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Political ecology is the study of how political, economic, and social factors affect environmental issues. The majority of studies analyze the influence that society, state, corporate, and transnational powers have on environmental problems and influencing environmental policy. There are many approaches to these issues, and some scholars give weight to the role that access to natural resources plays in structuring political and economic life: particularly how land degradation, 'fortress'-style wildlife conservation, or deforestation influences a range of social relations and politics. More subtle variants of political ecology include the influence of non-human actors in environmental governance and decision-making, accounting for what might be called nature's agency.
For example, the poverty experienced by Duncan herders in East Africa has been worsened by the establishment of National Parks that exclude them from traditional grazing routes: therefore international wildlife policies have a local social impact, not just an environmental one.
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
Some political ecology utilizes the framework of "political economy" to analyze environmental issues. The most famous and widely read account in this vein was The Political Economy of Soil Erosion by Piers Blaikie (Methuen, 1985), which traced land degradation in Africa to colonial policies of land appropriation, rather than to over-exploitation by African farmers. A special issue of Geoforum, 2008, is dedicated to the importance of this book and its author.
Origin and influences
The origins of the term are found in the early work of the anthropologists John W. Cole and Eric R. Wolf (The Hidden Frontier: Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley, 1974), and in certain other writers like HM Enzensberger (A Critique of Political Ecology, New Left Review I/84, 1974), and Land Degradation and Society (Blaikie and Brookfield, 1987) from the 1970s and 1980s. The majority of scholars of political ecology are drawn from the academic disciplines of anthropology, geography and political science. Some writers include Piers Blaikie (UEA), Michael Watts (Berkeley), Dianne Rocheleau (Clark U.), Paul Robbins (Arizona, author of Political Ecology: a critical introduction, Blackwell, 2004), Tom Bassett (Illinois) and Enrique Leff, several of whom have produced articles and textbooks summarizing the field and its contributions. Some of their work builds upon cultural ecology, a form of analysis that showed how culture depends upon, and is influenced by, the material conditions of society, particularly how food and other basic resources are obtained. There are also several nonprofits and thinktanks using a political ecology approach, notably the Center for Political Ecology in California, which publishes the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism. Other scholars apply their own variants of the term, for example the French Green politician and academic Alain Lipietz (see his Green Hopes. The Future of Political Ecology, 1993).
- Alain Lipietz
- List of ecology topics
- Human behavioral ecology
- Inclusive Democracy
- Ecological crisis
- Social ecology
- Journal of Political Ecology: Case Studies in History and Society (free online).
- Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers. Archive of newsletters, officers, award and honor recipients, as well as other resources associated with this community of scholars.
- Moustakas, A. & I. Karakassis. How diverse is aquatic biodiversity research?, Aquatic Ecology, 39, 367-375.
- Political Ecology. E-journal by Adam Cherson, MPA-JD.