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Instituting Nature

Authority, Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests

Andrew S. Mathews

Publication Year: 2011

A study of how encounters between forestry bureaucrats and indigenous forest managers in Mexico produced official knowledge about forests and the state.

Published by: The MIT Press

Series: Politics, Science, and the Environment


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Title Page, Copyright

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Series Foreword

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p. vii

As our understanding of environmental threats deepens and broadens, it is increasingly clear that many environmental issues cannot be simply understood, analyzed, or acted on. The multifaceted relationships among human beings, social and political institutions, and the physical environment..

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pp. ix-x

Anthropologists know that debts can be powerful and that they can establish enduring social relationships. If this is so, I am rich in the many debts that I have incurred in writing this book. Although I alone am responsible for errors and mistakes, I have been influenced by many...

Glossary of Institutions

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pp. xi-xii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-29

Around the world, the troubles of modernity seem to call for more knowledge, greater transparency, increased oversight by states, or increased inspection of states by active publics. It is often claimed that citizens should want to know more, perhaps in order to call governments...

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2. Building Forestry in Mexico: Ambitious Regulations and Popular Evasions

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pp. 31-60

Over the last 200 years, governments all over the world have taken up the burden of knowing, managing, and protecting nature, accompanied by the task of developing economies and caring for citizens. Most citizens, of First or Third World countries alike, now take it for granted that the state is responsible...

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3. The Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca: Mobile Landscapes, Political Economy, and the Fires of War

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pp. 61-92

Standing at the crest of the Sierra Juárez, one feels far from cities, governments, and forestry bureaucracies. Range after range of fir and pineclad mountains recede into the distance (see figure 3.1). The air is cool, the tropical sun stingingly hot. At first this might feel like a forest in Arizona or...

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4. Forestry Comes to Oaxaca: Bureaucrats, Gangsters, and Indigenous Communities, 1926 – 1956

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pp. 93-129

The pine forests of Oaxaca may appear peaceful, but they are not always so. When forestry science began to travel from Mexico City to the provinces in the 1920s and 1930s, forestry bureaucrats based in the city of Oaxaca encountered a tangled web of political intrigue. Struggles to gain control of...

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5. Industrial Forestry, Watershed Control, and the Rise of Community Forestry, 1956–2001

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pp. 130-159

In the end, the Mexican state lost its patience with the small logging companies. It had had enough of violent conflicts and tax evasion by wildcat loggers, enough of the disorderly habits of rural people who burned forests and degraded the environment and who lied or evaded visiting officials...

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6. The Mexican Forest Service: Knowledge, Ignorance, and Power

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pp. 160-191

In November 2000, I attended a convention on community forestry in a hotel on the outskirts of the city of Oaxaca. For three days, government officials, scientists, and the occasional NGO representative occupied an elevated stage and presented their views on the state of Oaxaca’s forests before an audience...

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7. The Acrobatics of Transparency and Obscurity: Forestry Regulations Travel to Oaxaca

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pp. 192-215

State mandates to control forests and protect nature do not travel smoothly through the world. On the contrary, knowledge is continually remade, a practice in translation, rather than an item that travels smoothly from a forestry laboratory or a government office. In the end, a small number...

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8. Working the Indigenous Industrial

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pp. 216-247

Let us return for one last time to the community of Ixtlán to look at how indigenous people and their community institutions entangle distant pine forests with the content of national forestry statistics and the stability of federal forestry institutions. A central argument of this book is that what appear to be...

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9. Conclusion

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pp. 248-255

This book has described how the science of forestry traveled to Mexico, how it came to be institutionalized by the expanding Mexican forest service, and how, ultimately, forestry was domesticated and turned against the state by particular indigenous forest communities in the state...


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pp. 256-263


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pp. 264-279


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pp. 280-303


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pp. 304-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780262298537
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262516440

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Politics, Science, and the Environment
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OCLC Number: 768348244
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Instituting Nature

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Zapotec Indians -- Mexico -- Ixtlán de Juárez -- Social conditions.
  • Zapotec Indians -- Industries -- Mexico -- Ixtlán de Juárez.
  • Zapotec Indians -- Mexico -- Ixtlán de Juárez -- Government relations.
  • Indigenous peoples -- Ecology -- Mexico -- Ixtlán de Juárez.
  • Forests and forestry -- Mexico -- Ixtlán de Juárez.
  • Forest management -- Mexico -- Ixtlán de Juárez.
  • Forest conservation -- Mexico -- Ixtlán de Juárez.
  • Ixtlán de Juárez (Mexico) -- Politics and government.
  • Ixtlán de Juárez (Mexico) -- Social conditions.
  • Ixtlán de Juárez (Mexico) -- Environmental conditions.
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