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Accepted Paper:

Narcotrafficking, Danger, and Environmentalism in Central America  


Clate Korsant (John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY)

Paper short abstract:

As Costa Rica’s southwest becomes an increasingly viable path for narcotrafficking, tensions have risen among research participants that carry dangerous implications. For many, narcotrafficking and environmentalism present vastly different but interconnected political economies.

Paper long abstract:

The anthropologist’s positionality carries not only the suggestion that scholars must consider ethics and politics when deciding upon certain field methods, but also that those same decisions are based upon structural constraints regarding the possibilities of physical harm or violence. Within an area with growing interests for ecological research, ecotourism, and narcotrafficking; anthropologists must tread lightly for the sake of their own safety and that of their research participants. Costa Rica’s southwest region, including Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula, has increasingly become a confluence of profitable and viable drug trafficking routes alongside successful ecotourism; and researching in this setting has brought me to reconsider multiple methodological approaches while studying the politics of conservation and the area’s political ecology.

This paper will provide anecdotes and various vignettes from the field that illuminate the challenges faced by researching socio-environmental interactions within an area frequented by narcotrafficking. I discuss the dangers, contradictions, and dilemmas interpreting the political ecology of the burgeoning ecotourism, voluntourism, and rural community tourism economy in the shadow of drug pathways that cut through national park lands and intersect with the livelihoods of many residents. Ultimately the question is a methodological one: how should anthropologists or political ecologists position themselves in relation to the dangerous informal economy of narcotrafficking?

Panel P062b
Positionality beyond 'People versus Parks': Anthropologists' Engagement with Conservation in the 21st Century