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 »

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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 »


Field studies in the High Atlas

November 29, 2016

We have just inaugurated a new field trip to Morocco with grand success for our masters program*. The idea is to give our masters students experience in “the field” before they head off for their independent fieldwork for their masters thesis. We sought to expose them to the pleasures and challenges of fieldwork that involves linguistic, cultural, and logistical barriers, and build their “soft skills”. To do so, we brought them to a cluster of villages perched on a mountain side in the High Atlas, and – during 4 days of intensive field surveys, interviews, muddy boots, and mint tea – learn what we could about how the villages manage their water, their waste, their cropfields, their pastures, and the touristic potential of the region.

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The villages of Annamer and Aguerd

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Arbres voyageurs et plantes invasives dans les pays du Sud

October 17, 2016

FGSE Unil ouverture des cours 2016-2017 Last month I gave the ceremonial first lecture of the academic year for our Faculty.  The video is now online (see below).  The presentation dips into a number of research projects I’ve contributed to in recent years in order to make a number of observations about the relationship between plants and people, notably with iconic ‘natural’ plants and problematic ‘invasive’ weeds.  These observations include: Read the rest of this entry »


Share bike commute: only 62% success

July 6, 2016

Geographers have long investigated commuting and transportation. While that isn’t my academic speciality, every commuter in the world probably has some comments and reflections on the “geographies of mobility” (to use current jargon).  Here are my reflections on the city of Lausanne’s shared-bike program, initially sponsored by the two universities EPFL and UNIL.

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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.

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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 »