Taxonomic Government: Ecuador’s National Herbarium and the Institution of Biodiversity, 1986–1996

  • Peter Taber


From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, biodiversity went from being an arcane, technical way of thinking about natural resources, to an important object of political concern and planning in Ecuador. This historically novel relationship to biological resources was catalyzed in large part by Ecuador’s National Herbarium. The Herbarium’s work modif ed existing regimes for managing plant resources during a time of economic crisis, and served as infrastructure for the field of biodiversity conservation in the country by helping to prioritize geographic regions for intervention. Biologists’ practices were woven across protected area planning, environmental assessment and development projects. Through archival documentation and oral histories, I analyze biodiversity’s emergence as a governable object out of an institutional arrangement I term “taxonomic government”, organized around taxonomically-based biological systematics.

Keywords: infrastructure, economization of biodiversity, governmentality


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