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From Avatar to Reality: Development, Environment and the Representation of Cameroonian Pygmies

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This article discusses the challenges facing indigenous peoples when external interventions are conducted in their territories. Using a discourse analysis approach, it shows how indigenous peoples are constructed by groups pursuing diverging interests. Focusing on the case of Cameroonian Pygmies, three discourses are studied: the conservationist, the development and the pro-indigenous peoples discourses. The result of the analysis shows how indigenous peoples are represented and which values and norms stand out in discourses. It highlights how the construction of one’s own reality can advantage or disadvantage groups of peoples: Pygmies represent a threat to the environment for environmentalists, they are poor for development actors, and they are above all mistreated for those defending their rights. The underlying theme is the transition to ‘modernity’, its inevitability or imposition, as well as the resistance and adaptation of indigenous peoples to external influences.

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11. fn1111) E. Young, Third World in the First: Development and Indigenous Peoples (Routledge, London, 1995).
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23. fn2323) J. Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2006).
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32. fn3232) Ibid., p. 93.
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35. fn3535) Schulte-Tenckhoff, supra note 7, p. 156. See also I. Schulte-Tenckhoff and S. Horner, ‘Le bon sauvage, nouvelle donne’, in F Sabelli (ed.), Écologie contre nature: développement et politiques d’ingérence (Nouveaux Cahiers de l’IUED, Presses Universitaires de France, Genève, Paris, 1995) pp. 21–39.
36. fn3636) S. Pietikäinen, ‘Indigenous identity in print: representations of the Sami in news discourse’, 14:5 Discourse & Society (2003) p. 586.
37. fn3737) N. Fairclough, Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research (Routledge, London, 2003) p. 206.
38. fn3838) N. Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change (Polity Press, Cambridge, 1992) p. 3.
39. fn3939) P. Louise and M.W. Jørgensen. Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method (Sage, Thousand Oaks, 2002) p. 8.
40. fn4040) N. Fairclough, Language and Power (Longman, London, New York, 1989) p. 15.
41. fn4141) Pietikäinen, supra note 36.
42. fn4242) R. Harding, ‘Historical representations of aboriginal people in the Canadian news media’, 17:2 Discourse and Society (2006) pp. 205–235.
43. fn4343) P. Teo, ‘Racism in the news: a Critical Discourse Analysis of news reporting in two Australian newspapers’, 11:1 Discourse & Society (2000) pp. 7–49.
44. fn4444) H. J. Brookes, ‘Suit, tie and a touch of juju – the ideological construction of Africa: a critical discourse analysis of news on Africa in the British press’, 6:4 Discourse and Society (1995) pp. 461–494.
45. fn4545) Fairclough, supra note 38.
46. fn4646) N. Phillips and C. Hardy, Discourse Analysis: Investigating Processes of Social Construction (Sage, Thousand Oaks, 2002) p. 16.
47. fn4747) M. Müller, ‘Reconsidering the concept of discourse for the field of critical geopolitics: Towards discourse as language and practice’, 27 Political Geography (2008) pp. 322–338.
48. fn4848) See for example F. Fozdar, ‘Duelling discourses, shared weapons: rhetorical techniques used to challenge racist arguments’, 19:4 Discourse and Society (2008) pp. 529–547, on anti-racism discourses.
49. fn4949) See S. Bahuchet, Les Pygmées aka et la République centrafricaine: ethnologie écologique (Peeters, Paris, 1985) and S. Bahuchet, La rencontre des agriculteurs: les Pygmées parmi les peuples d’Afrique centrale (Peeters, Paris, 1993).
50. fn5050) < >, visited on 30 June 2007. The Campo Ma’an project has now become the “WWF Kudu-Zombo Programme” (see < >, visited 10 September 2010). Consequently, the content of the internet pages concerning this project has slightly changed since our last visit.
51. fn5151) < =3 >, visited on 30 June 2007. This document can now be found in < >, visited 10 September 2010.
52. fn5252) R. L. Doty, Imperial Encounters: The Politics of Representation in North-South Relations (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996) p.10.
53. fn5353) Chad Export Project, Environmental Management Plan - Cameroon Portion, Volume 4, Part III, Indigenous Peoples Plan (1999).
54. fn5454) See Centre pour l’Environnement et le Developpement (CED): < >. Journal Bubinga is not available online anymore, but the French version of the articles analysed are available from the author on request.
55. fn5555) M. Colchester, ‘Parcs ou peuples’, in Nature sauvage, nature sauvée? Ecologie et peuples autochtones, 13: 24–25 Ethnies (1999) pp. 167–168.
56. fn5656) See for example J. Nelson and L. Hossack (eds.), From Principles to Practice: Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas in Africa (Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton in Marsh, 2003).
57. fn5757) W. W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1960).
58. fn5858) C. Germond-Duret, Banque Mondiale, Peuples Autochtones et Normalisation (Karthala, Paris, 2011).
59. fn5959) A. Escobar, ‘Imagining a post-development era’, in J. Crush (ed.), Power of Development (Routledge, London, 1995).

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Affiliations: 1: Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire, UK


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