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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 the theory and methods of political ecology and then focuses on the influence and ideas 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 communities as connected to the outside world in continuing to explore coffee commodity chains as one form of local global relationships she ends by discussing updated understandings of Marx's ideas of accumulation and dispossession and suggests that there are both material and non-material forms of these tendencies in modern global economic structures today I'm gonna talk to you about critical political ecology and hopefully build on some of the lectures that we had yesterday and two wonderful lectures that we had earlier today so I want to go back for a second and talk about Roy Rapoport and pigs for the ancestors I scoured the web last night and found this wonderful picture of skip Rapoport who was a wonderful human being one of the reasons that I became an anthropologist was this book this is a beautiful book they got tons of criticism as Edward I said there are many many things we could say about it but one of the things to think about when you think about this book is it was a really wrapped up neat package you got ritual and ecology of the Sambhaji mooring as if they were living in a place that had never been touched by the outside world when indeed people in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea had been living in a colonial world for a very long time like people all over the world the Sun began wearing were also growing coffee at the time that Rappaport did this eloquent study eloquent and study of ritual and ecology and he didn't take any of those sort of outside influences into account you know one of the reactions to this kind of work in cultural ecology was for people to take a look at things that were being done in other parts of the discipline and so again to look at the work of Eric wolf at the time so pigs for the ancestors is published in the 1919 80s I think I've the date up there you know in 1968 sorry 1968 and then you have ownership and political ecology in 1972 and you have Eric wolf really thinking carefully about the way in which people that are thought about of thought about as outside history people that are thought about living in these still bounded societies are actually tied up in a world system so in many ways political ecology comes out of people dissatisfied with the type of work that Rapoport did about small-scale societies in the way that they were living in very close proximity to nature in these very bounded ways and the work of wolf that shows us that those bounded ways are actually touched by many many outside influences political ecology as a field emerges in the 1980s and it really emerges in multiple disciplines so when we think about political ecology we should think about anthropology we should think about human geography we should think about people in critical development studies so there's a whole world of people that come together to create political ecology people in economics people in political science so from the very beginning political ecology is this very multidisciplinary field Piers Blakey said and I'm gonna read a quote here about political ecology early on it's the multi scaled analysis of environmental degradation from a political economy perspective as such political ecology rejects the Neo Malthusian explanations of human impacts on the environment so one of the things early political ecology was reacting against were kind of new a Malthusian explanations for why people were degrading the landscapes that they lived in it's also in many ways rejecting the work coming out of development studies in the 1970s and 1980s that basically is seen by anthropologists and human geographers as blaming the poorest of the poor for the environmental disasters that they're living with on a daily basis so there's a kind of political activist undertone to little political ecology very early on so one of the things political ecology sort of formulates very early is an argument that environmental change is is caused by many different things environmental change is certainly caused by people living at the very local level engaging with resources on a daily basis but it's also caused by changing power relations it's a result of global processes like colonialism development and the spread of capitalism writ large the kinds of things that political ecology was interested in really can be drilled down to some work that was done irk and we can think about it in terms of work that was done by Brian and Bryant and Bailey and so they developed kind of three fundamental assumptions about practicing political ecology the first is that cost and benefits associated with environmental change are distributed unequally changes in the environment do not affect society in the homogeneous way political social and economic differences account for uneven distribution of cost and benefits and political power plays an important role in such inequalities so from the very beginning political ecology is interested in explaining inequality at multiple scales but thinking about who's accumulating while others are being dispossessed something I'll come back to in a minute again their second point this unequal environmental distribution invariably reinforces or reduces existing social and economic reinforces and or reduces existing or exacerbates sorry existing social and economic inequalities so the uneven distribution actually affects people's social lives on the ground in terms of inequality and third that the unequal distribution of cost and benefits and the reinforcing reduced of the preexisting inequalities hold political implications in terms of the altered power relationships that are reduced so inequality is changed by these larger forces and then power relationships on the ground are also changed by these larger forces one of the first books to come out that really took this new paradigm early on is 1987 land degradation and society by piers Blakey and Harold Brookfield it's actually an edited volume and they have chapters on all of these different places and what they start to do is really develop from a multi-sided analysis a robust theory for thinking about the relationship between land degradation and social change at multiple scales and so they really bring in the question of how different scales and the actors at different scales intersect in these systems that we all study here today and that we all take for granted today and that edoardo just gave us a beautiful presentation on so they focus on land degradation and all of these different sites and they really go through what are the current explanations for land degradation what are the reasons what are the kind of causal chains that are being traced out and work prior to their work they look at the question of individual behavior and they say yes absolutely there are some elements of individual behavior at the very local level that are causing land degradation and we can see changes as connected to individual behavior but then they also say there are these other scales there are these much there are these much larger processes that are affecting the local scale and also they say they're actors at every scale so kind of drilling down and only focusing on people living under the conditions of land degradation or environmental change and not thinking about actors at the regional scale at the national scale or at the global scale is a problem so scale scale scale so I'm gonna talk a little bit about some of the classic works in political ecology and you will notice here that I'm highlighting work by women because it struck me yesterday that there was quite a lot of discussion of environmentally their apology very little discussion of women's role in pushing theory forward the first person I don't want to talk about is Nancy Peluso so Nancy Peluso again early on in the piece this is 1992 it's based on her PhD dissertation from Cornell which was in 1988 Nancy worked in Java and Java is a place where for about three centuries people have been doing agriculture and there's good evidence archeological evidence but also historical data from the from the state about the agriculture that people have been doing there and so what she did was really look at all of this data on agriculture and then ask some questions about what's going on today why is it that peasant farmers are actually living in highly degraded environments today when we've had agriculture in this place for three centuries and she says well so maybe it's not about the farmers maybe it's about the state and then she says well maybe the state is connected to a larger system and so taking something that she can show has changed over time with this huge data set about agriculture and saying how are these new conditions of a changing javanese state and then a changing Indonesian state and then changing international relations in which the state is kind of mired how's that affecting peasant farmers she also brings in a critique of development and begins to think for the first time really I think about the way in which development projects focused on agriculture are actually not doing the work they're supposed to be doing but increasing the dispossession of people living on the margins utter McKay is one of the foremost thinkers in political ecology and from very on again 1987 she co-edit the question of the commons 1998 she writes oyster wars and the public trust property law in ecology in a new jersey history and what bonnie does is say basically alright fisheries management here's another system that's been looked at by many many people over time or a kind of system that's been looked at by many people over time and the focus has been on what fishers are doing and really not thinking about how do we scale up our focus how do we scale up our analysis and think about the way that fishers and their decision making is commissure x' and their decision-making is connected to regional state and then national influences and again in this especially an oyster wars she brings in something new she brings in questions about property and law in a way that nobody has brought into political ecology before because the legal structures at multiple scales interact just as actors at multiple scales interact and so bonnie helps us think about the way that people negotiate the law at every scale so then as happens in anthropology you have this sort of flourishing of all different kinds of political ecology and this is not because people are not building on each other's work but this is because people are actually thinking very carefully about the kinds of questions that they're not seeing driving political ecology work so post-structuralist vertical ecology Arturo Escobar in Annecy post-structuralist political ecology is really driven by a set of questions around how does ideology as manifest in discourse affect practice so how does the stuff that gets said at the local level at the medium level and at the highest scale said both through oral language but also said in reports and documents how does that actually affect people living at every scale and I'll come back to talking about discourse and power knowledge in a second so Arturo Escobar Ian Anna Singh and then you have feminists political ecology feminist political ecology is taking questions of gender inequality so remember political ecology at its very base is thinking about inequality and the way that inequality is changed or exacerbated or somehow altered by these structural engagements feminist political ecology puts questions of gender inequality at the very center of political ecology but he does but it doesn't buy a sort starting out from questions about gender inequality Dian Richelieu and some of her work asked about women's access to resources at the very small scale to do conservation and then she thinks about the way in which that disparity between men and women's access to resources how that is affected by multiple scales of influence then you have a place plate based political ecology elite a Biersack a leader reads all of this stuff in political ecology and says this is really interesting but there's this new work on the importance of place in anthropology coming out in the 1990s and she says people's attachment to place is one of the most important things in people's lives how is people's socio-cultural attachment and understanding of place being altered by these these kinds of multi scale euler interactions so very specifically how does someone's thinking about a particular place as sacred or not sacred how is that affected by these multiple scales of influence and then last but not least ethnographic political ecology so one of the things that many of us who have been reading little ecology for a long time many of us from anthropology who had been reading political ecology for a long time started to think in the in the mid-1990s was that there was a kind of transformation of the scholarship going on where the kind of fine grained ethnographic description that anthropology was famous for and I actually think is one of the things that we do very well that was sort of slipping out of political ecology analysis it was becoming much more about analyzing and geographers are very good at this and geographers were driving this much more about analyzing the sort of higher scales of influence and much less about explaining in a rich and nuanced way the effects on the ground and so it wasn't or isn't really a critique of other political ecology but it's just saying look we have this wonderful map ecology and this wonderful way of writing about our data in anthropology that actually brings something to political ecology I want to stop for a second and talk about ethnography ethnography is both a method and a product ethnographic research is basically research when you go and you live with a population of people somewhere that population of people can be rural people living in a village in Tanzania it can be people working at the United Nations on gender equity any population but you go and you live with them you hang out with them you do participant observation you do interviews you do other kinds of multiple methodologies that's ethnographic research but an anthropologist also often produce ethnography and an ethnography is a form of writing about people that focuses in on specific examples ethnographic vignettes we might think that are a very small part of a larger sample so when you read an ethnography and someone tells you a story in at a very powerful story that is think about them having a huge end and that is one example and I think that's important to put to point out to people that don't read a lot of ethnography because when people talk about ethnography as case studies or when people talk about ethnography as not being data-driven it's actually hugely data-driven so for instance my first fieldwork I have 3,000 pages of field notes so take that in for a second 3,000 pages of film notes those are all coded and I can go through and if I was the kind of person who wanted to do it I could do some statistical work to tell you how many times people talk to me about dispossession or how many times people talk to me about bride-price but I could also take the ethnographic examples that I have in my published work and tell you how many times that exact scenario happened and so ethnographic data even if you have just an N of one and a paper it's a representative of a much larger sample when we think about Michel Foucault who is a French historian and philosopher born and 20 19 26 died very young in 1984 we can think about a couple of different things that he brought to anthropology in the social sciences the first one is an interest in discourse an interest in discourse and for Foucault discourse was a group of statements which provide a language for talking about our representing a topic and this group of statements again can be spoken statements it can be written statements it can be historical documents it can be anything that provides the sort of architecture of language for talking about a particular topic for Foucault discourse is about the production of knowledge so every time we say something for Foucault every time we write something it's a proposition about the world through discourse we're saying this is the way that the world is and his argument or one of his many arguments is that in this production of knowledge through discourse we also begin to produce the conditions of possibility for practice people start to think about things in a particular way because of their discursive formation they then start to act in the world based on this discursive formation and one of his most important points is that this is all wrapped up in a power dynamic so to go back to the critique of anthropology a little bit in discursive formations in anthropology let's think for a second about Rappaport's work and the sandbag Amaury so Rapoport and many other anthropologists write about Hyland's groups in the 1950s and 60s as if they are living in this kind of state of nature no Australian colonialism no British colonialism no German colonialism no Dutch colonialism no global capitalist system no coffee industry that's been there since the 1930s and in writing about them in that way they begin to create a discursive formation that cast these people as living representatives of our historical past and to some extent our pre historical past people build on their work development organizations start to read their work and this discursive formation around people in the highlands being apart from the modern comes to be in the world that then comes to be the way that people engage with them when they go to them so people who go for development people who go for conservation missionaries and others come to think about people through this architecture that's created by discourse so that is what Foucault means by discourse and that's one of the things that he brings to anthropology so he also brings a really sophisticated analysis of power and the way that power operates at multiple scales and this is why he's incredibly important for political ecology so power works at multiple scales power works it's he talks about it being exorcised from innumerable points any argues that power relations exist in every form of social relationship and that power is productive so in thinking about why inequality exists fucose influence on political ecology ask us to think about where points of power are where there's a dynamic where someone has more power than another person or when an institution has a kind of power that a group doesn't have or when there is institutional struggles and power and so he helps us think about power too so for Foucault that nexus between discourse and power and knowledge he argues work to discipline us and he argues that they work to discipline us in many ways they discipline the way that we that our bodies are they discipline the way that we carry ourselves in the world I mean so think about think about the way that I'm dressed right now right so I am dressed in a feminine manner I have a dress on my hair as long I wear earrings I put makeup on that's a disciplining practice that kind of global capitalism has inserted me into because it wants to sell me stuff and it wants to make me hate myself and feel less feminine so I buy more crap right that's what Foucault is talking about it's pretty it's pretty simple right so there's disciplining a level of the body but there's also disciplining at all the other scales and so what Foucault allows us to do is think carefully about the intersection of discourse power knowledge and the disciplining of subjects both human subjects and other kinds of subjects so um I'm going to skip through a bunch of stuff um I'm gonna talk about my work a little bit so i-i've been doing political ecology for a long time and so I've had multiple projects and I'll talk briefly about them my first project was the book that I talked about yesterday conservation is our government now and what I do and that is asked a simple set of questions about the way in which knowledge power systems work in conservation so what's the relationship between the way that very local people the books about people living in a place called my Mithu village which is a rural and roadless village in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea that happens to be one of the most biologically diverse places on our planet these folks are hunter-gatherers they're also small-scale subsistence agriculturalists so they have a mixed sort of subsistence strategy they also grow a ton of coffee um the book asked what happens when you have people like that that are seemingly relatively powerless in the global economy interact with people from European conservation projects what are the power dynamics there and what are the multiple scales that are influencing the lives of these people living in very very rural places and much like Monique's work how are decisions that they're making on a daily basis that may or may not have a conservation effect may or may not have all kinds of effects how are those decision-making processes being affected by these multiple scales of influence a second book from modern production to imagine primitive grows out of the first work because a sitting on a mountain one day after the first book was out and it's hanging out with these two guys and I'm very good friends with and Jonah one of them said so how come you anthropologists never write about coffee and I thought well how come we never write about coffee and it's about the time that Eduardo is starting to work on a/c and so there's this kind of growing interest in anthropology and global commodity chains and the way that global commodity chains help us think about political ecology and so in it I use global commodity and the global commodity chain for coffee to think about how people in rural places in lots of parts of the world are connected to these much larger assistance of capital and how those systems are very very old even if some of the older anthropologists like Rappaport didn't pay attention to them another couple of things James carrier and I edited a book where we think about the political ecology of institutions and much more recently tropical forests of Oceania is another edited volume where I Colin Fowler and Josh Bell think about the way in which forests transitions are happening across Oceania and what the multi scale drivers for those transitions are but so what I want to talk about now is a kind of return for me to thinking about the very foundations of political ecology so remember we think back to wolf we think about thinking about local populations global political economy and so in everyday terms dispossession is often defined as putting people out of possession or occupancy or taking a wave something they don't own it's also commonly used to refer specifically to taking away people's land or homes embedded in this notion is a secondary aspect of the idea of dispossession for something to be taken away somebody has to do the taking this possession and accumulative strategies are always paired and they can really be understood if we go back to Marx's capital and Rosa Luxemburg the accumulation of capital so basically very end of Volume one of capital Marx does among the other many brilliant things that he does he talks about what he calls original accumulation he talks about what he thinks of as the very beginnings of capitalism and he says so you have these people they're peasants they're living in kind of a feudal world and slowly but surely they're getting push to the edges of their subsistence strategies and that's me interpreting Marx Marx doesn't say subsistence strategy but they're getting pushed to the edge of their ability to reproduce self in society through the strategies that they've always had and they're getting pushed by this new system that is capitalism he argues that people have to either be incorporated into that new system or that they're made to seem aberrant by the laws and processes that grow up along with the economic system if people are incorporated into the system they're dispossessed of their land their labor in their natural resources if they're not incorporated into the system a legal apparatus emerges to make them seem like they somehow are doing something wrong they somehow are lawless they're aberrant and their behavior are their ideas so Marx thinks that's the sort of seed for capitalism and he writes about the Scottish Highlands what Rosa Luxemburg does is say well yeah that's kind of right you made some mistakes one of the mistakes that you made and that's why people don't like Rosa Luxemburg but has she dared to critique Karl Marx but Rosa Luxemburg and she wrote that in 1915 um so what she says is Marx is right about a lot of things but one of the things he's not right about is that original accumulation only happened once she argues using data from imperialism that dispossession happens over and over and over again and that the only way that capitalism can grow is through the constant dispossession of people in new places by the system so resources flow back to the Metropole so again people are dispossessed of land labor and natural resources and in this process colonialism and imperialism can happen the key thing to think about for Rosa Luxemburg though is that she really focuses in on how accumulation and dispossession are ongoing so what political ecology does at its best is think about the way in which dispossession happens who is accumulating through that dispossession and what are the environmental effects of that accumulation and dispossession process so lately I have been kind of coming back to thinking about dispossession much of the work in political ecology which is wonderful wonderful wonderful focuses on material objects and material dispossession it focuses on land and degradation it focuses on forests and deforestation it focuses on water rights and things like that and my work I've been thinking lately I've been thinking lately about non material forms of dispossession that we might see along with material forms of dispossession and I have a new book this possession in the environment rhetoric and ideology in Papua New Guinea comes out on September the second and one of the things that I've been thinking about in that work is the way in which people are dispossessed of sovereignty and so I'll kind of take a second to read this long quote sovereignty refers to the ability to control and have the autonomy over one's life and whatever manifestation the Society of which a person is part articulates what the fundamental parts of life are while sovereignty is often taken to mean jurisdiction rule power and domination as these forces are tied to the state nation or governing body following contemporary scholars of indigenous worlds I take an expanded view of sovereignty when it comes to Papua New Guinea so one of the things I've been trying to do is think about the way our indigenous colleagues in anthropology sociology geography and law are actually rethinking sovereignty so moving away from just thinking about sovereignty in terms of the state our sovereignty in terms of land and thinking about other things that people have sovereignty over so for instance intellectual sovereignty sovereignty over the materials that we produce intellectually representational sovereignty sovereignty over the images of people that are produced by others and rhetorical sovereignty the sovereignty over thinking and saying and doing things that produce a power knowledge complex of representation about you and yourself and your place and not having Outsiders do it and so these ideas of sovereignty I've been playing with to think about the way in which the material forms of dispossession that we're getting really good at understanding and political ecology are not allowing us to understand other kinds of non material dis possessions and I use sovereignty as my object the last thing I'll say is in terms of sovereignty is that for a long time now I'm in working with this NGO that I co-founded with some colleagues from Papua New Guinean a couple of American colleagues the Papa New Guinea Institute of biological research and really our mandate is to repatriate scientific sovereignty to Papua New Guineans one of the things that is very different about Papua New Guinea and lots of other places in the world is there's not been a lot of training of national scientists in Papua New Guinea there's not been a lot of science done by Papua New Guineans that's changing I was speaking to someone earlier about medical research in Papua New Guinea that's very very very much done by pop New Guineans but the kind of work that we all do in this room that has not been done by Papua New Guineans historically and one of my arguments in my book and one of the sort of things behind the founding of PNG IBR is that one of the reasons that conservation efforts have not been successful in Papua New Guinea is because all of the work has been done by outsiders and there's been very little local work done and that local work gives a different lens to solutions and to framing problems and so PNG IBR what we've done is Korea a training program where young Papua New Guineans the kind of best and brightest people that are at University in Papua New Guinea can apply to come to our campus and Goroka which is in the highlands and when they come with us they write a senior thesis or a sorry they write a honours thesis at the University of Papua New Guinea and that gets them ready to compete internationally for masters and PhD programs and our the ideology behind our organization is that this is a form of repatriation of sovereignty and it's also for me a crucial part of political ecology because it really does kind of think about what are the institutional changes that need to be made in Papua New Guinea to make conservation work and we think this is one of them thank you you

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Foucault: global capitalism makes you wear a dress. Why do the social sciences get to much mileage out of that fraud?

  2. I hit a wall getting my master thesis started. I'd lost hope in anthropology as a discipline. You made my day! Now I am certain I have the tools and motivation to go on! Thank you so much for your excellent presentation!

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