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Changing lives, changing nature(s): socio-environmental transitions in the uplands of the Lao PDR

Lestrelin, Guillaume (2009) Changing lives, changing nature(s): socio-environmental transitions in the uplands of the Lao PDR. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This study debates the socio-political construction of the land degradation issue in the Lao PDR, the consequences of this construction for policy interventions in the uplands, and the social and environmental outcomes of these interventions. For that purpose, livelihood analysis is integrated into the theoretical framework of political ecology. The study adopts a ‘hybrid’ and locally-grounded approach that integrates methods from the social and ecological sciences and investigates recent livelihood and environmental change in two upland villages in northern Laos. From there, the analysis draws a number of causal links between local socio-environmental change, local ‘theories’ on land degradation, the wider political economy and the politics of the ‘environment’ at the national level, and various local contingencies (i.e. social differentiation, sociocultural change and everyday resistance to ‘external’ interventions). The study argues that the current mainstream environmental discourse in Laos appears less based on solid empirical evidence than shaped by the subjectivities and political-economic projects of the state, the political elite and their international development partners. In turn, policy interventions supported by this discourse have significant impacts on upland livelihoods and environments. Importantly, they contribute to make traditional upland agriculture unsustainable and, hence, drive a general trajectory of livelihood diversification and deagrarianisation. Nevertheless and notwithstanding significant constraints linked to land degradation and wide-ranging state regulations, upland-dwellers retain a non-negligible level of agency which allows them to pursue their own, sometimes contested, economic and political objectives. Multi-local social networks and ‘village-local state’ alliances appear to play a key role in facilitating this process. These findings have important implications for the conceptualization of society-nature, global-local and state-society relations. They highlight a need to shift from simple dualistic models to more integrated perspectives accounting for the co-construction of society and nature, the co-production of global and local change, and the interpenetration of the state and society.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2009
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 Jun 2011 09:25

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