Despite having a background in cultural anthropology and environmental studies, my research interests have arisen in particular from a 4,5-year long, practical, ‘somehow ethnographic’ experience; working at the community-based ecotourism project Treesleeper Camp in Tsintsabis, Namibia (2002-2007). In this project, I collaborated with the indigenous people of the area, the so-called Hai//om, one of the many Bushmen (San) groups who formerly engaged in hunting and gathering and who have been evicted from the Etosha National Park. These years form the basis of my PhD project (2009-2013), which I have done as an external candidate while also working as a fundraiser at the Edukans Foundation (2007-2012).
My PhD (University of Tilburg/African Studies Centre, University of Leiden) was about ‘cultural ecotourism’ and how this relates to nature conservation, power relations (in particular paternalism), the encroachment of neoliberal capitalism and the imagery and branding of indigenous peoples. Moreover, I used a theoretical approach in which the ontology (world view) of the indigenous Bushmen populations that I studied played a central role. For this project I analysed four case studies in which indigenous Bushmen engaged in tourism and nature conservation: In Namibia, I worked with the Hai//om of the Etosha National Park, the Ju/’hoansi of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and the Khwe of Bwabwata National Park. In South Africa, I worked with the South Kalahari Bushmen (≠Khomani) of the Kgalagadi Tranfrontier Park.
Having worked for the Dutch NGO the Edukans Foundation for a couple of years as a fundraiser has also instigated my ideas about so-called ‘philanthrocapitalism’ and the shift that is currently intensifying in which a business approach is generally seen as the way to achieve ‘development’, a discourse that is, as yet, unsubstantiated and therefore highly problematic.
Later, as a postdoc at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (2013-2015), I engaged in a project called ‘Nature 2.0: the political economy of conservation in online and Southern African environments’ (with Bram Büscher). In this, the role of social media is examined in relation to nature conservation.
My research in the coming years will be a combination of the previous, with a strong focus on political ecology. I am currently involved as a postdoc in the Crisis Conservation project, in which we do research with 5 people on the important issues of wildlife crime and the extraction of natural resources, and how these relate to (violent) conflicts and issues of legality and illegality. We will do research in Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa for this, 3 global hotspots of biodiversity, and my focus will mainly be on the crisis of rhino horn poaching in South Africa. Thematically, I want to focus on two tracks: the ‘politics of belonging’ and ‘tourism’.
The politics of belonging
This research track contains an exploration of the effects that extraction and wildlife crime have on the different types of ‘the politics of belonging’ for the various stakeholders in these activities. In belonging, people connect emotionally and spiritually to land and the environment, to show their autochthony. A particular interest of mine is how the white community’s ideas about belonging—the dominant group in nature conservation and tourism—that is involved in the rhino poaching crisis are affected by this crisis. Does this influence, instigate new, or old, types of paternalism? And does it relate to ideas about states of exception and/or inclusion? If so, how? Can these ideas justify or lead to (an increase of) violence? Do people belong ‘through’ the rhino?
This research track focuses on the ways in which the tourism industry is affected by the current rhino poaching crisis. And how do they respond? Is tourism, directly or indirectly, a source for the violence that has erupted in relation to the crisis? For example by translocating rhinos to other countries, such as Botswana, where there is a firm ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy in national parks. And how do private rhino owners and community tourism initiatives who ‘dehorn’ their rhinos experience the crisis? Are ‘dehorned’ rhinos considered ‘inauthentic’ these days, either by tourists or others? In addition, I am interested in the ways in which global players in wildlife and tourism, such as zoos, relate to issues of Crisis Conservation.
In short, my research interests are:
- indigeneity/indigenous peoples
- nature conservation
- the politics of belonging/autochthony
- neoliberal capitalism
- social media and nature conservation (Nature 2.0)
- wildlife crime
- natural resource extraction
- Community-Based Natural Resource Managament (CBNRM)
- ontologies/world views
- (violent) conflicts about environmental issues
- branding and other discourse of people and nature
- land dynamics
- South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Indonesia, Brazil