"just like fingernail and flesh": Community forestry, biogas, and environmental governmentality in Nepal

Open Access
Barnhart, Shaunna Leigh
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 13, 2012
Committee Members:
  • James Mc Carthy, Dissertation Advisor
  • Lakshman S Yapa, Committee Member
  • Brenton Yarnal, Committee Member
  • Cynthia Clare Hinrichs, Committee Member
  • community forestry
  • biogas
  • environmental governance
  • governmentality
  • Nepal
  • renewable energy
  • carbon credits
Community forestry and household biogas digesters that reduce firewood dependence for cooking are two complimentary and relatively successful programs in Nepal. Both have their roots in 1970s development initiatives that ran largely as parallel programs with minor intersections until the late 1990s when some community forest groups began to promote biogas digesters as a tool to further development and forest conversation objectives. This research analyzes the import and impact of the intersection between community forestry and biogas, with a focus on their impacts across scale from households to global markets. Two central research questions guide this study, with the results based on qualitative ethnographic fieldwork, over 300 interviews, participant observation, and primary document collection conducted over 17 months during a three year period in Kathmandu, Jhapa and Gorkha districts of Nepal. The first research question seeks to understand how environmental governmentality and subjectivities can help us to situate individuals’ actions and perceptions regarding the case of community forestry and biogas adoption in Nepal, as well as what this empirical case can contribute to further our understandings of the evolving concept of environmental governmentality. By applying foundational elements of Michel Foucault’s governmentality to community forestry and biogas technology in Nepal, this study demonstrates how community forestry has become a tool used to modify environment related behaviors. This research contributes to environmental governmentality literature by arguing that researchers must also consider the complex interplay of multiple subjectivities residing within individuals and how this impacts their changing environmental attitudes and behaviors. The second core question is how are community forestry and biogas technology in Nepal situated in national and international movements for sustainability, development, and carbon markets and how do those connections influence the form and content of these specific programs in Nepal? This research finds that from their inception, both community forestry and biogas have been connected to global movements and events, but that the discourses surrounding them and the rationale for their continuation has changed. Knowledge production, discourse, and power are foundational elements of environmental governmentality that contribute to understanding and analyzing this process. By analyzing how the discourses and rationales surrounding these two initiatives change over time, this research contributes to a better understanding of the complex and varied workings of environmental governmentality.