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Edited by James Meadowcroft, David Banister, Erling Holden, Oluf Langhelle, Kristin Linnerud and Geoffrey Gilpin

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Sanghun Lee

This chapter contributes to discussion in political ecology on the purported greening of the state by assessing the case of the Green Growth Strategy of South Korea––a country whose green record has been little explored in this research field (at least in English) and yet one whose distinctive economic status (once ‘developing’, now ‘developed’) invites wider attention. I thus critically examine this Strategy, exploring its discursive as well as material tensions and ambiguities as a major national initiative of an economically advanced country that purports to take seriously such epoch-defining issues as climate change and peak oil. I first draw together theoretical insights from work on environmental fixes, decoupling growth and neo-developmentalism as part of a consideration of the purported greening of the state, before turning to the analysis of the South Korean Green Growth Strategy. In that analysis, I suggest that it indeed displays all the hallmarks of ecological modernization, even as it raises troubling political, economic and ecological issues that will shape the country’s future. The conclusion is that the Green Growth Strategy is at best an example of very shallow greening, and at worst a smokescreen for a business-as-usual approach centered on a construction-oriented state. Hence political ecologists need to continuously monitor and critique ongoing permutations in the accumulation strategies of capitalism, being particularly alert to the environmental fixes that are deployed both to try to avert accumulation crises and to discursively colonize the terrain of green thought.

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Seungho Lee

Much research in political ecology has tended to focus on critique rather than solutions and local-scale rather than regional or global-scale analysis. This has meant that the research field has only partly addressed the sorts of issues that a truly global political ecology must do. To this end, this chapter examines hydropower development using the Mekong River Basin as a regional case study of inter-state dynamics. It also introduces a benefit-sharing analytical framework to gauge how far and in what ways multiple benefits inform such behavior and represent a positive socio-economic outcome. The chapter argues that the Mekong case does in fact illustrate a more complex scenario than is often recognized in the literature in that some benefits do accrue to all states, and are diffused to a greater or lesser extent to the wider population in riparian countries. However, it also has to be acknowledged that there are clear social and economic costs to such hydropower development, with unequal power relations shaping who benefits most, where and when (and who pays the costs). A political ecology of benefit sharing thus needs to address all these facets of the development process.

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Amity Doolittle

Methodological pluralism, or the flexibility to criss-cross traditional disciplinary boundaries in choosing the appropriate methods for the nature of the research question, is a critical element of political ecology. While rarely highlighted, this characteristic is a powerful component of the field’s appeal, liberating researchers from the constraints of disciplinary-bound thinking. The methodological choices political ecologists make are briefly considered, framing such choices in terms of qualitative, quantitative and participatory methods. Various considerations—from philosophical to practical—that adhere to various methods are discussed. The value of methodological pluralism is shown though a brief a case study of the environmental history and contemporary environmental conflicts in a small city in the northeast USA—New Haven, Connecticut. This case study demonstrates how divergent types of data can be used to support each other, to enrich our understanding with new perspectives and to provide a more complete view of the problem. Weaving together empirical data collected from multiple methods allows political ecologists to embrace complexity and uncertainty in their analyses; it is the antithesis of scholarship that seeks to generalize through ecological laws or models of human behavior.

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Maano Ramutsindela and Christine Noe

Scholarly discussions on ecological scales have yet to fully appreciate bordering processes as an important issue in the creation of conservation spaces and the production of scales. In this chapter we attempt to overcome this weakness by bringing literature on scale into conversation with bordering processes in the context of nature conservation. We suggest that bordering is useful for scalar analyses, and also holds promise for political ecology because nature conservation is essentially a bordering process. Using the notion of scalar thickening, we demonstrate how a certain scale plays a significant role within a dense network of scales in achieving a clearly defined goal. We also pay particular attention to ecological scaling in bordered wildlife management areas and transfrontier conservation areas to illustrate how scalar and border narratives are brought together to promote conservation logics. Our main conclusions are that notions and discourses of borders and scales used in and for conservation projects are mutually reinforcing, and that bordering is highly involved in nature conservation where it effectively creates conditions for the emergence of new spaces by displacing existing (i.e. political) borders. Literature on scale stands to benefit from incorporating the grammar and conceptions of borders that are pertinent to conservation thinking and practices as these have a direct bearing on scale-producing processes. The political ecology of scale and the political ecology of bordering are inseparable in thought and practice, and together they profoundly shape forms of power over natural resources.

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Denis Gautier and Baptiste Hautdidier

With regard to the development of a broadly understood political ecology, francophone and Anglo-American intellectual traditions have had uneven, asymmetrical and under-documented influences. Exploring these influences, this chapter rejects the temptation of reducing French political ecology to a mere intellectual script for France’s green movement, unconnected to francophone academia. With a specific focus on French geography, it is fair to say that this discipline did not provide in France the kind of disciplinary anchor that it afforded Anglo-American counterparts. And in stark contrast with the influential work of the anthropologists Meillassoux and Terray, French geographers for a long time in the twentieth century lacked intellectual traction outside the francophone world, leading in the late 1970s to mutual divergence and indifference between Anglo-American radical geography and its French Marxist equivalent. Nonetheless, French geography has made internationally significant if often overlooked scholarly contributions and debates. The chapter notably highlights this point in relation to the rich body of work of Pierre Gourou. As a pivotal figure in the elaboration of French tropical geography, he left an important and diverse intellectual legacy, ranging from the development-oriented terroir school to more critical tiers-mondistes scholars. As compared with the more radical stance of René Dumont (an agronomist and pioneering green politician), the influence of Gourou’s thought is somewhat paradoxical in that it promoted the virtues of fieldwork-based insights (like Anglo-American political ecology), even as it downplayed the role of political analysis in such research (unlike Anglo-American political ecology). Yet much has changed in France since the start of the twenty-first century, with recent work more inclined than before to seek connections, commonalities and possible synergies between French and Anglo-American political ecology.

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Lucy Jarosz

This chapter explores the political ecology of hunger discourses. Political ecology has a vital role to play in promoting critical understanding and critically informed praxis concerning hunger by way of four major contributions. First, it challenges neo-Malthusian and other mainstream approaches to defining world hunger. Second, political ecology constructs a history of the global development of food systems that increase poverty and ecological degradation in geographically and socially uneven ways. Third, it develops an urban political ecology addressing social inequality and racism around the emerging topics of urban agriculture and food. And finally, political ecology assesses the discursive relations of food, hunger, consumption and embodiment. Political ecology demonstrates that the eradication of hunger is a political and economic process tied to the counter-narratives of food sovereignty and food justice, which are dedicated to restructuring and transforming food systems across the geographic scale.

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Amitangshu Acharya

Emergence of a water-produced landscape or ‘waterscape’ has proved to be an invaluable unit of analysis to elaborate the political ecology of water. Produced through complex interactions between water and power, a waterscape is a ‘politicized environment’ that rejects ‘apolitical’ ecologies that obscure conflicts over meaning and practice. Political ecology of water has been enriched by sophisticated analyses of water-power dynamics, unruly materiality and emancipatory projects, while the concept of a waterscape has brought to the foreground the thick network of actors and interests that constitute it. This chapter advocates a further disciplinary transgression in the research field via a cultural turn. Given that control over water can be a means of cultural conquest, and not simply a way to assert political-economic power over a resource, it is argued that political ecologists will need to widen their unit of analysis to permit greater conceptual elaboration and empirical depth. This chapter discusses how key cultural factors, notably symbolism, consumption, belonging and landscape, intersect with politics to produce waterscapes, and draws on diverse Indian examples by way of illustration. In the process, the case for a more culturally oriented political ecology of water is made.

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Erik Swyngedouw

Despite heterogeneous epistemological perspectives ranging from Marxism to post-structuralism and beyond, political ecologists share the view not only that the ‘political’ matters in grasping and influencing trajectories of socio-ecological change and transformation, but also that ‘physical’ and ‘biological’ matter politically. This is felt to be particularly acute in an academic and policy environment that tends to ignore or disavow the political conditioning of physical processes. Nonetheless, relatively little attention has been paid to what precisely constitutes the ‘political’ in political ecology, and how it ought to be understood and rendered operational. In this chapter, I argue that there is an urgent need for political ecology to consider the ‘political’ more thoroughly in light of the twin forces of the de-politicization of environmental matters on the one hand and deepening understanding that socio-political processes co-shape geological and ecological processes on the other. I explore the political nature of the environmental conditions we are in, discuss the contours of the process of de-politicization in its current post-politicizing form and attempt to re-center political thought and practices at the heart of political ecology. I propose a series of theoretical tools as well as philosophical debates that political ecology must engage with in order to develop a better grasp of these epoch-making changes.

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C. Anne Claus, Sarah Osterhoudt, Lauren Baker, Luisa Cortesi, Chris Hebdon and Amy Zhang

In this chapter we examine the contributions that the field of political ecology––with its focus on the mutually constitutive relationships between environments, cultures, politics and power––has made, and can continue to make, to a more nuanced understanding of disasters. Disaster research also contributes to political ecology insofar as it illuminates the complexity of relationships between environments and societies over space and time. Drawing from ethnographic examples and historical analysis, we situate epistemologies of disasters within broader analyses of scale-making, nature–culture dichotomies, the classification of disasters as ‘natural’ or ‘social’, the interpretive dimensions of identity and the construction of self. The very definition of a situation as ‘disastrous’ or not varies with one’s political resources. Overall, we argue that political ecology frameworks pose new questions about the operation of power and politics in contexts of disasters, resulting in enriched understandings of the social experience of disasters. Ethnographic examples, such as those presented in this chapter, illustrate the rich promise of continued work at the confluence of the fields of political ecology and disaster studies.