Chapter 35: The political ecology of weeds: a scalar approach to landscape transformations
How do plants that move and spread across landscapes become branded as weeds and thereby objects of contention and control? We outline a political ecology approach that builds on a Lefebvrian understanding of the production of space, identifying three scalar moments that make plants into ‘weeds’ in different spatial contexts and landscapes. The three moments are: the operational scale, which relates to empirical phenomena in nature and society; the observational scale, which defines formal concepts of these phenomena and their implicit or explicit ‘biopower’ across institutional and spatial categories; and the interpretive scale, which is communicated through stories and actions expressing human feelings or concerns regarding the phenomena and processes of socio-spatial change. Together, these three scalar moments interact to produce a political ecology of landscape transformation, where biophysical and socio-cultural processes of daily life encounter formal categories and modes of control as well as emotive and normative expectations in shaping landscapes. Using three exemplar ‘weeds’ – acacia, lantana and ambrosia – our political ecology approach to landscape transformations shows that weeds do not act alone and that invasives are not inherently bad organisms. Humans and weeds go together; plants take advantage of spaces and opportunities that we create. Human desires for preserving certain social values in landscapes in contradiction to actual transformations is often at the heart of definitions of and conflicts over weeds or invasives.
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