National Park of American Samoa, Polynesia: A case study of virtualizing environmentalism and development
My Ph.D. research examined the establishment of a National Park in American Samoa by the United States, which administrates this Polynesian territory. The research focused on the possible impacts the protected areas may have on the local communities. At the end of my fieldwork in 2006 and 2007, I concluded that the Park is affecting two pillars of this society: the communal land which is intrinsically associated with the Samoan extended family and its internal organization and the chieftainship organization. In this paper, I argue that the original project for this protected area was based on a virtual construction of both nature and indigenous peoples. Virtual constructions, or attempts to make the practical world align with the world of the conceptual, may lead to strong disjunctions between the initial conservation project and its on-site execution, and thus to a project that does not meet all of its intended objectives. Environmentalism itself, as a vision of the world and a discourse, has been used to construct a virtual reality of what biodiversity conservation and sustainable development should be. These are the issues my paper will address in light of the ethnographic research I conducted in American Samoa. Many contemporary social scientists have recently challenged this environmentalist discourse and the imposition of its view on others. I hope this paper will contribute to this debate.
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