Pamela McElwee

Dec 17, 2016

Forests are Gold

Trees, People and Environmental Rule in Vietnam

University of Washington Press 2016

purchase at Forests are Gold: Trees, People and Environmental Rule in Vietnam (University of Washington Press, 2016) begins with two related puzzles: why does Vietnam simultaneously plant and cut trees at unprecedented rates; and, if reforestation projects that clear native species and mono-crop Australian exotics do not protect habitat, what do they aim to achieve? To answer these questions, Pamela McElwee proposes a cogent new schema for what she terms environmental rule, whereby projects whose primary goals lie in social planning are represented and justified ecologically. Drawing on the literature of governmentality and actor-network theory, McElwee reveals how from the French colonial period through state socialism to our neoliberal era the discovery of environmental problems in Vietnam has produced certain types of knowledge that have enabled changes to society via forestry. But Forests are Gold is not only exceptional in its use of material from an array of sources to document and explain forest policy and practice in Vietnam. It is wide-ranging in its implications for the study of political ecology, and for the work of policymakers and lobbyists as well, both in Southeast Asia and beyond. Pamela McElwee joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to discuss the politics of bald hills, payments for environmental services, the enduring influence of colonial maps, problems with acacia, and why Foucault and Latour are useful to think with when asking questions about the environment.
Nick Cheesman is a fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University and in 2016-17 a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He can be reached at

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