Forests Are Gold

9780295995472: Hardback
Release Date: 17th February 2016

9780295995489: Paperback
Release Date: 17th March 2016

12 illus., 15 maps

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 312

Series Culture, Place, and Nature

University of Washington Press

Forests Are Gold

Trees, People, and Environmental Rule in Vietnam

Written by
Pamela D. McElwee
Series edited by
K. Sivaramakrishnan
Hardback / £74.00
Paperback / £23.99

Forests Are Gold examines the management of Vietnam's forests in the tumultuous twentieth century—from French colonialism to the recent transition to market-oriented economics—as the country united, prospered, and transformed people and landscapes. Forest policy has rarely been about ecology or conservation for nature’s sake, but about managing citizens and society, a process Pamela McElwee terms “environmental rule.” Untangling and understanding these practices and networks of rule illuminates not just thorny issues of environmental change, but also the birth of Vietnam itself.

Foreword by K. Sivaramakrishnan
Vietnamese Terminology

Introduction | Seeing the Trees and People for the Forests
1. Forests for Profit or Posterity? The Emergence of Environmental Rule under French Colonialism
2. Planting New People: Socialism, Settlement, and Subjectivity in the Postcolonial Forest
3. Illegal Loggers and Heroic Rangers: The Discovery of Deforestation in Đổi Mới (Renovation) Vietnam
4. Rule by Reforestation: Classifying Bare Hills and Claiming Forest Transitions
5. Calculating Carbon and Ecosystem Services: New Regimes of Environmental Rule for Forests

Conclusion | Environmental Rule in the Twenty-First Century


Pamela D. McElwee is associate professor of human ecology at Rutgers University. She is the coeditor of Gender and Sustainability: Lessons from Asia and Latin America.

Mirroring what the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz famously said about war, McElwee shows us that ‘environmental rule’ is politics by other means. Deeply informed by archival knowledge, intensive fieldwork, a knowledge of elite discourse, and a gift for theory, McElwee is, by turns, a consummate historian, botanist, sociologist, economist, and anthropologist. Inspiring, path-breaking, and sophisticated, Forests Are Gold will make big waves in Vietnam and in political ecology more generally

James C. Scott, Yale University

Forests Are Gold takes us on a historical trek through different eras of 'environmental rule' influencing Vietnam’s little-known forest histories. McElwee deftly demonstrates the articulations of local and transnational forest imaginaries, socio-natural histories, and entanglements of culture, nature, and power.

Nancy Lee Peluso, author of Rich Forests, Poor People

Very interesting and thought provoking, Forests Are Gold presents fascinating details about forest politics in Vietnam. This book will be a source of reference on Vietnam for some years.

Tim Forsyth, coauthor of Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers: The Politics of Environmental Knowledge in Northern Thailand

This meticulously documented and groundbreaking study reveals the ways in which the classification of forests is tied in to regimes of power, which in turn frames the political and economic meaning of what we so often assume are righteous ecological and environmental improvement projects.

Erik Harms, author of Saigon's Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City

McElwee’s description of environmental rule in Vietnam helps readers look beyond simplistic explanations of environmental policy to see the more complex processes at play in defining and intervening in various social and environmental issues. . . McElwee’s book will be of great interest to those who focus on environmental policy and the interplay of social-ecological systems. Recommended.


Forests Are Gold offers a timely analysis that will appeal to scholars far beyond Southeast Asia. . . . It should inspire upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars to rethink assumptions about the virtues of environmentalism by showing us how such reasoning has never been just about trees.—

Allison Truitt
American Anthropologist

A wonderful and timely addition to the literature on political ecology. . . . In presenting the dilemmas and projects of forest conservation over the last century, she convincingly demonstrates that if forests can and do act beyond humans, the generativity of these activities is lost on those who seek to more efficiently administer them.

Nikhil Anand
American Ethnologist (AE)