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Political Ecology: Feminism and Postcolonial Struggles
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Political Ecology: Feminism and Postcolonial Struggles

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  1. Political Ecology: Feminism and Postcolonial Struggles Erika Bjureby Centrum för Miljö- och Utvecklingsstudier

  2. Lecture outline • Political Ecology- definition • An emerging research field • A politicised environment • Scale and power • Postcolonial struggles • Access, livelihoods and enclosure • Feminist political ecology • Conclusion

  3. What is Political Ecology? “Political ecology examines the political dynamics surrounding the material and discursive struggles over the environment in the ‘third world’” (Bryant 1998) “The phrase ‘political ecology’ combines the concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy. Together this encompasses the constantly shifting dialect between society and land-based resources, and also within classes and groups within society itself” (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987:17) (Classic description) • The role of unequal power relations in constituting a politicised environment is a central theme

  4. An emerging research field • The environment is focus of scholarly, policy-making and public concern  social and physical dimensions of environmental change • The promotion of ‘sustainable development’ in the 1980s  integrate the environmental conservation with economic development (Redclift 1987) • Yet, these initiatives have failed to alter the policies and practices that are linked to various environmental problems  ‘business-as-usual’ approach

  5. Calls for a detailed understanding of the political and economic obstacles to meaningful change  political ecology • Pressing need for an analytical approach integrating environmental and political understanding of environmental problems • Theoretical influences: Neo-Marxism 1970s, early 1980s; Post-Marxist mixture of social movement theory, neo-Weberianism, feminist, poststructuralist, postcolonial studies in the late 1980s and 1990s

  6. The ‘radical’ perspective (grounded in neo-Marxist and post-Marxist theories) • The only way to solve the environmental crises is to change the relationship upon which the present system is based- First/Third Worlds, rich/poor or rulers/ruled • Emphasis on the state’s role in environmental-destructive activities, often related to those of capitalist enterprise • Sources of environmental problems are complex and deep-rooted so as to belie any ‘technical’- policy solution is problematic

  7. Political ecologists have yet to elaborate the contours of an alternative political economy • The importance of putting politics first! Appreciate the ways in which the status quo is an outcome of political interests and struggles → It is a ’politicised environment’ in which power relations play a central role

  8. A politicised environment • Environmental problems cannot be understood in isolation from the economic and political contexts within which they are created • To describe environmental problems is to consider the political and economic processes that generate those problems • Putting politics first: ”All ecological projects (and arguments) are simultaneously political-economic projects (and arguments) and vice versa” (Harvey 1993)

  9. Mainstream understanding of environmental change  no reference to political and economic processes • Population growth and intensifying per capita human impact on the environment (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1990) • Emphasis on ‘technical’ dimensions as a part of managerial ‘problem-solving approach • Yet, an emphasis on technical solutions leads often to policy-failure and unwillingness to make explicit changes to the political and economic system

  10. In contrast, political ecologists start from the premise that environmental change is not a neutral process amenable to technical management • It has political sources, conditions and ramifications that impinge on existing socio-economic inequalities and political processes (Bryant 1992) • Different actors contribute to, are affected by, or seek to resolve environmental problems at different scales

  11. Distribution of the costs and benefits associated with environmental problems at different scales • The role of different actors in solving environmental problems at a local, regional or global scale • The role of grassroots actors and NGOs in the evolution of environmental problems at various scales

  12. Power • Unequal power relations between actors are key factor in understanding patterns of human-environment interaction and associated environmental problems • What are the various forms and ways in which one actors seeks to exert control over the environment over other actors? • How do power relations manifest themselves in terms of the physical environment? • Why are weaker actors able to resist their more powerful counterparts?

  13. Postcolonial struggles

  14. Access, livelihoods and enclosure • The environment in the ‘Third World’ is largely a livelihood issue  central issue in understanding the political implications of environmental change • Link environmental change and grassroots livelihoods  survival is the primary concern, dependency on environmental resources • It is in the interest of poor grassroots actors to manage environment in a sustainable manner

  15. Does the ‘Third World’s’ environmental crises reflect the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (Hardin 1967) or the ‘Tragedy of enclosure’ (Ecologist 1983) • States, acting in conjunction with businesses, deny access to commons resources • Power over local environmental resources shifted from grassroots actors to states, businesses • Further marginalisation of poor grassroots actors  access to common resources were denied, forced to work in ecologically marginal lands elsewhere, displacement

  16. Feminist political ecology • Ecofeminist • Feminist environmentalist • Feminist socialist • Feminist poststructuralist, and • Environmentalist

  17. Ecofeminist… • Close connection btw women and nature based on a shared history of oppression by patriarchal institutions and dominant Western culture • Some attribute this connection to intrinsic biological attributes (an essentialist connection) • Others see the women/nature link as a social construct to be embraced and fostererd (Shiva 1989; Shiva and Mies 1994)

  18. Feminist environmentalists… • Gendered interests in particular resources and ecological processes on the basis of materially distinct daily work and responsibilities (Agarwal 1991) • Social feminists… • Incorporation of gender into the political economy, women’s and men’s role in the economic system (production/reproduction)

  19. Feminist poststructuralists… • Gendered situated knowledges are shaped by many dimensions of identity and difference, incl. race, class, ethnicity, age etc. (Harraway 1991). Critique of science and development. • Environmentalists… • Women as partners and participants in environmental protection and conservation

  20. Feminist political ecology • Concern of political ecology that emphasises decision-making processes and the social, political and economic contexts that shapes environmental politics and policies • Political ecology’s strong focus on access to and control over resources on the basis of class and ethnicity (Peet and Watts 1993) • Feminist political ecology – gender is critical in shaping resource access and control , interacting with class, race, culture and ethnicity to shape the processes of ecological change

  21. Women have borne a disproportionate share of the costs associated with the marginalisation of poor grassroots actors • Most poor women in the ‘Third World’ have a closer relationship than poor men with the environment (Shiva 1988; Agrawal 1992) • Essentialist argument • Materialist viewpoints

  22. Emphasise the plight of women whose livelihood strategies often rely on the exploitation of resources to provide food, fodder and fuel for their families • Hard hit by the combined effects of enclosure of the commons and associated environmental degradation

  23. Mukucham Community Map

  24. Shinkiatam Community Map

  25. Conclusion • The ability to control or resist other actors are never permanent of fixed but is always in a flux • Thus, power influences the topography of a politicised environment- the position of actors can never be adduced exclusively from material considerations • To appreciate the workings of a politicised environment is to appreciate the complex ways in which actors interact at the material and discursive levels over environmental questions