How did the idea of Democracy in the Woods take shape? Why compare three countries that are so different from one another?

This book has its roots in my doctoral research that analysed the Forest Rights Act (FRA); specifically, the policy debates and implementation challenges about the relationship between community forest rights and household land rights. This was an extremely exciting project that allowed me to bring together disparate theories.

However, in developing the dissertation into a book in the year 2012, I wanted to focus on bigger questions of how the international and national political economy processes and structures shape the relationship between environmental conservation and social justice.

The questions of forestland contestations are highly salient in India, Tanzania, and Mexico, though each of them differ significantly in the large political economic factors that shape the political and policy processes that are central to the book’s argument.

Could you summarise the book’s main argument for our readers?

The main argument is that the relationship between conservation and social justice, which also intimately mirrors the relationship between the environment and development, is contingent on how social groups with competing interests in the environment are represented in the political and policy process.

Through a systematic comparative analysis, Democracy in the Woods shows that political and policy processes in these three countries more or less inclusive, because of the following factors:

  1. The balance of political and economic power that different social groups enjoy
  2. The types of political imperatives that policymakers encounter
  3. The ways in which the state functions at national and subnational levels.

My analysis of the Mexican case and the specific instances of success in India, specifically in the first decade of the twenty-first century, show that the radical potential of socially just environmental conservation efforts takes root in the interstices of mass politics and formal institutional politics.

An important goal of the book is to bridge the longstanding chasm between policy scholars who think of policymaking as a techno-managerial process and several types of ‘critical scholarships’, which emphasise the social and cultural aspects of nature-society interface.

While recognising that each of those aspects matters, Democracy in the Woods develops a framework to investigate the ways in which political and policy processes determine whether and how myriad contestations over the environment and social justice are framed, translated into specific policy proposals in the legislature, and implemented with varying degrees of sabotage and success.

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