Friday the 8th of January Caroline Seagle, a graduate of the MSc programme in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the VU University Amsterdam, won a prize for her thesis Biodiversity for whom? on the local perceptions and experiences of the Rio Tinto/QMM ilmenite mining project in Ampasy Nahampohana, Southeast Madagascar. The Johannes van der Zouwen thesis prize is awarded every year to the best MSc thesis.
Caroline carried out her research last year, in cooperation with Malagasy graduate student of rural economic development, Dina Navalona Rasolofoniaina. She was supervised by Sandra Evers, and her research took place within the long standing cooperation between the VU and le Musée d’Art et d’Archéologie/Institut de Civilisations of Antananarivo.
Among her findings were that Rio Tinto uses discourses of “sustainability” and Corporate Social Responsibility to access land and legitimize their project to the global community, resulting in irreversible livelihood changes to the local population, including a lack of access to resources and biodiversity, loss of ancestral land, and the destruction of tombs. Her executive summary ends with the following conclusions:
“By degrading, controlling access to natural resources on which people depend for survival, and creating dependency on eucalyptus plantations, Rio Tinto is producing bodies dependent entirely on the market instead of the environment, arguing that it is ‘for their own good’. Changes to the environment had direct impacts on ‘subsistence bodies’ by causing food insecurity (e.g. lack of land access; creation of dam that cuts off fish supply; deforestation resulting in lack of forest and medicinal plant access; told to produce vegetables for market not consumption) livelihood insecurity (e.g. being told not to fish for conservation; divisions within community due to dina enforcement) and existential insecurity (e.g. removal of tombs).”
The committee praised her writing, sophistication of analysis, originality of theme and quality of her fieldwork. Working with Sandra Evers, Caroline is currently preparing to carry out research on foreign claims to land in Madagascar and other African countries, and how land is understood as both tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
Look at the faculty website for more information (in Dutch).