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Selling Conservation? Scientific Legitimacy and the Commodification of Conservation Tourism

Jenny A Cousins, School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester
James Evans, School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester
Jon Sadler, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

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Conservation tourism is a rapidly growing subsector of ecotourism that engages paying volunteers as active participants in conservation projects. Once the preserve of charities, the sector now hosts a proliferation of private companies seeking to make money by selling international conservation work to tourists as a commodity. The commodification of conservation depends upon balancing the scientific legitimacy of projects against the need to offer desirable tourist experiences. Drawing on interviews with UK tour operators and their counterparts in South Africa who run the conservation projects, we explore the transnational geography of commercial conservation tourism, charting how scientific legitimacy is constructed and negotiated within the industry. Although conservation tourism makes trade-offs between scientific rigor and neoliberal market logic, it is a partial and plural process that resists simple categorization. We conclude by considering the difference that commodification makes to conservation science, and vice versa.

Key words

commodification; conservation science; conservation tourism; scientific legitimacy; South Africa; United Kingdom
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087