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Local People, National Parks, and International Conservation Movements: Conflicts over Nature in Southeast Asia

  • Author(s): Rodriguez, Steven Martin
  • Advisor(s): Hunt, Lynn A
  • et al.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Southeast Asia became a world center for the establishment of national parks designed to foster the new conservation objectives of "collaborative management" and "ecotourism" development. Yet, by the start of the twenty-first century, these national parks programs had become notorious for their failure to achieve their management goals. International conservation organizations continued to sponsor park programs that excluded villagers from accessing the resources of the parks; meanwhile, the destruction of the parks' flora and fauna increased due to extensive logging and other forms of large-scale exploitation.

Through an examination of management plans, government documents, the writings of conservationists, and reports from local journals and newspapers, this dissertation will put the recent history of national park development in Southeast Asia into a longer-term historical context of international conservation, colonial initiatives, and nation-state building. This dissertation will present case studies of parks in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam in order to illustrate specific examples of the conflicts that were manifested in the process of the implementation of national parks in the region. Through an analysis of the findings of the case studies, the research will identify common defining conflicts facing national parks in contemporary Southeast Asia.

Case studies from Indonesia and Vietnam reveal that the failure of these nations' parks to achieve their management objectives was not the result of international NGOs and the imposition of their exclusionary conservation projects, but a consequence of increasing political decentralization, and the ongoing struggles between regional and national leaders over the control of natural resources. The history of Malaysia's national park, however, reveals that through a process of debate and contestation, it was possible to design an enduring national park program that reconciled the interests of local, national, and international groups. Ultimately, this dissertation suggests that the conception of a "national park" as a fixed archetype to be applied globally has been deficient. A new conception of the "national park" as an adaptable model designed to address specific and unique cultural and social contexts is essential for the future success of national parks programs in Southeast Asia.

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