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Critical political ecology


Critical political ecology

In this lecture on critical political ecology, Dr. Paige West traces the history of the theory and how it emerged from the study of isolated communities and their connections to external structures that impact their social lives. She defines political ecology as a critical approach that sees environmental change as caused by both natural and human structures, with differential impacts for individuals within those structures. She highlights the role that female academics have played in advancing political ecology as a theory and method, and then focuses on the influence and concepts from Foucault, including discourse, power, and discipline. She then draws on examples from her own work in Papua New Guinea to exemplify the ongoing use of the political ecology frame, starting with characterizing contemporary Papua New Guineans as connected to the outside world and continuing by exploring coffee commodity chains as one form of local-global relationships. She ends by discussing updated understandings of Marx’s ideas of accumulation and dispossession, suggests that there are both material and nonmaterial forms of these tendencies of modern global economic structures.

More information on the Immersion Program and other lectures can be found here:

What is Political Ecology? | Culture, Power, and Global Environment

“Culture, Power, and Global Environment“ is an online course on Janux. Learn more at

Created by the University of Oklahoma, Janux is an interactive learning community that gives learners direct connections to courses, education resources, faculty, and each other. Janux courses are freely available or may be taken for college credit by enrolled OU students.

Dr. Noah Theriault, Assistant Professor

Video by NextThought (

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Critical political ecology – from space and place to sovereignty (Paige West)

Drew Milne: Marx / Critical Theory / Political Ecology

Contemporary politics throws up ecological crises with gathering intensity: from Fukushima and fracking and new nuclear power stations to genetic modification plant technology. The Volkswagen emissions scandal is a symptom of the deep ecological corruption of capitalism, offering clear demonstration of the limits of green capitalism. The necessity for developing political alliances across red and green political perspectives has never been clearer. Problems at the level of political practice nevertheless reflect widespread suspicions that Marx and Marxism lack a relevant understanding of ecology, while the priorities of climate change activism often come into conflict with traditional labour movement politics. This paper seeks to glean some of the fragmented theoretical resources suggested by Marx and by neo-Marxist traditions of critical theory, so as to develop a contemporary politics of ecology.

Lecture 4 : Political Ecology of Water

Maria Kaika | Urban Political Ecology

In this short excerpt of an interview by Ibai Rigby, architect and geographer Maria Kaika talks about the ecological and political consequences of urbanisation in the contemporary world. Maria Kaika is currently Professor of Urban Regional and Environmental Planning at the University of Amsterdam, and Professor in Human Geography at the University of Manchester.

Maria Kaika explains Political Ecology

Maria Kaika explains what is political ecology.

What is Political Ecology?

In this video the members of ENTITLE, the European Network of Political Ecology, explain what Political Ecology is about.



Source: article, adapted under license.

Political ecology is the study of the relationships between political, economic and social factors with environmental issues and changes. Political ecology differs from apolitical ecological studies by politicizing environmental issues and phenomena.

The academic discipline offers wide-ranging studies integrating ecological social sciences with political economy in topics such as degradation and marginalization, environmental conflict, conservation and control, and environmental identities and social movements.

The term political ecology was first coined by Frank Thone in an article published in 1935. It has been widely used since then in the context of human geography and human ecology, but with no systematic definition. Anthropologist Eric R. Wolf gave it a second life in 1972 in an article entitled Ownership and Political Ecology, in which he discusses how local rules of ownership and inheritance mediate between the pressures emanating from the larger society and the exigencies of the local ecosystem, but did not develop the concept further Other origins include other early works of Wolf as well as John W. Cole at the University of Massachusetts, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and others in the 1970s and 1980s.

The origins of the field in the 1970s and 1980s were a result of the development of development geography and cultural ecology., particularly the work of Piers Blaikie on the sociopolitical origins of soil erosion. Historically, political ecology has focused on phenomena in and affecting the developing world; since the field’s inception, research has sought primarily to understand the political dynamics surrounding material and discursive struggles over the environment in the third world.

Scholars in political ecology are drawn from a variety of academic disciplines, including geography, anthropology, development studies, political science, sociology, forestry, and environmental history.

Political ecology’s broad scope and interdisciplinary nature lends itself to multiple definitions and understandings. However, common assumptions across the field give the term relevance. Raymond L. Bryant and Sinéad Bailey developed three fundamental assumptions in practicing political ecology:

First, costs and benefits associated with environmental change are distributed unequally. Changes in the environment do not affect society in a homogenous way: political, social, and economic differences account for uneven distribution of costs and benefits.
Second, this unequal distribution inevitably reinforces or reduces existing social and economic inequalities - any change in environmental conditions must affect the political and economic status quo.
Third, the unequal distribution of costs and benefits and the reinforcing or reducing of pre-existing inequalities has political implications in terms of the altered power relationships that then result.

In addition, political ecology attempts to provide critiques and alternatives in the interplay of the environment and political, economic and social factors. Paul Robbins asserts that the discipline has a normative understanding that there are very likely better, less coercive, less exploitative, and more sustainable ways of doing things.

From these assumptions, political ecology can be used to:

- inform policymakers and organizations of the complexities surrounding environment and development, thereby contributing to better environmental governance.
- understand the decisions that communities make about the natural environment in the context of their political environment, economic pressure, and societal regulations
- look at how unequal relations in and among societies affect the natural environment, especially in context of government policy.

How can political ecology change policy? The role and limitations of the social scientist

Paul Robbins, Director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, talks about the role of the social scientist on the policy arena. How can political ecologists change policy? This is the ninth lecture of the ENTITLE course Project Management and Contribution to Policy organized by ENT Environment and Management and Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona under the FP7-Marie Curie project The European Network of Political Ecology; Campus UAB, 20-23 January 2015.

Tracey Osborne, "Public Political Ecology" (DOPE 2016 Keynote)

Public Political Ecology: A Philosophy of Praxis in the Age of the Anthropocene

Dimensions of Political Ecology 2016 Keynote Address
February 27, 2016 at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY

Tracey Osborne, Assistant Professor of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona

Political ecology is a highly flexible approach for addressing diverse, shifting and interconnected environmental problems that emphasizes political economy and power relations as causal factors. Therefore, with often explicit ethical and normative commitments, the field is well suited for tackling environmental issues constitutive of the Anthropocene, a newly defined geologic era in which humans represent a significant and unsustainable planetary force. While the critical perspective leveled by political ecology is important for understanding the contours, drivers and more equitable solutions to current environmental crises, analyses that remain in the halls of academia will be inadequate to the task at hand. What is required is a public political ecology on a massive scale, one that operates in the realm of praxis and consciousness-raising so that a political ecology perspective becomes part of the public debate on environmental change, shaping discourse and practice. Influenced by the work of Antonio Gramsci, public political ecology as a framework for theoretically-informed engaged scholarship is and must be the next frontier of political ecology. Key components of public political ecology include: 1) Critical pedagogy and engaged scholarship, 2) popular political education in the domain of civil society, and 3) alliance building among and between academics and diverse publics. In addition, innovations from public geographies such as participatory action research and mapping, service learning, and social media offer important methodologies and tools for public political ecology.

Ecological Theories: Cultural Ecology, System Ecology and Political Ecology (ANT)

Paper:Theories and methods in social cultural anthropology

Urban Political Ecology and Radical Imaginaries by Maria Kaika - part I

Prof. Kaika talks about the relationship between city and nature and introduces the conceptual approach of urban political ecology. This is the eleventh lecture of the first SIC course organized by the University of Manchester and ICTA-UAB under the FP7-Marie Curie project “The European Network of Political Ecology”; Manchester, 18th-22th February 2013.



Source: article, adapted under license.

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Feminist political ecology is a feminist perspective on political ecology, drawing on theories from post-structuralism, feminist geography, and cultural ecology. Feminist political ecology examines the place of gender in the political ecological landscape, exploring gender as a factor in ecological and political relations. Specific areas in which feminist political ecology is focused are development, landscape, resource use, agrarian reconstruction and rural-urban transformation (Hovorka 2006: 209). Feminist political ecologists suggest gender is a crucial variable – in relation to class, race and other relevant dimensions of political ecological life – in constituting access to, control over, and knowledge of natural resources.

Feminist political ecology attempts to include gender as a “key element” in political ecology analysis (Hovorka 2006: 209). It is informed by several decades of feminist scholarship on the material and cultural links between gender hierarchy (where the masculine is valued more than the feminine) and the domination of the natural world. Ecological feminist scholars working in different disciplines, such as Carolyn Merchant (1980), Val Plumwood (1993; 2002) and Vandana Shiva (1989), laid the foundations for this field by providing empirical evidence and conceptual tools for the systematic analysis of the twin devaluation/domination of nature and the feminine.

The study of the relationship between environments, gender, and development has grown in importance because of the restructuring of economies, environments and cultures at a global and local level (Mitchell 2000). Women and men are being viewed as actors who affect environmental management, resource use, and the creation of policies for health and well-being. Feminist political ecology does not view gender differences in environmental impact as being biologically-rooted. Rather, they are derived from social constructs of gender, which vary depending on culture, class, race, and geographical location, and they change over time between individuals and societies. A key moment on the development of the approach was the publication of Feminist Political Ecology, edited by Dianne Rocheleau at Clark University in 1996. The book showed how usage of environment and labor patterns are gendered, but also how certain environmental problems have particularly negative effects on women (Rocheleau et al. 1996). These concerns were largely absent in the better-known political ecology volume Liberation Ecologies, which was published in the same year and also developed at Clark (Peet & Watts, 1996).

In a study on the Rural Federation of Zambrana-Chacuey (a peasant federation) and an international nongovernmental organization (ENDA-Caribe) in the Dominican Republic, Dianne Rocheleau examines social forestry within the region. Women are involved in the forestry industry, but previous research (summary numbers, “regional maps of forestry-as-usual” (Rocheleau 1995: 460) had not represented the “different publics (differentiated by gender, class, locality, and occupation) within the Federation (p460)”. Rocheleau’s study draws upon post-structuralism to “expand our respective partial and situated knowledges through a politics a science that go beyond identity to affinities then work from affinities to coalitions (p459).In other words, the study does not assume that the identity of a person defines them, but instead focuses on “affinities” (defined as “based on affiliations, and shared views of interests, subject to change over time”). The purpose of this was to “address women within the context in which they had organized and affiliated themselves (p461)”. The purpose of the study was to include women in the general study of the area in a way that gave justice to the “ecological and social contexts that sustain their lives (p461), instead of separating them from the context, rendering them invisible.......

Critical Political Ecology The Politics of Environmental Science


Grasping Sustainability: A Debate on Resilience Theory vs Political Ecology

Sustainability is a contested concept, of acute relevance to current discussions on how to ensure human and broader biological survival with limited earthly resources. Resilience theory and Political ecology are two influential analytical approaches. Both address the connection between environmental and societal conditions, but in quite different ways.

Resilience theory aims to analyze the capacity of social-ecological systems to withstand shocks from phenomena such as environmental degradation and climate change, and to rebuild and renew themselves afterwards.

Political ecology sees inherent conflicts in the quest for sustainability, since socio-ecological systems at all levels are highly unequal. Conflicting interests and power relations must therefore, according to this approach, be a key focus of the analysis.

Tania Murray Li on rural transformations and political ecology

This is the first of two video interviews conducted with Tania Murray-Li during the American Association of Geographers' conference held from April 5-9, 2017 in Boston, USA.

Tania Murray Li, Professor of Anthropology, Canada Research Chair in the Political-Economy and Culture of Asia, and Director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Toronto, reflects on why and how political ecology should place more attention on rural spaces and their transformations.

This video was first published on

Episode 37: Political Ecology

Questions, comments, concerns?

Ramblings with Rebecca is a new series of five-minute videos from 2012 Marshall Scholar Rebecca Farnum discussing social justice, environmentalism, politics, the UK, and life in general.

For more information:
Piers Blaikie's Towards a future for political ecology that works, available at
Tim Forsyth's Political ecology and the epistemology of social justice, available at
Peter A. Walker's critique Political ecology: where is the policy?, available at

Political Ecology and the Contested Politics of Urban Metabolism by Erik Swyngendouw - part I

Prof. Swyngedouw talks about the relationship between cities, society and nature. His discourse tackles and explores the unresolved issues of urban metabolism. This is the tenth lecture of the first SIC course organized by the University of Manchester and ICTA-UAB under the FP7-Marie Curie project “The European Network of Political Ecology”; Manchester, 18th-22th February 2013.

UQx LGD2 019 Political ecology: understanding conflicts...




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