Socially Responsible Wildlife Conservation in a Postcolonial World

Week 6, Tuesday

First, read these two excerpts:

  1. “The myth of authenticity” by Gareth Griffiths.
  2. “Who can write as Other?” by Margery Fee.

Then, examine this photo project, “Inherit the Dust,” by Nick Brandt.

Optional: watch this artist’s statement video by Nick Brandt.

According to his artist’s statement, Brandt is effectively speaking for all of us–you, me, all the East Africans. Meanwhile, Griffiths argues that when fetishized, authentic speech “may be employed…to enact a discourse of ‘liberal violence’, re-enacting its own oppressions on the subjects it purports to represent and defend” (241).

Does Brandt’s photo series exhibit this liberal violence? Why or why not?

Leave your comments below by Monday, September 26, 11:59pm.


  1. Brandt, in his artist statement, talks about the sense of wonder that we supposedly all get when we gaze upon the wildlife still present in places such as East Africa. Warning of the potential extinction of giraffes and elephants in this region, he juxtaposes the experience of the future African children to that of American children raised in New York city. This elucidates the liberal violence that Griffiths refers to in that it contextualizes the experienced of the colonizer within that of the colonized. While he acknowledges that he himself is a “privileged white guy”, he then continues to speak with the assumed authority given by the hegemonic discourse. His photos characterize the wildlife in the Western manner, and he is certainly attempting to sound authentic to a Western audience. The ultimate danger in Brandt’s efforts–where he does, in fact enact Griffith’s liberal violence– is that he values East Africa based solely on the presence of untouched wilderness. He generalizes the Africa today broadly, and evaluates any hope for “the Africa tomorrow” for “us” (the western audience) involves the sole focus on the preservation of landscape, rather than population.

  2. The past discussions have been about the subaltern, one whose voice cannot be heard. In the picture by Brandt, the animals he is vying for are those who do not have a voice. In this way, his photo series exhibit a discourse of liberal violence, as the oppressions of others in the photo is placed upon it. In this photo, technical authenticity is not a virtue, as the pictures of the animals are placed upon a different background. However, Brandt compares the natural habitat of the animals with the current setting. The picture is comparable to the old and pure habitat, and the wildlife is trapped within the hoped for pure embodiment of a natural niche. The authenticity of the wildlife strikes in opposition against the modern evolution of the region. Brandt’s viewpoint seems authentic as he speaks for the wildlife, but the wildlife isn’t seen under the discourse of the oppressor as well.

  3. Brandt’s photo series depicts life-sized images of animals in areas where they once roamed. Although the concept helps raise awareness of conservation issues, it comes from a perspective that does not identify with the actual situation. Brandt cannot pretend to comprehend the situation that he is trying to portray and therefore the photo series is “a discourse of ‘liberal violence.'” He has no ties to the region as he even said that a place that he visited once and then returned to a month later changed drastically. However, he had no part of that change because of his outsider status, so he cannot feign understanding to an extent of trying to share it with others.

  4. I do not believe Brandt’s photo series exhibits this liberal violence. My main reasoning behind this is that according to Griffiths, the “liberal violence” includes reenacting your own oppressions on subjects that you claim to defend. While Brandt is clearly trying to defend the subject of greed and obstructionism and how it needs to be stopped to preserve our “vibrant-living” planet for future generations, I struggled to find any way in which the pictures show his own oppression (unjust treatment) concerning the subject. I actually believe that to do so, he would decrease the effectiveness of the message that he is trying to get across because it would act as a contradicting and hypocritical statement. Rather, I think this photo series by Brandt is an excellent example of subaltern speech. As Griffiths further says, “the possibility of subaltern speech exists principally and crucially when its mediation through mimicry and parody of the dominant discourse subverts and menaces the authority within which it necessarily comes into being (240). By placing the animal pictures in context with the byproducts of human industry, he is able to create a sort of parody that expresses the idea that something needs to be done about it, contributing to the greater message of conservation.

  5. Brandt’s photo series, though most likely not intentional, does display this ‘liberal violence’ to an extent. While arguing on mammal disappearance – putting the blame on westernized economic drives – he still manages to throw African cultures and ideals under the bus. While Brandt does try to support and defend what little wildlife there is left in African countries, he does so in a way that diminishes the native civilian’s voice. In an attempt to resurrect the importance of the environment and the need for animal protection, it is portrayed in a way that the duty of this movement falls on the shoulders of the white privileged. Counteracting this by giving an example of an African civilian that works to protect a section of wildlife is not enough to depict this countries entire voice. It is but a mere whisper in the overwhelming crowd of screams that Africa can bring and contribute to this subject at hand.

  6. The photographer enacts such “liberal violence” by using speech that appears to be the single authentic voice in a way that homogenizes the African people, making it appear that they all do not want to be “deprived of the comfortable material lives that we have in the West.” He uses this oversimplification to justify that all Africans must therefore want to preserve their wildlife, as it is the “only true source of lasting economic benefit” they have in their countries. Brandt also seems to assume that all Africans see wildlife through the same romanticized lens as many Westerners who support its conservation when he says that conservation will preserve the beauty and wonder of Africa for us all.

  7. Nick Brandt makes it obviously clear that the wildlife serves as the most important form of economic income for the continent. Yes, large and small mammal conservation is very important in the developing world. However, Brandt simplifies Africa down to simply wildlife and economic income. It is interesting that he challenges his own European views in the video by stating the voice of a man from Africa, “Now it’s their turn to economically grow” (3:35-3:39), and then later countering the quote by stating that the wildlife is their largest source of revenue. Where does the revenue come from in this case? Is it not the tourists and white men that keep Africa at large with their money? I do believe Brandt is exhibiting liberal violence by arguing for hybridization of Africa’s culture (mixing tourist culture and African wildlife) against the native “authentic” voice of whom he had quoted. I also believe that it may be hard for many people of both authentic and inauthentic voices to understand this liberal violence because he is arguing for an important cause worthy of awareness, something that may seem morally right no matter the method of communication.

  8. I do believe Brandt’s photos represent liberal violence. He is not only acting as a voice for a country he has practically no affiliation with, but he is deciding what represents them and simplifying an entire country down to those photos. Brandt also describes Africa as if it were nothing but a tourist stop saying we need to preserve Africa’s beauty and wonder. Animals are not just a tourist attraction when you are sharing land with them and potentially in conflict with them. Brandt is an outsider acting as a heroic voice for the one’s he is keeping silent.
    However, is this a bad thing? If Westerners are gaining awareness for this topic that is a problem, can it be negative? Or is Brandt nearly raising urgency for the need to push Western conservation techniques into Africa.

  9. Brandt’s photo series is such a great way to show citizens the world we used to live in and how the wildlife has changed because of human interference. His photo series does exhibit liberal violence. This is because he is showing citizens what used to be the normal back before humans interfered with wildlife. He wants to many a point that as humans we are not the center of the earth, and that the earth was much more beautiful before we became greedy. His voice may not be authentic, depending on how you define authentic, because he wasn’t living during that time nor has he grown up in that location. Overall I think Brandt is trying to bring awareness to those living in Africa, where a large number of animals used to roam, about the effects of their greed.

  10. Throughout the photo series, Brandt acts as the voice for the problems of the “African Apocalypse”. Without any true connection to the land, besides visiting numerous times, he should not be speaking as if he has been living through the devastating events. In addition, the photo series goes a bit overboard with the concept that wildlife needs to be conserved for tourism and economic benefits. Wildlife conservation is not the only issue in Africa. I believe that Nick Brandt’s photo series is a great example of relating to ones audience though. Brandt does not have an authentic voice, which may pertain to a bit of “liberal violence”, but without the language that he used, his photo series would have far less of an impact on his audience. Brandt is raising awareness in a controversial but its not like the locals who are primarily effected by the issues are able to speak up.

  11. Liberal violence is exhibited in Brandt’s photo series. His photos are slides of animals who used to roam in the now destroyed areas of land. He is a British photographer who has no connections to the area in which he is photographing. This exhibits liberal violence because he is solely focusing on the wildlife in Africa and that it is the only thing that needs to be fixed and saved. He simplifies the local people and how they also are keeping wildlife conservation on the forefront of their minds. But the land is not only inhabited by the wildlife it is also inhabited by natives who are also being affected by the “dust”. But all around he is a white British man who has no idea and is putting his own input on issues he only knows the surface about.

  12. While some of Brandt’s language (particularly his descriptions of Africa that are strongly reminiscent of The Lion King vision that Adams warned about in our previous reading) is worrisome, and though he lacks comprehension of just how different the quality of life is in the First World and the Third World, Brandt is not committing liberal violence. He is not pretending to be East African, or attempting to speak for East Africans: he makes clear his identity, and his background. While his demand and choice of language is somewhat hegemonic.
    Griffith writes: “a discourse of ‘liberal violence’, re-enacting its own oppressions on the subjects it purports to represent and defend” (241).
    Let alone distort, Brandt is not trying to depict the lives of East Africans — in fact, the problem with Brandt’s artist statement lies largely in his lack of understanding/depiction. He does not even attempt to do so: the few seconds he devotes to asking East Africans to stop industrializing to conserve nature only reveal his own ignorance. Brant is depicting the animals, and attempting to speak on their behalf. While his video is an excellent example of how deeply ingrained white man’s burden remains in today’s world, he is not so much as suppressing or distorting the voice of the Other as much as being deaf to it.

  13. I believe that Brandt’s photo series does exemplify this “liberal violence”. He evidently attempts to represent the economic, social, and environmental struggles of the people in his poignant photos. However he drastically simplifies the very complex and varied realities not caught by the camera. Furthermore, as he is substantially removed from the society that he claiming to represent, the appearance of authenticity and liberal thought is compromised. Also potentially problematic is Brandt’s visual emphasis on the animal in the photographs. The people, oppression, destruction seen in the photos consequently become secondary to the plight of the wildlife. Similarly, as Griffiths points out, such dialogue “may construct a belief in the society at large that issues of recovered ‘traditional’ rights are of a different order of equity from the right to general social justice and equality” (238).

  14. I believe Brandt’s photo series depicts “liberal violence” as he is picking spots he finds significant and placing pictures of animals in those areas and saying this was once land where people could see these beautiful creatures. He writes with one photo, “Rural African children will be uncomprehending that elephants and giraffes once roamed fields in front of their home”. Does he actually know in most rural areas of Africa if elephants and giraffes would have roamed there? He is over generalizing to all of Africa his ideas. In addition, he seems surprised when he discovers areas after one month built up and different, so he doesn’t have an authentic voice for Africa. It’s “liberal violence” as he doesn’t see it effecting people as he sees it as authentic, but it makes others see it as authentic too and is taking away the African people’s voice. He is speaking for the animals and with a Western view trying to seem authentic to Africa misleading those who view his work.

  15. Nick Brandt’s project placed life-sized pictures of African wildlife in areas where they once roamed, but no longer do because of modernization. While his work is admirable and raises awareness to the issue of conservation, it seems a bit offensive that he takes this opportunity to claim he is speaking on behalf of everyone, including the people of Africa. Many places in this large continent are still developing, and even considered third world by many, and some form of progress must be made in order to ultimately emerge as a world power and a first world region. His movement seems to encourage leaving natural areas alone, and not invading wild lands for the purpose of industry. But if the African people are the ones leading the industrial efforts in the savannas, then Brandt cannot claim he is speaking on behalf of them. They themselves are speaking through their actions, and they are saying that right now, industry is their top concern.

  16. Brandt is exhibiting the ‘liberal violence’ that is described by Griffiths. He is assuming that the oppressed groups have the same value as he has. His idea of beauty in nature is that of the dominant discourse. The purpose of his photography is to create awareness of the changes in nature in Africa. The dominant discourse sees the economic exploitation of the natural world as ugly and sad. However, as Brandt is not an ‘other’ his bias is included in his art. He can’t speak for the natives of the area.

    • I also wanted to add:

      The desires of natives do not always, actually often do not, align within the dominant discourse. It is presumptuous to assume that they do. Who are we, westerners, to say that Africans don’t have the right to their natural resources. Is it our right to stop the economic growth of Africa, which occurs at the cost of conservation? After all, westerners have already done so to the environment in which we live.

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