Performing Forests Conference – Summary

Summary Conference Performing Forests, 11-12 June 2014, Munich

The conference took place at the Center for Advanced Studies of the LMU, which has granted a short-term visiting fellowship for Richard Le Heron from The University of Auckland, New Zealand, who was one of our guests and a special speaker at the conference.

After the welcoming words by Gordon Winder (LMU), Claudia Binder (LMU) and Lena Bouman (CAS) content input came from our geography colleagues from Canada: Alex Clapp and Roger Hayter (SFU, Burnaby) gave a fascinating presentation on Remapping and institutional thickening in forest peripheries. They depicted the case of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada, which is a loaded imaginary of a resource periphery where clashes over values and forest conflicts have driven a war in the woods. This war has been an environmental, cultural and trade war at the same time. Various stakeholders had met (in different constellations) at the negotiating table and eventually the forest has been remapped, in the sense of re-territorialized. For their analysis they elaborated a ‘four-legged plus’ Stakeholder Model to highlight not only divergent institutional interests and the contested processes that underlie remapping approaches and results in resource peripheries but also the possible lines of connection and alliance building among interests. Here, innovative policies arise from both learning and bargaining processes among all stakeholders. The remapping agreement itself can be understood as contributing to an institutional thickening as it lays the foundations for collective action, which in the case of the Great Bear rainforest resulted in six bilateral negotiations/collaborations. Some of these institutions are dynamic/unstable in availability and they all operate at various scales. It remains an open question whether these new institutions reflect the formation of social capital or rather hyper-regulation.

Eunice Blavascunas (RCC), an anthropologist, led us from a Canadian resource periphery to the Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland and, drawing on insights from political ecology and a post-communist perspective, gave an ethnographic account of Polish state foresters in interaction with biologists, conservationists and local people in the fight to expand the Polish Bialowieza National Park between 1990 and 2013. While nature protection was not seen as something political this changed in the post-socialist period. Formerly, state forest has been conceived as a symbol for the nation and state foresters have been filled with national pride. In the post-socialist period, though, foresters de-territorialized the forest from the nation, as the forest became more symbolic of pristine threatened nature beyond national scale. With this opportunity, the foresters de-emphasized their nationalist past and brought forward collaboration with locals to challenge forest protection which they claimed to be an action of undermining local rights to resources.

In the evening, Richard Le Heron (University of Auckland) gave a public lecture as a contribution to the Center for Advanced Studies’ summer program. He also addressed contestation and negotiation by referring to New Zealand’s new National Science Challenge process and experimental investment-institutional initiatives as two key sites of it. Talking about enacting land, coast and ocean resourcefulness in the twenty first century, he gave insights on local and global challenges from New Zealand. While pointing towards the politics of knowledge production around resources and resourcefulness, he reminded that in order to create possibilities (for coping with local and global challenges) it is necessary to develop new and critical questions.

The second day was predominantly framed by the role of discourses in nature protection, forest politics and forestry. Klaus Pukall and Günther Dobler, members at the chair of forest and environmental policy (TUM), talked about problems with the German Forest Law. They gave an overview of different periods in forestry and the prevailing discourses within these phases. Each discourse they would identify with a six actants-model and showing as well the influence on the forest law. The current phase, being the fourth one after a long period of an established paralleling of a liberal discourse and the Oeconomia naturae discourse, is characterized by the constellation of nature protection discourse versus timber forestry discourse. Referring to three dimensions of discourse, namely decision power, mode of governance and compatibility of different demands, they identified these as questions shaping future directions for the design of the Forest Law.

Sabine Storch, a member of the chair of forest and environmental policy at the University of Freiburg, presented on the INTEGRAL project, an EU-funded project with the goal to contribute substantially to a better understanding of forest management conflicts in Europe. Therefore researchers from various European countries are conducting in-depth analysis on the various drivers of competing land-use options in 20 case study regions. Sabine presented the case study “South of Munich”. Here, backcasting workshops have been organized with various stakeholders ranging from forest owners to NGO’s. The stakeholders have been asked about their future images as well as desired endpoints. Sabine explained the backcasting exercise as well as the transdisciplinary scenario development and gave good insights from the workshops that took place. She noted that the foresight methods bear risks and opportunities. While discussion centered on the roles of specific expert knowledge and preset assumptions in shaping the results, she reminded that the backcasting exercise was both challenging in terms of the dynamics among stakeholders and interesting in terms of the individual stakeholders’ efforts to think and imagine desired futures.

Futures was again a key word in the presentation by Amra Bobar, doctoral student of Prof. Gordon Winder, who presented on new roles for forests and wood resource utilization in climate change discourses in Germany. Here, the focus was put on the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and two of their publications. The Ministry can be seen as part of a long standing forestry coalition, which overlaps with the above-named timber forestry discourse. The two central publications as well as media representations have been analyzed by a qualitative content analysis approach. The emerging narratives created around climate change adaptation, resource utilization discourses in the sense of recycling and reusing but also reassessing wood and wood sources, are pointing towards a reloading of calculative practices (CO2, biological efficiency) but no change in institutions and potentially hidden territories. Amra concluded that while the sustainability and climate change discourses are prevailing, the narratives of wood and wood usage as well as of the future forest are being added. What emerges is an intensified forest assessment and management, resource utilization and reinforced claims. Whether this is a particular kind of “remapping” and what could be the space of the future forest (including the associated pile of reusable wood) was left as an open question to discuss.

Discourses were the central element in the last presentation as well. Sina Leipold, also a doctoral student, but from the chair of forest and environmental policy at the University of Freiburg, was talking about the politics of Illegal Logging. She compared cross-sectoral alliances and discursive agency in the United States and Europe by focusing on four interrelated analytical dimensions: policy discourses and political institutions, agents and strategic alliances. The making of the Legal Timber Protection Act (2008) and the European Timber Regulation (2010) were her objects of analysis. On the aspect of policy making and implementation, Sina concluded that there are two possible interpretations: compromise or ongoing conflict. In terms of the actor’s role and interests, these are dependent on the self-perceptions, discursive structures and strategic practices, which impact on the policy process, which itself can lead to a reestablishing of original coalitions and positions and also a reviving of topics like sustainability. What role one is taking on and what policy is attached to it is therefore a crucial aspect and will drive the solution and development of a policy process.

The conference closed with a review session, which Gordon chaired. All participants agreed that the conference was highly interesting, fruitful and opened up new perspectives. We acknowledged that while we had all talked about discourse, each of us had a different approach to it, whether theoretically, conceptionally or methodically. Also, it seemed that each project started from conflict. Here, Alex reminded that it is necessary to understand contestation first before thinking about conflict. As Eunice said, the unruliness of forests makes them difficult to grasp and forests have their own specificity. It was appreciated that the conference dealt with the wider role of forests in society and a broader sense of values. Moreover, it was clearly shown that governance looks different from government. Finally, globalization and cosmopolitics are further themes that could be incorporated and highlighted in a next version of Performing Forests.

Each participant and guest of the conference noted the learning and reflecting that had come to them from sharing different perspectives on forests and discourses about them, and on the pleasant and familiar atmosphere that was created. Learning about key interpretive techniques, like for example “remapping”, discursive agency or ethnography as well as the others that were shared, was very rich and helpful in further thinking. Therefore, we are very pleased about having been able to realize this conference and to participate in such a deep and instructive discussion and exchange forum. Thanks to all participants, guests and those who contributed in supporting and realizing this event.


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