The Good, the Ugly and the ‘Dirty Harry’s of Conservation: Rethinking the Anthropology of Conservation NGOs

  • Peter Bille Larsen
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Anthropology of Sustainability book series (PSAS)


For the past decade, narrative portrayals of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) growing big, ‘ugly’ and business-minded have become common in both social science and public discourse. At a time when both engagement within NGOs and critical analysis from the outside have blossomed, how are the social sciences and anthropology, in particular, responding? This chapter suggests that a set of meta-narratives characterise much of the literature analysing conservation NGOs. Such narratives, respectively, position NGOs as doing good, turning ugly or acting pragmatically through what this author labels ‘Dirty Harry’ characteristics. Even though the critique of conservation NGOs offers a much-needed ‘reality check’, it is time to revisit dichotomies of the ‘good’ past and the ‘ugly’ present. The chapter reviews trends in the literature and offers a case study from the Peruvian Amazon. The final synthesis emphasises the need for a less essentialist perspective that traces heterogeneity and change of NGO activity over time.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Bille Larsen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of LucerneLucerneSwitzerland

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