My research and writing revolve around the convergences and dynamics of nature conservation, (sustainable) tourism and development. Inequality and power - with a special emphasis on Indigenous peoples - are at the core of my work. Empirically, I have explored and studied these themes mostly in southern Africa (Namibia and South Africa), where I have lived and worked in the past (Namibia), and a bit in Indonesia. The following empirical and theoretical research trajectories can be identified in my work:
1. Indigenous peoples, apartheid and nature-based tourism
As a heavily marginalised group, the Indigenous San often end up in tourism settings (not always by their own choice), and so become part of the larger global tourism industry and networks. Since tourism in southern Africa is mostly nature-based, and because most of the San people live in rural areas, their involvement in tourism cannot be seen apart from their involvement in nature conservation. Furthermore, this trajectory focuses on the on-going societal consequences of the former (i.e. official) Apartheid regime among Indigenous peoples in (Northeast) Namibia, with a focus on contemporary environmental problems. In this research, Apartheid is not only regarded a legal framework from the past in South Africa and Namibia, but as a continually changing socio-cultural and economic structure. Looking at Apartheid in this way can help us to better understand contemporary racial and ethnic divides in relation to environmental problems and solutions.
2. The South African Wildlife Economy
In this research, I explore how the tourism industry adjacent to the Kruger National Park, in the South African Lowveld, which is affected by the contemporary rhino poaching crisis. I look into the industry's responses to this crisis. Furthermore, I investigate how people who live at so-called ‘wildlife estates’ in the Lowveld articulate their ‘belonging’ to the area in this new nature conservation/tourism model. Wildlife estates are gated communities that are also (over)stocked with wildlife, on which many houses often function as ‘second homes’ and/or are rented out part of the year.
3. Philanthrocapitalism, enjoyment and new types of tourism
Two new, and growing, types of tourism that I explore are what I have dubbed ‘philanthrotourism’ and ‘environmentourism’. Both are based on theories about philanthrocapitalism, in which the ‘very rich’ engage in a large variety of developmental and conservation projects, under the assumption that those mechanisms that made them rich, are also the best mechanisms to sustainably address inequality, marginalisation and environmental degradation. The value and ideologies behind this, however, spread ideas and practices that are associated with nature conservation and in development, highly affecting these sectors. In my recent work I applied a psychoanalytical approach of ‘enjoyment’ (jouissance) to philanthrocapitalism.
4) Critical analyses of research
This trajectory reflects on the meanings of and practices in research. It addresses questions and issues that are of broader relevance to the scientific community. Having been involved in a variety of debates regarding ethical and political issues in research, I learned how important it is to reflect on what ‘we’ do, how we do this, and why it matters (or not).