Seminar in Political Ecology

Offered at the University of California, Riverside, Spring 2009

The field of political ecology has emerged in geography and anthropology since the 1980s from the intersection of political economy and cultural ecology, but defies characterization in terms of a single discipline or theoretical paradigm (cf. Robbins 2004: 6-7 for a survey of attempts to define political ecology). This course does not attempt a survey or a history of the field. Rather, it focuses on works that exemplify a range of contemporary approaches to, and questions in, political ecology (including works by authors who might not identify themselves as doing political ecology).

While generally remaining grounded in the intersection of political economy and cultural ecology, recent scholarship in political ecology has drawn upon a range of fields -- many of them interdisciplinary themselves: environmental history, phenomenology, postcolonial and poststructuralist theory, governmentality studies, science and technology studies, and neo-institutional economics, among others. The range of comparative, theoretical and methodological issues addressed includes questions about the relations between capital, nature and culture; states, non-governmental organizations and communities; gender, race and nature; space, place and landscape; scale, units of analysis, and objects of explanation; conservation, environmentalism and subject formation; population, commoditization and the use of land and natural resources; and knowledge, narrative and their relation to policy.

By considering political ecology in relation to contemporary anthropology, the course also examines issues related to the complex self-examination the discipline has undertaken in recent decades: the relationship between author, audience and subjects in ethnographic writing; the possibilities and shortcomings of multi-sited ethnography; the roles of anthropologists in environmental policy and advocacy; and the meaning of the term "political" in "political ecology" and its relation to recent calls for a "public anthropology."