THE POLITICAL ECOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENT: CHANGING RESOURCE RELATIONS AND THE IMPACTS OF TOURISM IN ST. THOMAS, UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
In many areas of the world tourism development has become a key component in national economic planning programs. While much attention has been given to assessing the economic costs and benefits of tourism, the linkages between social, cultural, and environmental change are poorly understood; long-term, nonquantifiable, or indirect impacts of development are rarely considered and a myriad of social, economic and environmental crises have emerged from development efforts. In the context of this general problem, I set two objectives in this dissertation. First, I present a systematic approach to the study and assessment of the less-quantifiable impacts of development. Second, I present an empirical case of tourism development in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands which uses this method to document the ties between current conflicts, crises and the tourism development process. Specifically, I use a political ecological perspective and resource relations framework to look at the process and effects of change in the value, use, access and control of critical resources in three separate case studies. In the rural community study, I document the changes in land resource relations from 1917 to the present, and discuss the consequences of increasing non-native control over land resources. In the fisheries resource study, I present a case of conflict among artisanal fishermen over access and use rights of fishery resources. Traditional resource relations are contrasted with the present pattern, and social tensions and conflicts are tied to the tourism development context. In the tourism resort development study, I describe an attempt to construct a hotel adjacent to a popular public beach, and analyze the subsequent course of political action taken to reverse the development process. Together, these studies document the role tourism has played in changing the value and use, and transforming the balance of group access and control, over critical resources in St. Thomas.
This dissertation, with its focus on the process and adverse costs of tourism development, explores problems of relevance for other developing tourist economies. In redefining and using the political ecological orientation to study the development process, the theoretical contributions of this dissertation lie in its demonstration of the value and importance of considering the cultural variables which influence political economic power relationships.