How should we share the truth about the environmental crisis? At a moment when even the most basic facts about ecology and the climate face contestation and contempt, environmental advocates are at an impasse. Many have turned to social media and digital technologies to shift the tide. But what if their strategy is not only flawed, but dangerous?
The Truth about Nature follows environmental actors as they turn to the internet to save nature. It documents how conservation efforts are transformed through the political economy of platforms and the algorithmic feeds that have been instrumental to the rise of post-truth politics. Developing a novel account of post-truth as an expression of power under platform capitalism, Bram Büscher shows how environmental actors attempt to mediate between structural forms of platform power and the contingent histories and contexts of particular environmental issues. Bringing efforts at wildlife protection in Southern Africa into dialogue with a sweeping analysis of truth and power in the twenty-first century, Büscher makes the case for a new environmental politics that radically reignites the art of speaking truth to power.
Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Truth about Nature?
Part One. (Meta)theoretical Bearings
1. Truth Tensions
Part Two. The Political Economy of Platforms, Post-truth, and Power
2. Sharing Truths and Natures
3. Between Platforms, Post-truth, and Power
Part Three. Environmentalism 2.0
4. Conservation 2.0: The Politics of Cocreation
5. Elephant 2.0: The Politics of Platforms
6. Kruger 2.0: The Politics of Distinction
7. Rhino 2.0: The Politics of Hysteria
Conclusion: Speaking Truth to Power
Bram Büscher is Professor and Chair of the Sociology of Development and Change at Wageningen University and a visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg. He is the author of Transforming the Frontier: Peace Parks and the Politics of Neoliberal Conservation in Southern Africa and coauthor of The Conservation Revolution: Radical Ideas for Saving Nature Beyond the Anthropocene.
"If the spectacle of platform capitalism is driven by competition for attention and data, how can battles be fought in the name of climate knowledge? That's the question posed by this fascinating book. Through a series of incisive and illuminating analyses, Bram Büscher expertly charts what is needed to revive and sustain environmental activism in the face of machines designed to mobilize clicks."
– Nick Srnicek, lecturer in Digital Economy at King's College, London, and author of Platform Capitalism
"In this sweeping analysis, Bram Büscher poses a key question for twenty-first century environmentalism: In a post-truth era, how can environmentalists mobilize new/social media without falling prey to its pitfalls? Illustrated with fascinating case studies from South Africa, the book is replete with incisive insights about the mediation of environmental politics through digital media and platform capitalism. Büscher's analysis should be of tremendous interest to a diverse range of scholars working in the digital environmental humanities, environmental studies, geography, political ecology, and science and technology studies."
– Karen Bakker, author of Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World's Water Crisis
"Bold and ambitious, this book is an extremely timely intervention in environmental crisis narratives in the age of social media. It is essential reading for anyone interested in slowing and reversing the destruction of nature."
– Roderick P. Neumann, author of Imposing Wilderness: Struggles of Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa
"This book is a hearteningly usable portrait of how the nature of mediation, in our digital times, can be used to illuminate the mediation of nature, especially in regard to conservation politics in Africa and beyond. The author offers us a compelling way to challenge the insidious transformation of truth to data, which enables the conversion of nature into digital capital."
– Arjun Appadurai, author of The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition
"A new conservation and development politics is in play in our post-truth world. Bram Büscher's latest book reveals its forms, its origins, and how it is destroying the natures it set out to save. Büscher has spent years conducting fieldwork among conservationists, poachers, politicians, platform capitalists, and South African wildlife. He shows how "doing good" by going viral looks different when viewed on the ground and online. Informed by a serious and accessible philosophical discussion, Büscher unpacks the ways social media platforms and platform capitalist politics are remaking the "truths" about charismatic megafauna and their erstwhile protectors. A #hashtag heaven of fortress conservation reinforced by new media and a good read."
– Nancy Lee Peluso, coeditor of New Frontiers of Land Control
"An intense and thought-provoking critique of the digitalization of conservation, which increasingly involves the enmeshing of biological life within the digital realms of new social media and appropriated by platform capitalism and the markets it creates, curates, and feeds."
– Bill Adams, author of Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in a Developing World
"Social media is a major vector for environmental consciousness. But as this book lucidly demonstrates, digital calls to observe, celebrate, and save our natural world might do just the opposite – distorting conservation programs while reinforcing hierarchies of race and class. With a rich blend of theoretical analysis and detailed case studies, this book will be essential reading for scholars, activists, and communications professionals concerned with media and environmental conservation."
– Thor Kerr, author of To the Beach: Community Conservation and its Role in Sustainable Development