Green governmentality and swidden decline on Palawan Island

W.H. Dressler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Environmental governance initiatives increasingly extend to the rural Philippines as ‘devolved’ programmes that progress livelihood change, differentiation and market-based investments. This paper examines how the origins, rise and consequences of environmental governance initiatives in Palawan Island, the Philippines, facilitate forms of governmentality that intersect with, and rearticulate through, the local political economy to influence swidden-based livelihoods, social relations and landscape composition. Drawing on recent scholarship, I describe how the rise and substance of this governance agenda manifests spatially as a form of discursive green governmentality. I argue that this scaled, discursive process involves diverse institutions that decentre and deploy technical knowledge, values and rules in local spaces, influencing how farmers self-govern their behaviour and use of nature toward ‘sustainability’ (Goldman 2001). I draw on a case study to show how Tagbanua swidden farmers negotiate such green governmentality by adopting new landscape ideals through anti-swidden narratives inflected by local politics, economy and environmental change in villages around the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. I focus on how green governmentality has become systemic across scales to converge with local politics and economy, where governmental discourse is pliable, flexibly interpreted, though followed to affect the shift from long fallow to permanent cultivation. I conclude by showing that the ways government, non-governmental and local actors communicate and invest in such discourse facilitates convergence with the local political economy, reinforcing swidden decline, livelihood risk and marginalisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-264
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • southeast-asia
  • land-use
  • conservation
  • philippines
  • management
  • resources
  • state

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