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Senior Award Winner

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At first, community-based conservation (CBC) seems like a brilliant idea. Combining the needs of the ecosystem with the needs of the communities living in them appears to be a win-win scenario infused with political, economic and social benefits. Although there may be considerable benefits deriving from CBC, my research in Kenya and Madagascar raised a number of questions and concerns regarding the process used to initiate a conservation area, who benefits, why they benefit, and how conservancies can be sustained into the future. I argue that the sometimes contradictory missions of conservation programs and communities fail to serve either group’s goals in a productive and effective manner. I show that the CBC is an outgrowth of neocolonialism through a historical analysis of the rise of conservation efforts in Africa as well as through the lens of postcolonial studies. Additionally, this thesis disrupts the dominant narrative of nature conservation by exploring different stories of nature presented by diverse authors and oral traditions, thereby unpacking the ways in which “nature” itself is a social construction. Using case studies from Kenya and Madagascar, I demonstrate how socially constructed ideas about nature impact contemporary environmental issues. In examining the common practice of blaming the rural poor for environmental degradation, I will ask what the role of other players are in the process. Through this analysis, the goal is to disrupt the hegemonic understanding of nature, conservation, and how humans are impacted, and impact, these relationships.