Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
In the villages that border a protected forest in Tanzania’s East Usambara Mountains, residents and foresters use the spaces of state-led participatory conservation to debate the political legitimacy of forest authorities. Drawing on meeting transcripts, interviews, and more a year of ethnographic research, this paper examines the discursive strategies they use to claim and contest environmental authority in spoken interactions. Such close attention to discourse reveals several locally-salient theories, which can be grouped into four thematic grounds for evaluation: performances of wit and expertise in public oratory; reputations of strict enforcement; attention to residents’ needs; and assertions of localness. These overlapping and dynamic theories of political legitimacy reflect trends documented in the intellectual history of the Usambaras. Their emergence in contemporary discussions thereby continues a longstanding practice in the region of framing political matters in environmental terms and vice versa. Moreover, they reveal how local configurations of ideas about authority shape the way conservation governance and ecological change unfold.