Chapter 1: Political ecology: handbook topics and themes
The International Handbook unites many of the world’s leading scholars of political ecology, while also introducing new and less heard voices from that community. This chapter describes the topics and themes covered. The handbook is divided into six parts: an introductory overview; issues and approaches; governance and power; knowledge and discourse; method and scale; and connections and transformations. Part I suggests that this collection of chapters underscores the international character of political ecology both in terms of topics addressed and membership in this scholarly community, the interdisciplinary and multi-scalar dimensions, as well as its flexible and expansive understanding of what constitutes the field itself. Part II builds on this discussion by assessing some of the broad key approaches and issues that have animated the research field of political ecology. Given the international orientation and ethos of this book, that assessment is notably concerned with how the field has come to be defined over the years in relation to sometimes quite distinctive academic cultures shaped by different intellectual and language contexts. Part III focuses on how governance and power inform political ecology dynamics. That focus has been a key thematic referent over the years as different generations of scholars, hailing from different disciplines and often academic cultures, with different geographical and topical foci, as well as different theoretical influences and concerns, have nonetheless shared an abiding interest in how human–environmental relations are governed, often quite unequally in relation to power. Part IV examines the role of knowledge and discourse in the articulation of political ecology relations. Often associated with the post-structural turn in the research field, notably since the 1990s, attention to the world of ideas, narratives, stories and discourses opened up a new thematic array of topics attracting in turn a fresh wave of adherents. Theoretically linked insights followed as scholars found new ways in which to critically understand trends and battles in environment and development around the world. Part V helps us to understand political ecology from a different angle, in that it explores how issues of method and scale inform praxis in the research field. In general, the elaboration of political ecology as an interdisciplinary and international enterprise has meant that the flexibility encountered in the articulation of research approaches, themes and topics discussed above is mirrored in the array of understandings and uses made of both method and scale in the pursuit of specific research projects. Part VI lastly considers some of the connections and transformations that are shaping or are likely to shape how political ecology develops in the years ahead. Standing back from the proliferation of specific topics that seem set to colonize just about every element of the human–environment relationship imaginable, what are some of the broader areas for growth, as well as issues to be confronted in terms of a political ecology understood both as an international community of scholars and as a set of flexibly linked research agendas?