Review: Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers: The Politics of Environmental Knowledge in Northern Thailand

Article excerpt

Review: Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers: The Politics of Environmental Knowledge in Northern Thailand By Tim Forsyth and Andrew Walker Reviewed by Matthew J. Forss Forsyth, Tim and Walker, Andrew. Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers: The Politics of Environmental Knowledge in Northern Thailand. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2008. 302 pp. ISBN: 978- 0-295-98822-1. US$25.00, paper. Printed on 90 percent recycled acid free paper from at least 50 percent post-consumer waste.

Tim Forsyth and Andrew Walker's lifetime of working in northern Thailand certainly provides a more than cursory examination of the political ecology of the region. This book does not, "...suggest that environmental problems do not exist or that environmental policy is unnecessary" (p. 3). However, the chapters contain, "...a deeper political analysis of how and why-and with whose influence- environmental problems are defined the way they are" (p. 3). Essentially, Forsyth and Walker incorporate well-defined arguments of environmental topics related to water supply, forest protection, biodiversity, agricultural mismanagement, ethnic conflict, and policymaking. The aforementioned topics are also heavily cross-referenced with nearly 400 sources used throughout the book.

An important aspect of environmental politics revolves around narratives. Environmental narratives are, "...simplified explanations of environmental cause and effect that emerge in contexts where environmental knowledge and social order are mutually dependent" (p. 17). Yet, Forsyth and Walker are cautious to point out, "...environmental narratives frequently impose meanings that are acceptable to their creators or users, but which may contain unwelcome implications for other social actors and high levels of simplification of complex and uncertain physical processes" (p. 17). Moreover, "...narrative framing is evident in the common tendency for environmental debate to bifurcate into two positions: that upland farmers are either forest destroyers or forest guardians" (p. 19). The crux of the issue depends on an overly-simplified view of environmental crises, rather than a realistic understanding of the role of forests in upland ecosystems. Throughout the chapters, Forsyth and Walker raise questions and answer them by providing comparative and original research. The multifarious nature of environmental politics provides a complex picture of past, present, and future narratives. …