Reply To: National Parks, civilisation and globalisation

Author Replies # Posted on May 21, 2014 at 12:59

Reflection on the discussion seminar with Jane Carruthers, 20th of May

The discussion with Jane Carruthers was to me the most engaging one so far in the course. With her convincing, assertive, yet very engaging manner of presenting the institution of national parks in the global context, Jane roused my interest in a topic that is typically very far removed from my field of interest (and also my knowledge scope). So far, I have never questioned the origin and all the implications hidden in a phenomenon so widespread and common; probably, it is precisely this wide dissemination and occurrence of national parks that make them seem self-evident and self-justifying. The fact that we lack a standardization of criteria of what constitutes and counts as a national park, made it that much easier for the phenomenon to pass unnoticed, so to speak, but in a way it also enables us to follow the flow and transformations of the idea of a national park in a global context, without those ideas being obscured in legal and conservationist jargon. This demands attention; which ideas and purposes of national parks were disseminated and how were they consolidated if we lack a supranational institution that would enforce these ideas?
After the group discussion about the pros and cons caused by the lack of standardization, I think that as a group we were left at an impasse. However, I think there are more advantages brought by the fact that national parks are a slippery category, since I am convinced that in this way it is possible to evade the universalization and the centrifugal forces of standardization that would inevitably be shaped by Eurocentric perspectives of what purposes a national park should serve. Yet, global trends are clear; nowadays the economic purpose is prioritized but in the past the purposes varied: from consolidating a nation by constructing a certain vision of nature and civilization and the bond this constructed nature holds with people who inhabit it, to egalitarian notions of a public landscape, to aesthetic notions of sublime beauty of unique landscapes etc. As a perpetual contrarian (it seems I will never grow out of this attitude) I find the elusive character of the national park phenomenon to be a potential tool for constructing meanings and purposes that are not in line with what the dominant tendencies currently are. Put frankly, the emptiness of the term national park makes it a potential vehicle for subversion and revolt against the ever-growing commercialization of nature cloaked in buzzwords such as sustainable development, growth, income generating and whatnot. National or local governance also enables a policy more attuned to the socio-eco(nomo)logical contexts. Perhaps my vision of this is too idealistic, since the lack of standardization and surveillance could result in the usurpation of the institution of a national park by agendas that could lead to ethnic strife, dispossesion of people’s land, activities detrimental to biodiversity etc.
In the end, it was Jane’s question whether we would like to live in a fully standardized world, that convinced me that perhaps it is better to think of the elusiveness of national parks as something carrying potential to offer alternatives to the universalizing tendencies of Eurocentric values and meanings that dominate the construction of nature and ultimately its purpose.