What is “political ecology” these days?

May 31, 2022
This Figure describes three main poles in political ecology, distinguished by a focus on 'hatchet' versus 'seed' and whether
Three poles in political ecology, as proposed in Desvallées et al. (2022)

In a recent doctoral reading group here at the University of Lausanne, we discussed the 1987 text by Blaikie and Brookfield titled Land Degradation and Society, which is often cited as the foundational text for the field of political ecology. Comparing that groundbreaking work with current discussions under the political ecology label shows both continuities and new trends. Continuities include concern over environmental change and a ‘double posture’ of engaging with science on the issue at hand as well as a critical perspective with that science (for instance measuring soil degradation as well as asking what that concept means); concerns with the impacts of capitalism and colonialism; attention to property systems etc etc. Newer trends include the full-blown arrival of various approaches steeped in continental philosophy (poststructuralism, actor networks, assemblages, hegemony, bare life, governmentality….) and in diverse intersectional and decolonial postures. But where is the field now?

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Voices from the forest – local people and conservation in Madagascar

December 21, 2021

Congratulations to the team from the “Forest4Climate&People” project at ESSA-Forêts (University of Antananarivo) and the School of Natural Sciences (Bangor University) for this fantastic short film. It is both beautifully done and really informative. Wonderful images as well as guitar picking by D’Gary. And most of all, it has a strong and clear message, contained in the subtitle, that advocates “putting local people at the heart of decisions about tropical forest’s contribution to tackling climate change”.

English version embedded above; voici le lien pour la version française: https://youtu.be/X0S0Y1h4NoE

PhD scholarship in political ecology

February 3, 2020

I am recruiting a doctoral student to work with me as a graduate assistant in the Development, Societies, and Environments group at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at the Université de Lausanne next year.   Read the rest of this entry »

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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Towards a “critical” invasion science

June 11, 2018

The study of invasive plants and animals might be seen as the domain of biology and environmental managers.  But in a recent piece I argue for a “critical” approach due to the deeply social nature of invasion landscapes, the power relations affecting the science of invasions, and the differential impacts of weed or pest control on lives and landscapes. By “critical” invasion science, I mean research that is informed by social theories, with a sensibility to questions of social justice and to the social construction of scientific knowledge. The piece investigates several aspects of invasion science ripe for critical analysis: the history of the science (to understand what the science is doing and why), the terminology and categories of analysis, and the highly contested social, political, and ethical context within which invasion management takes place. The piece conclude with four proposals for further work in critical invasion science and examples of the types of questions it might ask. Read the rest of this entry »

Governance of forests, food commodities, and rivers: introducing my current doctoral team

May 25, 2018

I’d like to introduce my current doctoral team, who are a great pleasure to work with.  Their research interests have coalesced around the political ecology of environmental governance, specifically of forests, commodities, and rivers.  In other words, who decides, who wins, who loses, and why, when decisions are made about trees, water, fish, cocoa, and sheep?  What ideas are decisions based on, and how does the materiality of the object shape the outcomes?  Here are some brief words on the team and their interests, grouped by three general themes: Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

A political ecology of weeds

October 1, 2015

How do plants that move and spread across landscapes become branded as weeds and thereby objects of contention and control? In a chapter recently published in the International Handbook of Political Ecology, Priya Rangan and I outline a political ecology approach that builds on a Lefebvrian understanding of the production of space, identifying three scalar moments that make plants into ‘weeds’ in different spatial contexts and landscapes. Read the rest of this entry »

The political ecology of ecosystem services

March 31, 2015

In just the span of a decade or two, it seems that nearly all environmental management writing (whether scientific reports, public awareness brochures, or policy briefs) has come to call on the notion of “ecosystem services” to defend the importance of healthy, functioning “natural” systems. What is this concept, where does it come from, what does it mean, and what doors does it open or close?

Is “ecosystem services” the ultimate win-win idea that translates abstract values of a healthy environment into policy-relevant and policy-actionable chunks? Does it allow ecologists and economists to speak the same language, leading to better outcomes for the environment and for the rural (often marginalised) people who manage it? Or is it a tool of the “neoliberalization” of nature, another means by which capitalism penetrates into new terrains, creating new forms of accumulation in the hands of a global elite, further marginalising the poor? Or is it all of this – and more – at the same time?

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