Power is consuming the forest : the political ecology of conflict and reconstruction in Cambodia
The broad aim of this research is to further our understanding of the incorporation of nature into socio-political processes of transition within countries at war. The concomitant capitalist production of nature and construction of political power is examined through the case of forest exploitation in Cambodia. The thesis draws on political ecology, sociological theories of power, and political economic theories of commodity chains to explain the apparent failure of both the Cambodian government and the international community to employ logging revenues as a positive factor for 'peace and reconstruction'. The main period of study extends from 1987 to 1998, during which Cambodia's protracted civil war ended. Timber represented over that period close to half of Cambodia's export earnings. However, this revenue largely escaped official taxation and reportedly fuelled the conflict, broadened wealth disparities, and deepened an environmental crisis. Rather than fully subscribing to this 'politics of plunder' story-line, this thesis examines the complexities of forestry practices, and flows of logging revenue, and analyses their relationship with the construction of political power throughout the process of transition. This construction of political power is interpreted through a neopatrimonial model in which social actors' politico-economic strategies both influence, and are influenced by the transition process. In Cambodia during the period of study, these strategies reinforced a 'shadow state' politics, through which the political elite, in part responding to the demands of international markets and the political challenge of the UN-sponsored peace process, consolidated its power by reorganising productive networks outside formal governance. In turn, domestic and international actors through both discursive and material practices resisted these strategies. The case of logging in Cambodia is thus interpreted as a contested process of transforming nature and incorporating space into 'productive networks', as part of a broader political economy of power.