Table of Contents

The International Handbook of Political Ecology

The International Handbook of Political Ecology

Edited by Raymond L. Bryant

The International Handbook features chapters by leading scholars from around the world in a unique collection exploring the multi-disciplinary field of political ecology. This landmark volume canvasses key developments, topics, issues, debates and concepts showcasing how political ecologists today address pressing social and environmental concerns. Introductory chapters provide an overview of political ecology and the Handbook. Remaining chapters examine five broad themes: issues and approaches; governance and power; knowledge and discourse; method and scale; connections and transformations. Across diverse topics and perspectives, these chapters amount to a wide-ranging survey of current research, making the International Handbook an indispensable reference for scholars and students in political ecology.

Chapter 12: Political forests

Peter Vandergeest and Nancy Lee Peluso

Subjects: environment, environmental politics and policy, environmental sociology, geography, human geography, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


In this chapter we explain the importance of the concept of political forest for understanding the history and social aspects of forestry in keeping with a political-ecology perspective. Using Southeast Asian forestry to illustrate the main points, we define political forests as both political land-use zones meant to remain in permanent forest and as species defined as forest. We understand contemporary political forests as the outcome of four intertwined forestry ‘moments’: colonial forestry, national forestry (or ‘forestry for development’), war forestry and most recently ‘non-state’ forestry. Although we label the last moment ‘non-state’ as a way of talking about the growing participation of non-state actors such as conservation organizations, NGOs, certification bodies and private companies in the demarcation and management of forests, we demonstrate in this chapter that non-state forests are only partially non-state; indeed, they are in practice based on the other three moments that preceded them historically. Political forests do not map precisely on to ‘forest cover’, and are thus distinct from both ‘common-sense’ understandings of forest as natural formations characterized by trees and associated species and from more formal FAO-type forest classifications based on assessment of vegetation cover. The creation of political forests has always involved (at least in principle) the displacement of resident peoples, and has worked to eliminate jungles by turning them into distinct political forests on the one hand, and land permanently converted to agriculture or other uses on the other. The making of political forests has often involved various kinds of coercion and violence, from the violence of forced displacement to the ways that wars, insurgencies and other forms of political violence impact these targeted areas.

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