Selling the Serengeti
The Cultural Politics of Safari Tourism

Benjamin Gardner

Safari tourism and the struggle over markets, land rights, and culture in northern Tanzania


“Based on more than two decades of engagement with the Maasai, this study is a landmark in a new kind of ‘living geography’ in which people play the starring role. Conservation efforts that consist primarily of enclosure and dispossession have led the Maasai to become the unlikely cheerleaders for neoliberalism and the hostile detractors of even the best-intentioned efforts of the Tanzanian state (and those of the earlier, less well-intentioned British and German colonial governments) to protect the Serengeti as a world treasure. When such treasures are sequestered for the enjoyment of even the most ecofriendly tourists—to say nothing of wealthy trophy hunters from the Middle East—they have been fiercely resisted by the proud people who have tended this part of the Serengeti for centuries. Selling the Serengeti is itself a gem of a book, one that Gardner has polished and passed on generously to a world in need of its marvels.”
—Paul Farmer, Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School

"Based on more than two decades of ethnographic research, [Selling the Serengeti] is a rich chronicling and sophisticated analysis of on-going everyday and historic struggles over identity, culture, and resources in a neoliberal age...The specific points of Loliondo are intriguing and important for understanding how neoliberal conservation processes are unfolding in other parts of Tanzanian Maasailand and beyond. The book will thus appeal to a broad set of readers interested in the effects of conservation, tourism, and neoliberalism on communities and landscapes across Africa."
—Mara J. Goldman, African Studies Review


Situating safari tourism within the discourses and practices of development, Selling the Serengeti examines the relationship between the Maasai people of northern Tanzania and the extraordinary influence of foreign-owned ecotourism and big-game hunting companies. It contrasts two major approaches to community conservation—international NGO and state-sponsored conservation efforts on the one hand and the neoliberal private investment in tourism on the other—and investigates their profound effect on the Maasai’s culture and livelihood. It further explores how these changing social and economic forces remake the terms through which state institutions and local people engage with foreign investors, communities, and their own territories. And finally it highlights how the new tourism arrangements change the shape and meaning of the nation-state and the village and in the process remake cultural belonging and citizenship.

Benjamin Gardner’s experiences in Tanzania began during a study abroad trip in 1991. His stay led to a relationship with the nation and the Maasai people in Loliondo lasting almost twenty years; it also marked the beginning of his analysis and ethnographic research into social movements, market-led conservation, and neoliberal development around the Serengeti.

Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation

Page count: 256
12 b&w photos, 6 maps
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Benjamin Gardner is an associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, where he teaches global studies, cultural studies, and environmental studies. He is also the chair of the African Studies Program at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.