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Environment and History

Renarrating a Biological Invasion: Historical Memory, Local Communities and Ecologists

Karen Middleton

Environment and History 18 (2012): 61-95. doi: 10.3197/096734012X13225062753624

The historical case study has become an important tool in developing understandings of biological invasions and biological control and, as with any historical investigation, it may be appropriate to supplement written records with oral evidence. This article explores memories of a biological control programme in French colonial Madagascar involving introduced cochineal insect predation on equally exotic prickly pear. Drawing on data collected in Malagasy communities over a twenty year period (1981-2003), it charts the dramatic revisions that local narrative has undergone as the eradication of ‘Malagasy Cactus’ in the 1920s has become a powerful rhetorical tool in the context of present-day controversy over another, highly invasive, prickly pear. Experience of biological invasion in the present has been reshaping historical memory while reinterpreted narrative of past biological control is informing current debates. The paper relates these narrative shifts to broader political and social developments, highlighting the way encounters with green governmentality and humanitarian assistance are mediating renarrated pasts.

KEYWORDS: Local knowledge, memory, plant invasions, biological control, Madagascar


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