Reply To: National Parks, civilisation and globalisation

Author Replies # Posted on May 20, 2014 at 21:36

GEH: May 20th, Morag Ramsey

This week’s lecture and seminar with Jane Carruthers touched on interesting issues that arise when it comes to national parks. In particular Kristina and Maria raised the issues about globalization and standardization of such parks. This discussion reflected back to our autumn seminar on UNESCO heritage sites and their controversies and uses. What strikes me about these institutions is the underlying assumptions about nature and society that power them and their implicit universality. The points Carruthers brought up about the diverse nature of national parks problematizes these assumptions.

As Carruthers mentioned, national parks are not globally standardized and the term ‘national park’ functions more as a brand that invokes certain feelings without necessarily living up to any criterions. With that being the case, governments can create a national park to meet different needs and to produce different consequences in varying sizes and formats. National parks also exist in different landscapes; jungles, mountains, oceans, urban centres, and combinations of terrains to name only a few, and some straddle different political boundaries as well. As Carruthers stated on Monday, South Africa’s incentives for creating national parks changed from conserving species, to elite tourism, to a form of economic subsidy tourism for surrounding inhabitants and population.

Unlike UNESCO heritage sites, national parks are not held up to an international standard. On the one hand, this allows for more flexibility in creating a national park that functions in its own unique landscape, and to possibly account for different cultural, social, ecological and economic demands than elsewhere. On the other hand, it is difficult for the international community to hold a nation responsible for maintaining a certain standard within their national parks.

Underlying these issues are assumptions about how nature and society should interact on a global scale, and in some cases, create the idea of society as removed from nature. While there are seemingly practical arguments about maintaining biodiversity and decreasing pollutants, these arguments also rest on ideas of what a ‘healthy’ earth should look like. Despite hegemonic ideas of clean, non-polluted, ‘wild’ areas of the earth as the ideal prototype for nature being quite accepted it still encapsulates different power structures, histories, and economic influence. While it is difficult to argue against a clean ocean, it is also difficult to argue for removing people’s livelihood’s with no ready alternative, if that is what would be sacrificed. What was uplifting in some ways was Carruthers’ example of how profit from South African national parks can be funneled back into society into areas that really need economic attention, such as HIV/AIDS clinics. I hope that more transferable social gains can come along with preserving natural landscapes.