What are the environmental humanities?

March 10, 2017

Among the most potent recent academic buzzwords must figure “The Environmental Humanities”. This bandwagon is clearly attractive: an ever-growing bouquet of new journals, positions, institutes, books, and networks carries this label.[*]

In this blog, I’d like to propose an alternative definition for what the environmental humanities constitute, one that goes a little bit against the standard definition. In short, instead of emphasising meta-discipline, interdisciplinarity, and knowledge domains, my definition emphasises modes of knowledge creation and communication. Let me explain.

The environmental humanities emerged in particular out of history and literature departments (environmental history, eco-criticism), with a number of other contributors from across a diverse spectrum of academia (Nye et al. 2013). Well-known figures like Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold are claimed as predecessors. Definitions of the environmental humanities, in my (perhaps naïve) reading, seem to coalesce around three points: Read the rest of this entry »

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Political ecology and resilience: competing ‘interdisciplines’

February 10, 2017

The study of environment-society interactions is widely acknowledged to demand inter-disciplinary knowledge production. Yet there are multiple ways of being interdisciplinary. Both “political ecology” and “resilience” (or socio-ecological systems) are research approaches that explicitly claim to be inter- or even post-disciplinary. Read the rest of this entry »


Hervé Rakoto and the farmers of highland Madagascar

February 8, 2017

The tantsaha, or farmers, of highland Madagascar lost one of their moHerve in the fieldst empathetic interlocutors in late 2015: the geographer Hervé Rakoto Ramiarantsoa. In his books and articles, Hervé investigated the lives and landscapes of rural Imerina, Betsileo, and Tanala country from the farmer’s perspectives. His wonder and respect for the farmer’s techniques, their intricate reworkings of canals, soils, and paddy fields, was as strong as a farmer’s polished wood angady spade. Read the rest of this entry »


Manifest for an environmental geography (in France)

May 20, 2016

cover of Chartier, D & E Rodary, eds. 2016. Manifeste pour une géographie environnementale. Paris: Les Presses Sciences Po.

In September 2010, fifteen prominent senior French geographers, under the auspices of the Société de Géographie, held a one-day colloquium entitled Le ciel ne va pas nous tomber sur la tête (The sky will not fall on our heads). The participants critiqued the “prevailing obfuscation, radical environmentalism, de-growth, denial of science, and faith in humanity”[1]. While many geographers can sympathise with critiques of simplified or overly catastrophic environmental narratives, as well as with critiques of bad science, this book went much further. It verged on climate change denial and was underlain by the assumption that we need no changes to our lifestyles.[2]  In direct response, two younger geographers named Denis Chartier and Estienne Rodary organized a conference entitled Géographie, Écologie, Politique: un climat de changement at the Université d’Orléans in September 2012 (see my blog entry at the time). Participants in Orléans expressed frustration with what they saw as the dominant school, the old guard. This conference also led to an edited volume, titled Manifeste pour une géographie environnementale, finally published a few months ago – the reason for this blog entry.

Read the rest of this entry »


Notes from a political ecology conference in Stockholm

March 27, 2016

announcement for Entitle conference Undisciplined EnvironmentsI’m on the flight home reflecting on the ENTITLE “Undisciplined Environments” conference, a gathering of 500 (!) people, mostly academics, but also activists and artists, under the banner of political ecology. What is this ‘political ecology’ that brought so many people to Stockholm?  Does it mean the same thing as when Land Degradation and Society was written some 30 years ago, a spirit of disciplinary crossing and plural epistemologies but rooted in a cross fertilization of cultural ecology and Marxist political economy? What I found was an open collective of intellectuals engaged in red-green issues of social justice and environment and keen to use social theory. Read the rest of this entry »


Political ecology and the Anthropocene

January 22, 2016

What does the Anthropocene mean for subsistence farmers Lele or Rakoto?  At first glance, nothing.  It is, after all, just a fashionable term amongst the intelligentsia; the latest jargon to adorn project proposals to do more of the same. But on second thought, for these already marginal farmers, the Anthropocene might concretely mean less rains, stronger cyclones, new weeds: new stresses, challenges, and perhaps opportunities.   Read the rest of this entry »


Living with invasive plants in the Anthropocene

January 6, 2016

What does it mean to live with bioinvasions?  Low-wage labourers donning chemical suits and goggles to spray herbicides in tropical heat? Exurban homeowners cutting back an invasive vine near their back porch, but letting it run wild at the other side of the property? State environmental managers making difficult choices about what weeds to spend money on? In a recent collective paper inspired by the Wollongong Weeds Workshop (Head et al. 2015, see below), we seek to draw attention to the practical, lived side of managing weeds.

Poisoned Acacia nilotica in the Mitchell grasslands, northwest Queensland

Poisoned Acacia nilotica in the Mitchell grasslands, northwest Queensland

The paper is organised around five themes that arise from managers’ reflections on their work. It identifies tensions between the ideals arising out of invasion biology, resulting regulatory and policy frameworks, and practical on-the-ground experience.   Read the rest of this entry »