To Miss the Forest for the Trees? A Green Criminological Perspective on the Politics of Palm Oil Harm.
Mol, Hanneke Heleen
Globally, the palm oil industry has been linked to practices that fit the most conventional definitions and perceptions of crime as well as the types of social and environmental harm that do not fit strictly legalistic definitions and understandings of crime. This thesis examines both the perceptions and realities of harm in the context of palm oil production in Colombia’s Pacific coast region, attending to the perspectives of corporate executives, public officials, industry representatives, small growers of oil palm, local palm oil critics, and NGOs with a critical stance towards agroindustrial palm oil production. The theoretical and analytical approach put forward to this end redirects the harm debate from a central concern with the academic contestation of harm within criminology, toward a focus on the on-the-ground contestedness of harm. The central research question that underpins the study is: “How are perceptions, practices, and realities of harm linked to palm oil production in the Colombian Pacific coast region contested, and what are the implications of this for debates on harm within green criminology?” Via a rich field-based account of the constructions, practices, and the lived and perceived realities of harm related to palm oil production, and the interrogation of the mechanisms and relations of power that thereby invest practices and discourses of harm, the study contributes empirically and theoretically to the green criminological analysis of the extractive industries, encouraging green criminology to engage with the notion of harm in more complex and nuanced ways. This approach enhances criminological understanding of the power dynamics that draw and keep in place the boundaries between legal harm, tolerated illegal harm, and non-tolerated illegal harm, and the hegemonic notions and practices of legality that thus operate to reproduce the status quo in ways that generate harm to human beings and the natural environment.