What is Political Ecology?

anthropologies site has an excellent series of essays on political ecology. Ryan Anderson quoting from Land and Degradation and Society by Blaikie and Brookfield tells us:

“The phrase ‘political ecology’ combines the concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy. Together this encompasses the constantly shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources, and also within classes and groups within society itself” (1987:17).”

Graham Pickern in the same article describes it as an epistemological perspective that “that builds on the environmental justice focus on the relationship between social inequality and environmental harm, but broadens that focus to examine environmental injustices not as discrete events, but as historical and geographical processes shaped by asymmetrical relationships of power”.

Thomas Loder in his work on farming describes his use of political ecology as emerging from his confrontation of Assemblage Theory and its use of agencement

Agencement became extremely useful to me, as it helped me to frame the technological and political economic practices that led to energy production as a coherent unit (an assemblage), which I was then able to tie to larger scale processes via a boundary object, a referent which allows for communication between and across various assemblages (see Star & Griesemer 1989). Indeed, framing local energy production as an assemblage allowed me to relate discussion surrounding agricultural subsidies in Vermont to seemingly disparate topics such as climate change in Africa and the relationship between oil consumption and national security, an important step that allows a paper to speak to audiences beyond its purported subject. ( see: Integrating Agencement/Assemblage into Political Ecology: here)

He tells us that agencement is rendered as assemblage, connoting merely a collection of things. While this is one meaning of the French term, agencement also implies that these things do not come together in a static arrangement (or network), but have the ability to participate in processes by virtue of assembling, not least of which is disassembling and coming together with different things to create new assemblages and new processes.

Jarius Rossi provides an analysis of William Jordan’s Critical Philosophy of Restoration Ecology:

Jordan articulates a conservation/environmental philosophy that 1) requires restoration participants to realize that nature is social by making and maintaining an ecosystem, 2) challenges cultural and ecological narratives that portray nature transcendent, primordial, and balanced while simultaneously attempting to produce a temporarily stable state, and 3) uses the creation of a material landscape as a shared myth-making practice that forms temporary alliances between individuals with diverse interests. (see: here)

He became involved in Jordan’s  restoration ecology precisely because of its unique application of a conservation vision. As he states it:

Part of my interest in this vision is the way that he merges myth, ritual, and material to provide an entrance into a way of doing/thinking about nature that doesn’t rest on its ontological separation from human acts. He also dispenses with our ability to know/make/enact some original natural state. Instead, he articulates nature as something that needs a consciously and socially developed mythology that doesn’t avoid difficult questions and existential contradictions. He also emphasizes a decentered ontology of nature and ecology that finds resonance in post-modern scientific thinking on objects and social scientific theories of enaction.

What he discovered in the work of Jordan was that these diverse inquiries into objects, ecosystems, organisms, and societies are relational and subject to multiscalar, nondeterministic processes. In summary he offers:

Through these realizations, which are post-structural in respect to categories, but concerned with the actual materialization and operation of living entities, many new inquiries are possible. Jordan’s strength is to bring ecosystems, and our social-scientific strategies for remaking them, into the realm of critical, reflexive inquiry. The restoration of an ecosystem, from his perspective, is contingent on organismic materialities (i.e. life history traits of certain plants), yet subject to creative social intervention that moves beyond questions of authenticity and seeks to create shared cultural meaning among practitioners.

I think the unique vision of political ecology focusing as it does on the ecological, social and material objects/systems is heading in the right direction. The ontological aspects that it is dealing with could use some modifications and incorporation of the speculative realist movment as a part of its toolbag. I’ll be dealing with this among other things in future essays. My concern is to weave a series of essays dealing with the work of Murray Bookchin, Timothy Morton, Graham Harman, Levi R. Bryant, Ian Bogost, Slavoj Zizek, Bruno Latour, Niklaus Luhmann and many other philsophers and thinkers and how there work may impact a revisioning of social ecologies in our time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s