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Madagascar aflame : landscape burning as peasant resistance, protest, or a resource management tool?
Madagascar has a fire problem: despite a century of anti-fire repression and rhetoric, farmers and herders continue burning about half of the island's grasslands and woodlands annually. The state criminalized burning due to concern that fire destroys the island's natural resources and blocks development. Many peasants, however, rely on fire to maintain pastures and woodlands, prepare cropfields, control pests, and manage wildfires. The resultant conflict over natural resource management provides a convenient window into questions of peasant protest and resistance, and into strategies of power in resource management. Peasants have succeeded in continuing to burn unimpeded, leading to a century-long stalemate over fire, by taking advantage of first, contradictions and hesitations within the state, second, the natural character of fire (its inevitability, easy anonymity, and self-propagation), and third, the ambiguity between fire as explicit protest and fire as a livelihood technique used at politically opportune moments. This research demonstrates that models of domination (or criminalization) and resistance used to understand peasant-state relations in natural resource management are incomplete without, first, a consideration of the complex and ambiguous spaces between domination and resistance, between state and peasant, between protest and livelihood practices, and second, attention to the political-ecological context including resource ecology, rural livelihoods, and political discourse.
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