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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 21-33

The good, the ugly and the dirty harry's of conservation: Rethinking the anthropology of conservation NGOs

Department of Anthropology, University of Lucerne, Luzern, Switzerland

Correspondence Address:
Peter Bille Larsen
Department of Anthropology, University of Lucerne, Luzern
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.182800

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For the past decade, narrative portrayals of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) growing big, 'ugly', and business-minded have become common in both social science and public discourse. At a time when both engagement within NGOs as well as critical analysis from the outside has blossomed, how are the social sciences and anthropology in particular responding? This article suggests that a set of meta-narratives characterise much of the literature analysing conservation NGOs. Such narratives respectively position NGOs as doing good, turning ugly or acting pragmatically through what I label 'Dirty Harry' characteristics. While the critique of conservation NGOs offers a much needed 'reality check', it is time to revisit dichotomies of the 'good' past and the ugly present. The article reviews trends in the literature and offers a case study from the Peruvian Amazon. The final synthesis emphasises the need for a less essentialist perspective tracing heterogeneity and change of NGO activity over time.

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