and the formation of federations of forest-protection communities. Initially, a few district-level federations emerged with NGO support, and these provided examples for community organizing in the other districts. In 1999, a state-level federation called the Odisha Jungle Manch (OJM) was formed. In 2010, there were 26 different district or sub-district-level community forestry federations, covering 23 districts, in addition to the state-level federation, with approximate membership of about 7000 villages.
Starting from 1988, when several thousand villages wrote to the Chief Minister of Odisha demanding recognition of their forest conservation efforts, the jungle surakhyakaris have been advocating for community rights over forests. They came together to form federations to strengthen their voice and to realize their simple assertion – ‘‘our forest is ours [aama jungle aamar].’’ While OJM has been advocating for community rights over forests from its inception, it stepped up the pressure on the state in 2005–2006, with an extensive campaign to protest a development loan by the Japan International Cooperation Assistance (JICA) for a forestry project, demanding that the state focus on strengthening community-based conservation through tenure reform instead of afforestation activities. While OJM was not able to stall the project, some gains were made there.11 More important gains were made in terms of the contribution from Odisha to the nation-wide movement for the recognition of forest rights. This movement led to the enactment of Recognition of Forest Rights Act (RFRA) in 2006 (Kumar and Kerr, 2013), which aims to redress historical injustices done to forest dwellers in the process of state-appropriation of forests and provides for individual and collective rights to local communities over forests. The impetus to include collective rights over forests in RFRA came from the example of community-led forest conservation efforts in Odisha. The implementation of RFRA’s provision of community rights has been slow, and the federations remain active in pressuring the state.
Cross-scale organizing and communication between communities engaged in conservation has helped in the emergence of a collective subjectivity of ‘‘being a forest conservationist.’’ This collective identity has coalesced at multiple scales, from the village to the state-level, through these federations. At the community level, day-to-day practices and cooperation for conservation aided the emergence of this environmental subjectivity. The subject position of being a jungle surakhyakari was mobilized for collective action at the federation level. These new environmental subjectivities were then employed for strengthening cooperation and communication, which led to a deepening of these environmental subjectivities and a realization of their biopolitical potential to create new forms of being and new visions for forest-people relations. These visions were articulated in the local protests against JFM, in those against the JICA-funded forestry project, and in their mobilization for community rights through RFRA.
In these mobilizations, newly created identities, subjectivities, and affect are strategically employed. In federation meetings and negotiations with the state, villagers would commonly invoke their ‘‘love’’ for the forest that they have protected and would call themselves ‘‘forest-lovers,’’ but their love differed in important ways from nature-love in a Western context, which is based on seeing ‘‘nature’’ as separate and outside of the self.
These new subject positions were also used to assert moral claims over forests in a process of ‘‘reterritorialization,’’ in which new territories were configured, not only vis-à-vis the state but also with regards to the other villages where boundaries were continually negotiated and renegotiated. On the one hand, I do not wish to portray an overly romantic picture of utopian environmentalism. Not all rural residents in Odisha have come to care about their environment in the same way, or have become environmentalists. Nor am I suggesting that their conservation actions are solely driven by affect, altruism, and ‘‘love’’ for nature. I also do not wish to gloss over the many other problems within community-based forest conservation, such as conflicts between and within villages over resources, the exclusion of marginalized groups from decision-making, the disproportionate allocation of costs and the benefits of protection efforts, or the struggles for power and position within federations (Sarin et al., 2003; Singh, 2001). On the other hand, it is remarkable that millions of people in thousands of villages in Odisha who are involved in forest protection think of themselves as forest conservators, and their actions and discourses are informed by this subject position. My point is that we need to understand and engage with the processes through which new subjectivities are formed, and new ways of relating to nature emerge, and appreciate their potential to challenge dominant visions about nature conservation.
6. Conclusion: Local environmental care practices and biopower from below
On the one hand, life, defined broadly as what runs through individual bodies, collective populations and more-than-human worlds, exceeds attempts to order and control it; on the other hand, life is made productive through techniques of intervention (Anderson, 2012). I have argued that governmentality studies have privileged the latter and have advocated for engagement with the ways in which the surpluses of life escape attempts to discipline it. I have shown that we need to look beyond political-economic rationalities and pay attention to the role of affect and everyday human practices in the environment to understand how human subjectivities and ways of relating to the biophysical environment emerge in affective relations. The ‘‘jungle surakhyakaris’’ in Odisha show that people can come to care for their forest (and love it) through their daily engagement in care activities. Opportunities for such engagement need to be fostered instead of clamped shut by policies that assume that human being are disembodied rational economic actors driven solely by ‘‘self-interest.’’ It needs to be recognized that the ‘‘self’’ is not ‘‘closed-in’’ but ‘‘opened-out,’’ formed through active engagement with other human and non-human bodies.
While Foucault’s ideas of biopower draw attention to how affective relations and capacities are object-targets for discipline and biopolitics, Hardt and Negri’s writings suggest that affective life is the ‘‘outside through which new ways of living may emerge’’ (Anderson, 2012). I hope I have shed some light on the ‘‘affective life’’ of the ‘‘forest care-givers’’ of Odisha, which has led to the emergence of new ways of being and relating to the environment. These care-givers of Odisha show us how the interactions among humans and non-humans have produced new ways of being, and new subjectivities – through affective relations, cooperation, and communication. This is the biopower from below that enables transformations of life and of our humanity, and which offers challenges to neoliberal interventions that apply the logic of the market to human-nature relations. This biopower of human (and human and more-than-human) collaboration and communication opens up possibilities for a new radical politics.
While biopower from below presents opportunities for radical politics, these opportunities are interlaced with the challenge of rethinking concepts and ideas that are considered stable. Non-essentialist ontologies need a new language and vocabulary, as well as new methods and tools to study affect and subjectivities. I have just begun responding to this challenge in my own work, whereby I am starting a collaborative visual and textual ethnography project that will enable villagers to author their story (or fragments of stories) as ‘‘village biographies’’ and video record their everyday life as a way of exploring their own affective relations and their transforming subjectivities. How villagers make choices and negotiate over what to represent, or not, to outsiders would reveal as much about local people-forest relations and affects as the outputs in the form of videos. My hope is that these locally-owned video representations become part of the repertoire of tools that facilitate building of new affective relations across scales and locales and the emergence of novel collective subjectivities that animate a new politics of life and modes of being.
I am grateful to the ‘forest conservationists’, friends and colleagues in Odisha for conversations and insights about ‘environmental care’ and social transformation; and to Padraig Carmody, Nathan Clough, James Igoe, Kundan Kumar, Kathy McAfee, Dianne Rocheleau, Kathryn White, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version. Fieldwork for this research was supported by dissertation fieldwork grants by the Social Science Research Council and the American Institute of Indian Studies.
1 Formerly known as Orissa, Odisha became the official name 2011.
2. When we speak of a process, or a principle of individuation, what precedes individuation is ‘‘a pre-individual reality’’, that is something ‘‘common, universal and undifferentiated’’ (Virno, 2004, p. 76). Virno discusses three components of the pre-individual, amongst many other possibilities, viz. the biological basis of the species, that is the sensory organs, motor skills apparatus, perception abilities; language; and the prevailing relation of production (p. 76–77). Following Mereleau–Ponty, Virno says that perception cannot be encapsulated by the first person singular pronoun. To speak about the senses, the anonymous pronoun ‘‘one’’ seems more appropriate: one sees, one touches, one hears (p. 77).
3. The collapse of the distinction between work and leisure threatens to have work take over life in post-industrial societies and increase the precarious position of labor; but at the same time, it is laden with the potential of enhancing joy and fulfillment.
4. Their term ‘‘the multitude’’ refers to all those who labor and produce under the rule of capital. They argue that the kind of differences that used to divide labor no longer apply; rather they insist that the conditions exist for various types of labor to ‘‘communicate, collaborate, and become common.’’ (p. 107).
5. In fact, women referred to the plantations planted on village common land as ‘‘your’’ (the project’s) forest and called the state-owned natural forest as ‘‘our forest.’’ In the early nineties, when I asked a group of women what forest products she got from the forest, she asked me which forest I was referring to. She said, ‘‘From your forest, we get nothing… but from our forest…’’ she excitedly narrated a long list of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, etc.
6. The forests that were brought under community care were in a much-degraded condition, some had even reached the stage where villagers had started digging out roots to use as fuel, and it made them realize that they were at a point of no return if they did not act then. These forests needed a minimum of five years of protection before any visible results could be seen.
7. These relationships are intimate in the same sense as Raffles (2002) terms local knowledge as intimate. Raffles (p. 326) uses the term intimate to refer to affective sociality and suggests that ‘‘affect though inconstant, is ubiquitous and the perpetual mediator of rationality.’’ He suggests that this intimacy is a site for the ‘‘social production of knowledge, and the reworking of human-nature boundaries.’’ Further, he says, ‘‘It (intimacy) is always within a field of power. It is always in a place. It is always embodied. And it is always, above else, relational.’’ These intimate relations are similar to the relations that are developed with crops, with farm animals, pets, or with one’s garden.
8. As forests regenerate, wildlife comes back, often creating the menace of agricultural crop destruction. Despite this problem, villagers often speak lovingly about the return of wildlife as a sign of their success. In Boudh district, a village leader told me that their regenerated forest is now being used as a corridor by elephants. Yet instead of speaking about this as a problem, he spoke with a great deal of tolerance and understanding about the ‘‘nature’’ of the elephants, and how the villagers’ understanding of elephants ‘‘nature’’ and conduct helps them to avoid conflicts.
9. The notion of wildness as primitivism and marginality emerged in the late 19th century India, as settled agriculture, centralized state power and trade were emphasized and constructed in ways that systematically marginalized wilderness (Skaria, 1998). The tropes of primitivism have become entrenched in the modern Indian context, being called a jangali more or less implies being uncouth, uncivilized and childlike. Caste Hindus calling themselves ‘‘jungaljati’’ represents a reversal of that notion. The use of ‘jati’ in this case also refers more generally to ‘category of people’ instead of a strict adherence to ‘caste’ and includes tribes.
10. Gorachand Mohanto, Leader Budhikhamari Joint Protection Party, Interview, August 2005; my translation. The exact words were used by another community forestry federation leader at a state level workshop held on 15th December 2005.
11. Many provisions were incorporated in the project design for incorporating the community-forestry initiatives. Interestingly, the state vocabulary changed to include a mention of community-forest conservation as Community Forest Management (CFM) mentioned alongside JFM in many project documents.
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Neera Singh is Asst. Professor of Geography, within the Department of Geography and Planning at the
University of Toronto. Before coming into academia, Neera worked for over a decade on issues of conservation, local empowerment and agency in Odisha. She founded and led a non-profit organization, Vasundhara, a leading voice in India on recognition of community rights over forests. Through her work with rural communities in Odisha, she has come to appreciate how caring and growing forests, not only regenerates plants, but also people and communities.
She sees the task of changing “mentalities” so that we can re-learn how to care and connect with nature and with each other as one of the most critical challenges of our times. And her long-standing research and activist engagement in Odisha, is helping her understand the conditions that foster transformations in “mentalities” and facilitate emergence of ecologies of hope and care.