Big Philanthropy, Big Conservation, and Resource Spectacle in Chilean Patagonia

Authors: Clare Beer*, University of California - Los Angeles
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: philanthropy, conservation, resource spectacle, state-natures
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Chile’s public conservation estate has expanded by unprecedented margins in recent years, owing to several large-scale designations like the Route of Parks (RoP) in Chilean Patagonia. This paper considers the role of two coupled forces behind the RoP, ‘big philanthropy’ and ‘big conservation,’ and shows how both have compelled the state to take actions it would not have taken otherwise. I argue that big philanthropy and big conservation jointly perform the economic value and investability of national parks in order to attract buy-in from the state. The prominent international philanthropic foundations Tompkins Conservation and The Pew Charitable Trusts are campaigning for increased protection of Chilean Patagonia by framing local ecologies as too valuable not to conserve. The proffered solution is large landscape conservation, an emerging paradigm of praxis emanating from the U.S. that promotes large-scale interventions for large-scale gains. The RoP represents big philanthropy’s efforts to globalize big conservation beyond the U.S. by conjuring a resource spectacle in three parts. The resource potential of the RoP is performed through a superlative ecological imaginary, a development alternative, and a novel finance mechanism. In contrast to resource spectacles conjured to court investment for extractive projects from financial actors, big philanthropy conjures resource spectacle in Chile to court investment for conservation projects from the state. Its success with the RoP demonstrates that spectacle is not only fundamentally a social relation, following Debord, but also fundamentally a political relation that shapes the production and governance of state-natures.

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