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Volume 39, Issue 2,
, Pages 756-764
Piers Blaikie’s writings on political ecology in the 1980s represented a turning point in the generation of environmental knowledge for social justice. His writings since the 1980s demonstrated a further transition in the identification of social justice by replacing a Marxist and eco-catastrophist epistemology with approaches influenced by critical realism, post-structuralism and participatory development. Together, these works demonstrated an important engagement with the politics of how environmental explanations are made, and the mutual dependency of social values and environmental knowledge. Yet, today, the lessons of Blaikie’s work are often missed by analysts who ask what is essentially political or ecological about political ecology, or by those who argue that a critical approach to environmental knowledge should mean deconstruction alone. This paper reviews Blaikie’s work since the 1980s and focuses especially on the meaning of ‘politics’ within his approach to political ecology. The paper argues that Blaikie’s key contribution is not just in linking environmental knowledge and politics, but also in showing ways that environmental analysis and policy can be reframed towards addressing the problems of socially vulnerable people. This pragmatic co-production of environmental knowledge and social values offers a more constructive means of building socially just environmental policy than insisting politics or ecology exist independently of each other, or believing environmental interventions are futile in a post-Latourian world.
One of the most distinctive themes in the writings of Piers Blaikie over the years is a strong political imperative and desire to correct social injustices. On the first page of The Political Economy of Soil Erosion in Developing Countries, Blaikie (1985, p. 1) wrote: ‘[this] is not a neutral book. It takes sides and argues a position because soil erosion is a political-economic issue, and even a position of so-called neutrality rests upon partisan assumptions’ (emphasis in original).
Yet, despite such statements, it has become almost accepted wisdom that Blaikie’s early work was somehow underpoliticized. Reviewing this famous book in 1997, Michael Watts (1997, p. 77) wrote, ‘the distinctively political content of political ecology was (and is) sadly missing in much of Blaikie’s work…’
What does this statement mean about the application of ‘politics’ in political ecology? At one level, this comment refers to the generally uncomplicated analysis of political processes in Blaikie’s early work – a criticism Blaikie later acknowledged (Blaikie, 1997, p. 79). But at a wider level, this statement also indicates differences in opinion concerning the normative objectives of political ecology versus its analytical procedures. Blaikie clearly expressed political intentions in his work, but Watts believed his methods were insufficient.
This paper argues that Piers Blaikie’s writings on political ecology should not be dismissed as being underpoliticized, but instead be seen as important first steps for a new and engaged focus on the politics of environmental epistemology (or, what we know about environment, with whose inputs, and with what effects). Rather than seeking to demonstrate how a particular approach to ‘politics’ could be applied to predefined notions of ‘environment,’ Blaikie sought instead to demonstrate how social values and environmental knowledge are co-produced. Moreover, he tried to show that changing these values, or diversifying the social framings of environmental analysis, may result in more socially just environmental knowledge and policy.
But at the same time, Blaikie’s own approach to achieving these objectives changed over time. In the early 1980s, he and his collaborators relied upon a generally structuralist Marxian analysis of environmental and social change. After this period, Blaikie rejected structuralist analysis and instead sought more locally-determined, discursive and participatory approaches to environmental crisis and social vulnerability. These different approaches, and their implications for how environmental knowledge is made, have raised further challenges for providing a socially relevant direction to physical environmental science and policy.
This paper assesses Blaikie’s contributions to political ecology, and in particular his approach to the co-production of environmental knowledge and social values. The paper starts by reviewing Blaikie’s (and his collaborators) work during the early 1980s, and then moves on to summarise Blaikie’s proposed alternatives to structuralist analysis. After this, the paper considers the criticisms and dilemmas resulting from this and political analysis of environmental epistemology in general. The paper concludes by arguing that Blaikie’s approach to reframing environmental knowledge in the terms of social justice also offer insights for wider debates about the politicized collection and use of knowledge in environmental analysis. Insights from critical science and the sociology of scientific knowledge may provide useful ways to build on Blaikie’s work.
A new paradigm?
The writings of Piers Blaikie and his collaborators in the 1980s represented a significant turning point towards seeing environmental changes in social and political terms. My own experiences as an undergraduate offer one small example of how these were seen. Some fellow students and I were planning to undertake research in Nepal. When reading about the country, we came across Nepal in Crisis (1980), co-authored by Piers Blaikie, John Cameron and David Seddon.
Nepal in Crisis was different. Most
Alternatives to structuralism
If Blaikie’s work in the early 1980s linked structural Marxism with environmental crisis, his writings since have sought to replace Marxian political economy and eco-catastrophism with alternative means of defining environmental change and social justice. These new approaches asked two key questions: How do we understand environmental crisis? And how do we identify social vulnerability?
Concerning environmental explanation, some initial steps were achieved in the edited volume, Land Degradation
Questions and challenges
Both the post-structuralist trends in political ecology and Blaikie’s revisions to these have been criticized by observers who have seen either too little or too much structure or politics in explaining or addressing environmental degradation. Two common questions are: where is the politics, or where is the ecology, in political ecology? (e.g., Walker, 2005).
Initial responses to Blaikie’s writings on political ecology in the 1980s claimed that his political analysis was too shallow. In his
Conclusion: on being political in political ecology
This paper has reviewed the work of Piers Blaikie on political ecology to demonstrate his contribution to understanding the politics of environmental epistemology, and to highlight some important remaining challenges for environmental analysis. Much general debate about politics and ecology tries to identify a priori definitions of politics or ecology, which overlook how the two are linked. Yet, against this, too many academics argue that linking ecology and politics implies the disabling
The author would like to thank two anonymous referees for useful comments.
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- Oil, fish, and livelihoods: Narratives of hydrocarbon benefits and gendered relations in Ghana
2022, Energy Research and Social Science
Oil and gas discovery in Ghana since 2007 has attracted the interest of many international and local actors, including transnational corporations. Despite an expected ‘oil boom’, the industry has perpetuated exclusion and poverty in communities in the neighbourhood of extractive activities in a manner that is particularly gendered, which is a reflection of the enclaved and exclusionary nature of the industry. This paper employs the theoretical framing of feminist political ecology to examine the gendered disparities in the sharing of benefits and access to coping mechanisms. The paper relies on data from fieldwork conducted in Ghana in 2019 to explore how the power and agency of varying stakeholders result in differentiated impacts of the hydrocarbon industry on communities. We present evidence suggesting that gendered inequalities – which are further sustained by entrenched local cultural practices and norms – determine who has access to, manages, and uses resources in a particular context. Considering that the gendered and intersectional impacts of mainstream economies remain poorly understood, this paper contributes to the existing scholarship on both the outcomes of Ghana's hydrocarbon industry and feminist political ecology theorizing.
- Managed retreat and coastal climate change adaptation: The environmental justice implications and value of a coproduction approach
2022, Land Use Policy
Due to the effects of climate change, coastal areas and communities around the world will be increasingly impacted by diverse hazards including sea-level rise, flooding and eroding shorelines, leading to increasing displacement of people. Managed retreat is one potential adaptation strategy to proactively plan for large-scale climate-related displacements. There is, however, evidence that in many cases managed retreat has had problematic social impacts and that it has frequently been implemented through top-down models of planning. In response, this article reviews the literature on managed retreat to identify the limitations of current practices and the challenges for a more environmentally just approach. Based on this review, the article argues that a coproduction approach would provide a means to help address key planning challenges in this field. This involves collecting local knowledge of the risks posed by climate hazards and/or retreat, creating a connection between local knowledge and institutional mechanisms for supported relocation and facilitating community-led processes of retreat and redevelopment. The key contribution of the article is its analysis of the value of a coproduction approach from the perspective of achieving a more environmentally just approach to managed retreat.
- Reducing power disparities in large-scale mining governance through counter-expertise: A synthesis of case studies from Ecuador
2022, Extractive Industries and Society(Video) Jose Medina, "Protest, Silencing, and Epistemic Activism" at CGEP
Among actors with stakes in natural resource governance, not all knowledge is equally distributed or considered to be legitimate. Instead, knowledge is arranged in a hierarchical manner, which in turn translates into power disparities. The socio-ecological dynamics entangled in large-scale mining exemplify this tendency. Engineers, technicians and environmental scientists are given a special role in defining, evaluating and implementing large-scale mineral extraction scenarios. The technical expertise and skills of these actors is referred to as ‘techno-scientific’ or ‘expert’ knowledge. Mining-affected communities are commonly excluded from formal expert-based processes. In response, these communities reject the technological trajectories developed by experts in extractive industries and governments. They engage in counter-expertise: practices of alternative knowledge mobilization and (co-)production that challenge official techno-scientific assessments of safety and risk. To do so, these communities deploy local, techno-scientific and legal knowledge. In addition, they develop alliances that span across rural and urban contexts and local, national and international scales. Such efforts converge with larger, ongoing projects of ontological self-determination coupled with experiments of self-governance and local and regional autonomy that prefigure the reorganization of society. At the intersection of Political Ecology, Foucauldian theorizations of power/knowledge, Feminist Science and Technology Studies and Latin American Decolonial Studies, these rather novel epistemic dynamics are studied in three emblematic cases of resistance to large-scale mining in Ecuador.
- Ecological civilization, authoritarian environmentalism, and the eco-politics of extractive governance in China
2020, Extractive Industries and Society
With the national push for an ecological civilization under way, Chinese environmental governance is becoming more authoritarian as the central government exerts a stronger control over the enforcement of environmental policies. In this paper, I examine how the ecological civilization project has become a key driver of change in extractive regions, constituting new eco-politics of extractive governance that can be characterized by heightened authoritarian environmentalism, with the Central Environmental Inspection Team as a particularly important mechanism through which the centralization of environmental governance is achieved. I argue that the ambitious environmental goals of an ecological civilization are achieved by sacrificing the interests of extractive communities. As these vulnerable communities are highly dependent on their extractive industries and often face significant diversification difficulties, the eco-civilization project has devastating local socioeconomic impacts and are likely to accelerate structural decline and population shrinkage if not promptly addressed through external support. I argue that this constitutes a form of environmental injustice, where environmental policies impose unfair burdens on disadvantaged individuals and communities. In particular, extractive communities bear the greatest burden of both environmental exploitation and environmental protection. Achieving socially just environmental sustainability should be an important aspect of ecological civilization.
- Condemned to green? Accessibility and attractiveness of urban green spaces to people experiencing homelessness
The accessibility and attractiveness of urban green spaces (UGS) for individuals experiencing homelessness might be considered an example of the provision of environmental amenities for the most disadvantaged communities in the environmental justice discourse. We studied whether these people feel that they are condemned to spend time within UGS and what their personal narratives and perceptions of UGS were. The analysis was based on the triangulation of methods used in our case study city, Lodz, in Poland. First, we compiled a map of where people who live on the streets were recorded, based on data from the City Office of Lodz. Second, we conducted semi-structured and detailed interviews with streetworkers in order to obtain information regarding the use of public spaces (UGS in particular) by people who are homeless. Finally, we carried out interviews with (homeless) individuals whose activities took place within green surroundings. Our study showed that UGS are important to people experiencing homelessness, not only from the point of view of necessity or a lack of any other choice but – more importantly – from the perspective of individual preference and the fulfilment of personal needs. In this sense, our findings broaden the understanding of the accessibility and attractiveness of UGS to one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged groups.
Research articleTerritoriality by Conservation in the Selous–Niassa Corridor in Tanzania
World Development, Volume 101, 2018, pp. 453-465
In this paper we argue that historically emerging frontiers of conservation pave the way for continuous top–down territorialization. Drawing on a concrete case in the Selous–Niassa Corridor in Southern Tanzania, we show how a frontier emerged in the form of community-based conservation. Decades of consecutive and continuous territorialization projects, based on mapping and boundary making, have ensured that conservation is beyond questioning, despite failures in the processes of demarcating, controlling, and managing this large-scale socio-spatial intervention. Although these failures produce territorial conflicts and confusions on the ground, we argue that in the context of a conservation frontier the gap between the envisioned ideal and the messy reality is used to legitimize continuous conservation interventions that rely on technical expertise rather than political dialog. While such top–down territorialization by community-based conservation inevitably remains partial and contingent, this is nonetheless a powerful and resilient project that gradually transforms communal landscapes into conservation territories with little room for public debate.
Research article“Where is the border?” Villagers, environmental consultants and the ‘work’ of the Thai–Burma border
Political Geography, Volume 40, 2014, pp. 1-12
This article examines how Thai–Burma border residents are enrolled and engaged in remaking the political border through their knowledge practices and performances, or their own “borderwork”. Border residents do not perform this work alone, but in connection with other actors including environmental consultants. In order to highlight this co-production of the political border, I bring together border studies scholarship that see borders as process and performance with work in science studies that has highlighted the way that knowledge and order are co-produced. The importance of this approach is that it facilitates an understanding of the multifaceted and contradictory work to remake the border by multiple actors, a way to study “borders from the bottom up” that illustrates how the border is continually enacted. While this article puts forth the notion that the border represents an important site and process of struggle and negotiation in which marginalized communities invest, it also questions the assumption that because residents are engaged in remaking the border, the border is necessarily more ‘democratic’. The discussion and empirical data presented in this article also speak to broader debates in political geography about how borders are remade through practice and performance.(Video) "Epistemic Silences: Investigating Epistemic Injustice in the Context of Climate Change"
Research articleIllegality and inequity in Ghana’s cocoa-forest landscape: How formalization can undermine farmers control and benefits from trees on their farms
Land Use Policy, Volume 76, 2018, pp. 405-413
Schemes to promote sustainable forest management have increasingly focused on addressing widespread informalities in timber production, based on the presumed links between formalisation, the maintenance of forest cover and local welfare. This trend is typified by the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative and associated Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) aimed at eradicating the trade of illegal wood between partner countries and the EU. Yet there is concern that such initiatives might have detrimental impacts on the largely informal rights of local resource users. In order to inform the formalisation agenda, more detailed analysis of the operation of local rights, and how they might be affected by particular schemes is required.
This paper focuses on Ghana as a country with a largely informal wood sector that has signed a VPA with the EU for the express purpose of rapid formalisation. Our analysis is guided by a framework for assessing which types of rights might be transformed by particular approaches to formalisation and the subsequent effect this might have on forests and people in particular local contexts. We then apply this framework to an in-depth local case study of on-farm timber governance within a cocoa-forest landscape in Ghana’s Central Region to examine how the operation of formal and informal and substantive and procedural rights shape who controls, and benefits from, on-farm timber production. We then analyse the content of the VPA in light of these local realities and assess its potential impacts.
Our findings highlight how the substantive rights the state grants to companies are presumed to be balanced with the granting of procedural rights to farmers via the mechanisms of right of refusal to harvest on-farm timber, compensation for damage to cocoa crops and the negotiation of community-level Social Responsibility Agreements with private companies. Yet a comparison of these formal rights with farmers’ existing informal rights reveals that farmers’ control and access to benefits from trees on their farms are notably higher in the ‘illegal’ chainsaw dominated informal sector than in the ‘legal’ state-based system. Farmers choose to maintain trees on farms both to shade cocoa and in anticipation of benefits from their informal sale. The VPA, however, aims to eradicate all informal on-farm timber production and thus threatens existing local rights and benefit capture while diminishing incentives to maintain trees on farm. Rather than further criminalising local systems of timber governance, the maintenance of tree cover and local benefit-sharing would be better served by 1) phasing out timber concessions on farmland, 2) abandoning the distinction between planted and native trees on farms and, 3) understanding, recognizing and respecting the existing informal rights of farmers, traditional authorities and chainsaw loggers to negotiate among themselves patterns of access and control of on-farm trees and timber. In general, the case study challenges the assertion that formalisation is requisite for sustainable forest management and mandates a more nuanced and contextually informed assessment of the assumed costs and benefits associated with particular forms of legal and policy reform.
Research articleThe ‘new extractivism’ in Ghana: A critical review of its development prospects
The Extractive Industries and Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, 2014, pp. 292-302
Since the 1980s all Ghanaian governments have promoted large-scale mining by transnational mining companies (TNMCs) as a fundamental development strategy. This is consistent with the euphoria in the international development community about the development potential of extractive industries. Paradoxically, this ‘new extractivism’ has spawned horrific injustices against peasants and artisanal and small-scale miners, a segment of the citizenry whose wellbeing development is supposed to promote. These injustices, particularly land-dispossessions, are similar to the violence of primitive accumulation that created the agrarian transformations in some core Western countries, leading to capitalism and capitalist development. This paper critically examines the capitalist development potential of mining-extractivism in Ghana. Based on the theory of ‘uneven and combined development’, the specificity of foreign capital accumulation in Africa within a globalised capitalist economy, and the way in which these have shaped the integration of African economies into the global economy, the paper concludes that the prospects for capitalist development in Ghana from extractivism agrarian change are dismal.
Research articleReconfiguring Frontier Spaces: The territorialization of resource control
World Development, Volume 101, 2018, pp. 388-399
The expansion of capitalism produces contests over the definition and control of resources. On a global scale, new patterns of resource exploration, extraction, and commodification create new territories. This takes place within a dynamic of frontiers and territorialization. Frontier dynamics dissolve existing social orders—property systems, political jurisdictions, rights, and social contracts—whereas territorialization is shorthand for all the dynamics that establish them and re-order space anew. Frontier moments offer new opportunities, and old social contracts give way to struggles over new ones. As new types of resource commodification emerge, institutional orders are sometimes undermined or erased, and sometimes reinterpreted, reinvented, and recycled. New property regimes, new forms of authority, and the attendant struggles for legitimacy over the ability to define proper uses and users follow frontier moments. The drawing of borders and the creation of orders around new resources profoundly rework patterns of authority and institutional architectures. We argue that the territorialization of resource control is a set of processes that precedes legitimacy and authority, fundamentally challenging and replacing existing patterns of spatial control, authority, and institutional orders. It is dynamics of this sort that the articles in this collection explore: the outcomes produced in the frontier space, the kinds of authority that emerge through control over space and the people in it, and the battles for legitimacy that this entails. This collection explores the emergence of frontier spaces, arguing that these are transitional, liminal spaces in which existing regimes of resource control are suspended, making way for new ones.
Research articleClimate justice is not just ice
Geoforum, Volume 54, 2014, pp. 230-232
Discussions about climate change and justice frequently employ dichotomies of procedural and distributive justice, and inter- and intra-generational justice. These distinctions, however, often fail to acknowledge the diverse experience of climate risks, or the contested nature of many proposed solutions. This paper argues for a reassessment of debates about climate justice based upon a greater diversity of risks and solutions such as integrating the reduction of social vulnerability simultaneously with mitigation. In effect, this implies reassessing the implicit use of Rawls’ model of justice as fair allocation of predefined risks and solutions, and instead considering Sen’s understanding of justice as inclusive debate about which risks require which solutions.
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Political ecology is a field that critically interrogates the nature–society relations, particularly looking at the power relations that intersect and affect access to natural resources, in order to reveal disparities and injustices in the distribution of costs and benefits (Robbins, 2012).What is socio/political ecology theory? ›
Sociopolitical ecology is a perspective that seeks to understand the. interactions of human systems and non-systems within the framework of. their environment, the impact of human systems and non-systems upon. the environment and, in turn, the impact of the environment upon the.What is the importance of political ecology? ›
A political ecology is useful in that it explains the social dynamics of what is wrong and why we have no control over our economic lives. It explains why in a competitive market economy the minority of people with the economic power must pollute in order to survive.What is political ecology in AP Human Geography? ›
Political ecology is the study of the relationships between political, economic and social factors with environmental issues and changes.What are the 4 types of ecology? ›
What are the different types of ecology? The different types of ecology include- molecular ecology, organismal ecology, population ecology, community ecology, global ecology, landscape ecology and ecosystem ecology.What are the 4 levels of the socio ecological model? ›
The CDC's model is constructed with four levels: individual, relationship, community, and society.What are the four aspects of social ecology? ›
Four Aspects of Social Ecology : 1. The four aspects of human ecology are : (i) population, (ii) environment, (iii) technology and (iv) social organisation.Who is the father of social ecology? ›
|School||Continental Philosophy, Anarchism, Libertarian Socialism, Hegelianism, Philosophy of ecology|
|Main interests||Social hierarchy, dialectics, post-scarcity, libertarian socialism, ethics, environmental sustainability, ecology, history of popular revolutionary movements|
|Notable ideas||Social ecology|
The term 'political ecology' was coined in French (Écologie politique) by Bertrand de Jouvenel in 1957, and in English by anthropologist Eric R. Wolf in 1972. The origins of the field in the 1970s and 1980s were a result of the development of radical developments in geography and cultural ecology.Who proposed the five theses in political ecology? ›
These five theses identified by Robbins also shed light on structures, institutions, actors/stakeholders, and politics.
Why is ecology important? Ecology enriches our world and is crucial for human wellbeing and prosperity. It provides new knowledge of the interdependence between people and nature that is vital for food production, maintaining clean air and water, and sustaining biodiversity in a changing climate.What is ecological concept? ›
Ecological concepts are general understandings (or facts) about ecosystems and ecosystem management. Ecological principles are basic assumptions (or beliefs) about ecosystems and how they function that are informed by the ecological concepts.What is the concept of political geography? ›
Definition of political geography
: a branch of geography that deals with human governments, the boundaries and subdivisions of political units (as nations or states), and the situations of cities — compare geopolitics.
Ecology was originally defined in the mid-19th century, when biology was a vastly different discipline than it is today. The original definition is from Ernst Haeckel, who defined ecology as the study of the relationship of organisms with their environment.What is the scope of political ecology? ›
Political ecology is the study of the intersection and relationship between the political, broadly understood, and environmental and ecological phenomena. Political, economic, social, and cultural forces affect, and are affected by, ecological and environmental trends.