This book examines the place occupied by wildlife and forests in politicized discourses in Laos, showing that such discourses are vibrant in a context where they are often assumed to be effectively suppressed. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted mainly in Vientiane and in Nakai District, Khammouane Province, the book considers the ways in which the people of Laos make indirect political statements in their commentary on social and environmental changes taking place throughout the country. It argues that forests often figure in politicized discourses because of their symbolic potency in Lao worldviews, where forests can speak of Lao identity, aspirations, and authority. It explains how forests and state authority are linked by explicit features of governance and by more implicit connotations of Lao worldviews that can be used to support or challenge the legitimacy of social inequities. This introductory chapter provides an overview of governance in post-socialist Laos, different perspectives on the Lao state, and forests as social symbols.
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