Grantocracy: Conservation grant-making and the territorialization of neoliberalism in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula

Afton E. Clarke-Sather, Barry D. Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This paper uses the concept of " grantocracy" as an analytic to understand a form of governance through grant-making by state actors as one aspect of the reregulation wrought by neoliberalization of the state. We explore this idea through a case study of conservation grant making in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a highly rural and remote forestry-dependent economy. Grantocracy requires the disaggregation and rescaling of the public good, as grants are provided to address specific problems and provide single-purpose solutions. We found that while grants were intended for single purposes, in practice the use of partnerships and matching funds espoused by these programs resulted in funding programs being recombined in often conflicting and unstable ways. Moreover, limited transparency in the grant-making process restricted opportunities for public input and has helped to elide the role of the state in land conservation, undermining democratic environmental governance. This further promotes a neoliberal ideology that government is the problem, never the solution. Many of these difficulties, we conclude, arise from reliance upon the territorial strategy of private property to achieve land conservation goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-80
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Emily Yeh for her suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper. We would also like to acknowledge the financial support from the Community Forestry and Environmental Research Partnership in 2006–2007. Special thanks are due to our partner, the Keweenaw Land Trust, for help with this research. Despite our diligence, some errors no doubt remain, for which we take full responsibility.

Funding Information:
The largest source of grant funding for acquisition has been the MNRTF, accounting for approximately 75% of total grants made for land acquisition in the Keweenaw. When the Tip of the Keweenaw purchase is excluded, MNRTF remains the largest funder accounting for approximately 35% of grant funding. MNRTF is established by the state constitution for the purpose of “the acquisition of land or rights in land for recreational uses or protection of the land because of its environmental importance or its scenic beauty, for the development of public recreation facilities” ( State of Michigan, 1963 ). This gives MNRTF the broadest scope of any of the programs, acquiring land for both habitat conservation and public access. Grants made through this program in the Keweenaw have funded acquisitions ranging from nine to 6000 acres. MNRTF funding is available only to units of government; though as discussed earlier, many smaller units of government have heavily relied on private conservation organizations for support in writing these grant proposals.


  • Grant-making
  • Grantocracy
  • Land conservation
  • Neoliberalism
  • Partnership
  • Public good


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