Justice, Community, and Enclosing the Commons: The Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program
This dissertation examines the politics of justice in the privatization of fishing rights for coastal Indigenous communities. The Western Alaska Community Development Quota (CDQ) Program distributed quasi private fishing rights to six non-profit corporations (CDQ groups) that represent 65 Indigenous villages to develop fishing-based economies and alleviate village poverty. These villages were not actively engaged in the industrialized offshore fishing industry to which these rights were attached when the program was implemented. The CDQ Program’s design contrasts other market-based programs which often enclose resource access, displace small-scale harvesters, and create steep barriers of entry for new users. These observations raise important questions about how different understandings of justice emerged and became embedded in different institutional rules, and the types of strategies the CDQ groups use to benefit their residents. Using data collected through archival and interview methods, as well as process tracing and a qualitative content analysis, this dissertation shows the ways in which the CDQ Program’s design reflects a much broader struggle over how different ideas and identities are rendered legitimate in the Alaska context. Using a justice framework to analyze the data, results indicate that CDQ decision-makers largely described the program in terms of distributional justice. These actors emphasized redistributing wealth to select villages whose underdevelopment and poverty justified the allocation. Conversely, themes of recognitional justice were the foundation of the oral and written testimonies of Indigenous communities and local fishing organizations, describing the CDQ Program as a pathway for securing independent fishing opportunities to improve villages’ wellbeing. Overall, the CDQ Program’s institutional rules largely reflect decision-makers’ understandings of justice as they target capitalization goals. However, the CDQ Program also has a polycentric power configuration which allows the CDQ groups to independently determine their development strategies for their villages. While all CDQ groups pursue profit-maximizing strategies such as leasing arrangements, some groups also work towards achieving local demands for small-scale fishing opportunities for residents. This design feature is the mechanism that allows some groups to diverge from processes of capitalization in important and original ways to benefit their villages.