This chapter examines the social and political ideas that are raised in local discussions of conservation using an approach that differs from those adopted in critical studies of conservation and environmental management in developing countries. It first provides an overview of the recent history of conservation practice in Laos before discussing the muang-pa dialectic that underlies much of the apprehension surrounding conservation in the country. More specifically, it considers the symbolic opposition between the muang and the pa—a contrast between domestic, civilized, settled areas and the wild, untamed forests. It shows that the muang-pa discourse shapes a strong sense of conservation in opposition to Lao identity and aspirations. It describes Lao responses to conservation as a reflection of international conservation interventions as well as attempts to comprehend modern encounters between the Lao “self” and the foreign “other”.
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