The dissertation research examines the socio-economic and political effects of community-based conservation initiatives within the Bagmara buffer zone community forests of Chitwan National Park, Nepal. In particular, the study investigates the role of buffer zones creation in structuring the way rural property rights have been defined, negotiated, and contested, in reinforcing or reducing patterns of ethnic dominance and exclusion, and in influencing how cultural identities are constituted and renegotiated. Using a political ecology framework with a specific focus on theoretical concepts of environmentality and territorialization, I conducted 12 months ethnographic and quantitative survey field research in the buffer zone communities of Chitwan National Park. I focused on documenting socioeconomic conditions and livelihood practices, and interpreting the meanings of residents’ lived experiences. In addition, I critically examined state and non-state conservation and development practices to understand how they work to produce identities, livelihoods, and landscapes in the park’s buffer zone.
The ethnographic study documented diverse impacts of community-based conservation initiatives. One of the major effects is the distribution of costs and benefits, specifically elite capture of community forest and tourism benefits. Second is the existing conflict and potential conflict over the control of access, benefits, and territory based on social and cultural identities. Third is the reproduction of caste, ethnic, and class hierarchies. Fourth is the militarization of communities in and around the buffer zone and community forest. Fifth is the production of environmental and non-environmental subjects such as illegals and poachers. Finally, the sixth is the commodification of conservation spaces and subsequent ecological impacts. The research concludes that the discursive representation of humans and non-humans and the discourses and practices of economic development and biodiversity conservation produced and reproduced a number of negative social, political, and ecological consequences in the buffer zone of CNP. This dissertation concluded that the conservation and development practices are territorial projects to govern people and nature.