The political ecology of the Ganges River (PhD Flore Lafaye de Micheaux)

September 17, 2019

I’m proud to announce the successful public thesis defence of Dr. Flore Lafaye de Micheaux, the first of my Lausanne doctoral students to finish.  The issue that guides and motivates Flore’s thesis is a shift in how the Indian government approached the environmental governance of the Ganges River, notably the Namami Ganga program of prime minister Narendra Modi.  From a need to clean a polluted river, the problem became one of saving a landscape, a deity, and the nation. 

Flore celebrates with her thesis jury: René Véron (internal expert), Torsten Venneman (chair), and myself (supervisor). External experts Priya Rangan (Melbourne) and Jamie Linton (Limoges) participated in the private defence earlier.

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Les feux en Amazonie et ailleurs

September 2, 2019

The recent media storm over Amazonian flames recently caught up with me – here’s the result, in French, published in La Liberté (Fribourg), Le Nouvelliste (Sion), and Le Courrier (Genève), and in pdf. I laud the journalist Thierry Jacolet for his efforts to understand and not just populate preconceived soundbites with academic authority. Read the rest of this entry »


Statistic to open your eyes: 240 generations of agriculture

July 17, 2019

My summer reading has been James C. Scott’s new book, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. In it, I discovered this tasty morcel to open your eyes: “only 240 human generations have elapsed since the first adoption of agriculture and perhaps no more than 160 generations since it became widespread”.

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Forest livelihood transformations: from wartime ‘A Shau valley’ to today’s A Lưới district

May 1, 2019

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining PhD student Nguyen Thi Hai Van in her field sites in the upland A Lưới district of Thừa Thiên-Huế province, central Vietnam. She introduced me to her key informants, took me around the fields and woodlots, and translated as she conducted a number of focus group sessions. Of the many interesting ideas and observations that emerged, the overall theme was certainly one of the dramatic and rapid changes affecting the peoples’ livelihoods and landscapes.

Van (second from left) leads an animated participatory mapping session.
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The social and human dimensions of invasive species

December 5, 2018

Announcing a special issue on the human and social dimensions of invasive species masterfully coordinated by Ross Shackleton, who came to Lausanne as a post-doctoral scholar funded by the Swiss Government’s Excellence Scholarship, and has prolonged his stay with a lecturer contract.  The special issue, published in the Journal of Environmental Management, includes three review papers and thirteen case studies – see the Table of Contents below.  In our editorial paper, we review advances in the four main ways people interact with invasive species:

  • causing or facilitating invasions
  • thinking and feeling about invasions
  • being affected by invasions, for better or for worse
  • getting together to manage invasions

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Middle-range theories of land system change

September 14, 2018

Patrick leading the reflections

New paper in Global Environmental Change, under the amazing leadership of Patrick Meyfroidt, bringing together and surveying a wide family of theories of land use and land cover change.

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Place-based weed management on Aboriginal lands

August 31, 2018

Originally enlisted in the 1970s as a labour force fighting ‘the war on weeds’ under the command of government agencies, Aboriginal land manager involvement has evolved to be increasingly guided by culturally-based aspirations. The Australian Government’s funding of land management by Aboriginal communities through ‘ranger’ programs aims to enable them to manage lands according to their knowledge and priorities, and have produced various positive outcomes for conservation, Aboriginal employment, cultural re-invigoration, and recognition of the value of Indigenous ecological knowledge.

David Newry and Tom Bach discuss a weed (‘moorrooloombong’ or Acacia farnesiana) in the bush near Kununurra

However, in the case of weed management, this approach is not working: the emphasis is on killing plants that are identified on invasive alien species lists prepared by government agencies. While Aboriginal people hold unique attitudes about invasive weeds and animals, these are rarely reflected in how rangers control them. Based on field research with Bardi-Jawi, Bunuba, Ngurrara, Nyikina Mangala and Wunggurr rangers in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, my former doctoral student Tom Bach observed that 27 of 35 weed control projects followed the government agency weed lists for species-led control. Of these, only 2 were successful in meeting Aboriginal cultural aspirations. In most of the other cases, the list-based approach generated frustration among Aboriginal rangers who felt they were engaged in purposeless killing. Read the rest of this entry »