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Personal markets and impersonal communities? Prospects for community conservation in Botswana


Notwithstanding the regressive impacts of structural adjustment on most African countries, creating “viable” markets have now become an important goal for development interventions. At the same time, devolving responsibility from the state to local actors is now accepted as a critical ingredient for successful development. Underlying these shifts in the development discourse is the idea is that rules and responsibilities can be successfully realigned between different actors and institutions. This paper considers the various logics of institutional coordination evident in current efforts to promote wildlife management in Botswana through community collaborations with state regulators and private concerns. As communities, bureaucrats and firms develop new rules to conserve wildlife and alter agricultural practices, state and market structures become “embedded” in institutional and cultural patterns of African communities in new ways. The paper traces institutional patterns and organizational capacities that emerge through the articulation of imposed and pre-existing institutional logics. The infusion of market and state logics is often incomplete and older logics of social organization can become the raw materials for the creation of new institutional practices. An interesting finding of this research is that extra-community actors idealize the way in which communities are embedded in reciprocal-personalistic relationships and economy of affection structures. The state purports to provide an enabling environment by providing a legal framework. However, in reality we see the state’s embeddedness in its paternalistic view of local people, as “children who need grow up.” Market actors exhibit their embeddedness by masking their profit motive behind the idioms of reciprocity. Local communities re-work legacies of prior marginalization through the idiom of community based market-friendly conservation strategies to gain access to areas from which they were excluded in the past. The findings in this paper thus deepen our theoretical understanding of the social embeddedness of the state and the market. At the same time, the articulations highlighted in the paper helps us specify and explore more precisely the ways in which culture and tradition bound choice and preference formation.

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