Join the Feminist Scholars’ Summer Writing Retreat, 17-23 August 2019

From 17 – 23 August 2019, the Italian based international community group Punti de Vista is hosting a feminist scholars’ summer writing retreat in the Convento di Santa Maria del Giglio in Bolsena Italy.

The writing retreat on feminist methodologies provides an opportunity to discuss together multiple methodological, theoretical and epistemological dilemmas as feminists that we take into account during our research.

It will be facilitated by Jacquie Gaybor and Constance Dupuis with Wendy Harcourt.

For more information, see the Summer writing retreat pdf

Introducing WEGO-ITN

Image by Emma Claire Sardoni

Well-being, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity – Innovative Training Network

1 January 2018 to 31 January 2022

How is gender linked to environmental problems and developmental issues? How are feminist political ecologists working with local communities around the world? How can their activities inform sustainable development policy debates?

With funding by the European Union the Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska – Curie WEGO network made up of 18 institutions will host 15 Ph.D researchers creating the first European ITN on Feminist Political Ecology (FPE).

As the first international feminist political ecology research network of its kind, WEGO-ITN aspires to tackle socio-ecological challenges linked to policy agendas. This innovative and path-breaking project will help local communities to build resilient, equitable and sustainable futures. The goal of WEGO-ITN is to provide research that will demonstrate to policy makers how communities actively sustain and care for their environment and community well-being. Ultimately, WEGO will collectively provide important guides to strategies of resilience and sustainability that are required for meeting the SDGs.

The WEGO-ITN is made up of scholar-activists working on feminist political ecology from ten institutions in five European Union countries: Germany, Italy, Norway, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom and eight institutions from seven countries for training and secondments: Australia, India, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, Uruguay and USA.

On March 8th 2018 students, staff and policy makers from around the Netherlands joined international guests from Uruguay, Norway, UK, USA, Germany, France, Italy and Australia in launching this innovative research project.

WEGO Coordinator Wendy Harcourt reflects on her time at the Oslo POLLEN Conference, June 2018

POLLEN conference photoAt POLLEN it was great to meet up with members of the WEGO-ITN team including Becky, Andrea and Lyla and PhD Ilena who will be joining us in September (at Humboldt). There were other feminist political ecologists there who we met in corridors and in sessions which made it a very good platform for issues of gender and race to come to the fore, especially  in dialogue with some of the white male political ecologists who rarely consider gender and race. We had one full day devoted to FPE  ‘Nurturing “Life-in-Common”: Affective, Emotional and Embodied Practices of/for Abundance Beyond Sustainability’ among a sea of other workshops and sessions that was a wonderful breathing space.

Another highlight for me was meeting with the ITN Entitle people and discussing how we can link our website to their Blog – https://entitleblog.org/

Summary of presentations

I made three presentations – see the summaries of what I said and – do note the post scripts!

Nurturing “Life-in-Common”: Affective, Emotional and Embodied Practices of/for Abundance Beyond Sustainability II,

Panels organised by Pamela Ngwenya (German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture), Andrea Nightingale (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Neera Singh, (University of Toronto).

My  paper at the second session of this day-long FPE feast was entitled ‘Differential Belongs:  Caring for Country and Earthothers’ responded to the call by Arturo Escobar to ‘reappropriate, reconstruct and reinvent our personal and political lifeworlds’ in an exploration of the possibilities for more ethical economic and ecological relationships around care, taking my cue from the work of JK Gibson Graham on feminist imaginaries. The paper presented post-development and post-capitalist readings of the economy and environment as part of an on-going quest to include ‘earthothers’ in ecological theory and practice of care. I looked at how natureculture that shapes her historical life-world as a white Australian and queries traditional white settler narratives of conquest and erasure. My somewhat quirky entry point was white settler care for the Begonia flower in Western Victoria alongside the violence and erasure of the Wathaurong peoples who lived and care for Country. My interest was into how to transform and build on conflicting stories of transpecies care in the face of deep cultural erasures, racial violence, environmental destruction and urban development. The story is linked to the perseverance of communities, commons, and the struggles for their defense and reconstitution  and the struggle to maintain multiple worlds –the pluriverse—a world where many worlds fit. The paper used epistemologies of listening and decolonising methodologies in order to expose the uneven flows of power and privilege and to reach across colonial violence and racism to transracial and interspecies interactions linking communities and commons.

PS:The paper is about my struggles to come to terms with transspecies care in the midst of white settler violence from my position of whiteness and struggle for justice. It was wonderful that one young woman came up to me and gave me this song to listen too as she felt that spoke to my paper. My honesty and engagement with difficult issues was risky but important for me to speak to in that safe space. Listen to the song – it continues to enchant me: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=xavier+rudd+spirit+bird

Roundtable on Alternatives to Development: Towards the Pluriverse’

organised by Ashish Kothari, Scholar Activist (India)

At the Roundtable, I presented how Body Politics has been an important political project among feminist and queer activists transnationally since the 1980s. Within body politics, bodies are considered sites of cultural and political resistance to the dominant understanding of the ‘normal’ body as white, male, western and heterosexual from which all ‘other’ forms of bodies differ. Body politics, then, ranges from liberal economic justice demands for fairer treatment of marginal workers such as sex workers to more radical social justice demands for the integrity and right for all peoples’ sexual orientation. For example, body politics was a disruptive and critical force in queer and feminist interventions in the 1990s United Nations global conferences on human rights (1993) population (1994) and women (1995). Activists working in these different UN conferences brought to international attention issues such as domestic violence, rape as a weapon of war, sexual and reproductive rights of women, and the rights of indigenous, homosexuals and transgender people. Their campaigns spoke out not only against gender inequalities but also against racism, ageism and heterosexual norms. In this way, body politics has linked different forms of bodily oppression with radical forms of democracy. I argued that body politics is not only about struggles to end oppression but also about ways to reimagine and remake the world. This includes understandings of sexuality, diversity and well-being from the perspective of the marginalised ‘other.’

PS: Speaking with Ashish Kothari, Joan Martin Alier and other degrowth people was good for our WEGO positioning and future work! After I spoke about body politics a young woman came up and told me about the Vigeland sculpture park where the statues are that I used for the cover my body politics book – it was  just up the road – she didn’t know I used them for the cover – but my talk spoke again to her about them – and I did go and see them – http://www.vigeland.museum.no/en/vigeland-park.

Roundtable on ‘Speaking Power to Post-Truth: Critical Political Ecology and the New Authoritarianism’

organised by Ben Neimark and John Childs (‌Lancaster University)

As one of the authors of a recent article on ‘Speaking Power to ‘Post-Truth’: Critical Political Ecology and the New Authoritarianism’I spoke to the problems of challenging hegemonic ‘scientific’ narratives about environmental problems and how to critically engage with narratives of environmental change while simultaneously confronting the ‘populist’ promotion of ‘alternative facts’? From a feminist political ecology perspective I argued for a strategy of ‘speaking power to post-truth’, which would enable two things. First, it allows political ecology to come to terms with an ‘internal’ paradox of how to deal with those seeking to obfuscate or deny environmental degradation and social injustice, in relation to its own historical critique of the privileged role of Western science and expert knowledge in determining dominant forms of environmental governance. I asked how to enable political ecology to not only confront contemporary authoritarianism but to make political ecology more relevant, accessible and engaging to the marginalized populations most likely to suffer from the proliferation of post-truth politics, most notably around the denial of climate change and its impacts.

PS: This was more of a soap box affair as we each had two minutes to speak – but very engaging with many people attending and a lot of interesting dialogue, I learnt a lot from my group who were young people from Turkey, Australia, US, India and UK.

Rebecca Elmhurst presented two papers at POLLEN.

Rebecca Elmhirst (in panel on Political ecologies of Forestry and Injustice, chaired by Professor Paul Robbins) Social Justice in the Zero Deforestation Movement in Indonesia: the Gendered Limits of a ‘Green’ Oil Palm Economy.
Rice farmers in Kalimantan photo
Dayak woman rice farmer in an area of East Kalimantan where oil palm is displacing food cropping. Photo by Rebecca Elmhirst.

This paper presented an analysis of the gendered impacts of oil palm investment in Indonesia as a ‘green growth strategy’, seen through the lens of feminist political ecology. It offered a reflection of the knowledge politics inherent in engaging simultaneously with the embodied and highly exclusionary experiences of people and communities in oil palm contexts, and with policy discourses with a seemingly progressive agenda of rescaling oil palm investment to the smallholder rather than the large scale corporation. Detailed empirical work has provided a set of evidence-based conclusions about socially differentiated and unjust experiences around land acquisition and incorporation into oil palm value chains that connect with the policy narratives of international environment and social justice NGOs. However, the paper also offered some more radical conclusions developed from taking a critical feminist political ecology approach. The paper argued that there is some danger that when a complex and intersectional analysis is brought into conversation with policy agendas, it is easy to slide into narratives that legitimate green neoliberal development agendas, in part because liberal feminist ‘women in development’ ideas run deep in gender mainstreaming work. It also suggested that a focus on gendered resource access issues in the context of the ‘virtuous smallholder’ policy narrative invites neoliberal solutions that rescale ecological responsibility around oil palm development to the smallholder, male or female. A related point is whether it is possible to address oil palm-led development hegemony where it is difficult for people to imagine alternatives. In such a context, the showcasing of ‘successful’ smallholder oil palm investors blunts critique as dissenters lose the right to be an obstacle to oil palm-led ‘development progress’.

Rebecca also presented a paper written collaboratively with Carl Middleton from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, which was on their work on “Living with Floods in a Mobile Southeast Asia” in the panel on political ecology, water, and the hydrosocial cycle. This paper sets out a ‘mobile political ecology’ framework to look at how migration and everyday mobilities form part of the social-ecological production of vulnerability and capability in the context of flooding. It draws lessons from comparisons between eight empirical case studies undertaken in Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Each country case study applied a “progressive contextualization” methodology that disentangles and traces the specific conjuncture of particular flood types (as a specific techno-socio-natural assemblage), and the dynamic interplay between migration and gendered socio-spatial justice and entitlements to material and political resources. Whilst a political ecology approach challenges simplistic environmental ‘triggers’, a focus on mobility challenges sedentarist and state-centric ontologies of flood hazards, which make no sense in a region that owes its history to mobilities of people, capital and nature.

Lyla Mehta presented two papers and also spoke at a roundtable/panel on publishing in political ecology and presented the new journal she is currently editing in Environment and Planning E, Nature and Space.

The Social Life of Mangroves:Enactment of Conservation in the Marketised Landscape of Kutch, India

Authors: Shilpi Srivastava  and Lyla Mehta

This paper unpacks the assemblages and relationships that accrue through the state and market led conservation programmes in Kutch, a district which has been at the forefront of accelerated industrialisation in Gujarat, India. In this paper, we argue that the interaction of industrialisation processes with conservation measures have encouraged both blue and green grabbing as afforestation and restoration practices have given way to new forms of accumulation. These processes have fundamentally altered the livelihoods of mangrove dependent communities such as fishers and pastoralists as mangrove lands now service the engines of capitalist accumulation. Largely these trends have intensified the processes of uneven capitalist growth, dispossession and inequality, whilst giving rise to new kinds of alliances between the state and corporate capital as well as capital and the scientific community that replay narratives of ecological harm, degradation and loss, and promote corporate governance of the mangrove lands.

Shilpi Srivastavais a Research Fellow at IDS. Trained as a political sociologist, she uses the lens of water to understand issues of power and patterns of authority to explore spaces of justice, rights and accountability. Besides researching on water policy, climate change and environmental processes, she is also increasingly interested in cross cutting research in the areas of health, sanitation and nutrition. She has extensive field research experience in Asia.

Contact information: s.srivastava2@ids.ac.uk

Lyla Mehtais a Professorial Fellow at IDS and a Visiting Professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Her work focuses on water and sanitation, forced displacement and resistance, scarcity, rights and access, resource grabbing and the politics of environment/ development and sustainability. She has extensive field research experience in South Asia and Africa.

 

Feminist Political Ecology – some core themes*

  1. Intersectionality. Gender does not signal women. Rather, FPE uses intersectional social difference as a way to understand the operation of power. This has led to us to debates on subjectivity and how power is not simply ‘power over’ but also ‘power to’ and ‘power for’. For many FPE scholars, gender is the entry point, but cannot be understood in isolation from other forms of subjection including race, ethnicity, class, age, sexuality, disability and religion. Explorations of gender ask questions about how gender (and masculinities and feminities) emerge and come to matter within resource conflicts. Similarly, intersectional analyses seek to understand how power operates to a.) create differentiation within societies (and therefore inequalities in access to, control over, distribution of, knowledge of resources) and b.) to create differences in who is seen as needing support, vs those with the right knowledge and skills to manage resources. Furthermore, intersectional analyses seeks to show how all resource governance contexts are profoundly shaped by as well as perpetuate social differences. Important contributors here include:

Nightingale, Sundberg, Mollett (on race and geopolitics), Sultana, Ahlborg and Nightingale, Harris, Elmhirst, Gonda (more recent application to climate change)

  1. Performativity. Closely related to the point about intersectionality, many FPE scholars (especially in geography) have insisted on a performative understanding of gender and subjectivity. This shifts the debate away from fixed notions of gender to recognise how subjectivities are the ‘effect of power in recoil’ (Butler). As such, people and groups internalise and reinterpret the operation of power to both perform and resist their subjection. It is important not to ascribe this as something that pertains to individuals, however, Butler distinguishes the subject from the ego, so individuals do not have a ‘subject position’ but rather can express multiple (and often contradictory) subjectivities. The contribution to PE from these debates is to focus on the everyday practices through which power is expressed and contested. By looking at intersectional social differences, it offers insights into how power operates to create uneven access, control and use of resources. Important contributions here include:

Elmhirst (for a useful overview), Nightingale, Harris, Sundberg, Practising Feminist Political Ecologies book (Harcourt and Nelson), Tschakert (application to climate change)

  1. Decolonising knowledge. This is a relatively new contribution coming from many FPE scholars. Decolonisation does not refer to ‘post colonial’ but rather to attempts at decentering hegemonic western ways of viewing the world. It is embedded within ontological politics debates but should not be understood as subsumed within those debates (there are important points of disconnection. See Sundberg attached. Important contributions here include:

Sundberg, Mollett, Icaza Garza

  1. Emotional political ecologies. Another relatively recent addition to the debate. FPE scholars have drawn from debates on emotional geographies and subjectivities to think through how subjects are produced in emotional, more than human relations. These insights draw attention to affective relations between humans and more than humans in shaping the character and outcomes of resource conflicts. Further, they have argued that emotional experiences of being part of social movements and violent resource conflicts profoundly shape not only subjectivities, but also what forms of coalitions, collective action, motivations and possibilities for future violence emerge. Many of these scholars are also interested in the commons and commoning. Important thinkers here include:

Singh, Nightingale, Gonzales-Hidalgo, Sultana, Harcourt

  1. Commoning.Many FPE thinkers cross into diverse economies and commoning debates. Contributions from FPE include insights into ‘being in common’ (Singh) that connects affective more than human relations with collective governance and use of resources, the embodied politics and subjection of resource users as they move through the different spaces and scales of resource governance that shapes how collective action unfolds (Nightingale’s fisheries work). FPE scholars are both interested in ‘nurturing life in common’, focusing on affective and embodied understandings and more than human connections to understand when people are likely to come together in commoning efforts and what might drive them apart (Velicu, Nightingale, Gonzales-Hidalgo). These insights have helped to bridge between Ostrom-inspired approaches to the commons and diverse economies embracing of commoning. Important contributions include:

Singh, Nightingale, Velicu, Richardson-Ngwenya, Gonzales-Hidalgo, Harcourt. Much early work in FPE was also in this vein if not framed in these words.

  1. The everyday, linkages across scales. FPE scholars strongly affirm the need to ground research in local lives and realities and to link analyses of disparities and injustices across scales, starting from the study of power relationships within the household up to community, national and international levels. FPE’s analytical scope has extended to the embodied everyday experiences of diverse community’s relations to nature and the common pool of resources, looking at how space and place are gendered across scale. It goes beyond dominant simplistic narratives and explanations, capturing how local people live, feel and understand the environment, the agency of other-than-human beings, and the importance of the spiritual (in an interesting return to some ecofeminist core themes). Harris’s work in particular shows how attention to such dynamics reveals the politics of project design and implementation which have both social and biophysical implications. Important thinkers here include:

Harcourt and Nelson, Harcourt (links to body politics), Mollett (links to geopolitics), Harris, Sundberg

  1. Situated Knowledges. An original core concern of FPE scholars was with knowledge. Early contributions focused on how women had different knowledge of environmental issues than men. More recent contributions, however, tend to focus more on the emotional, affective, more than human relations and processes of subjection through which knowledges of environmental conflicts and change emerge. This is also linked (although not subsumed to or even necessarily equivalent with) the decolonising knowledges project and the overall attention to the more than human within FPE. Important contributions include:

Sundberg, Nightingale, Tschakert, Harris, Rocheleau, Harcourt and Nelson

  •  see also intro to Practising FPEs, Sundberg, Elmhirst and Nightingale overviews.

Selected bibliography 

(Sundberg, 2004; Sundberg, 2014; Harcourt, 2009; Harcourt, 2016)

(Nightingale, 2003; Harris, 2006; Nightingale, 2006; O’Reilly, 2006; Rocheleau, 2008; Elmhirst, 2011; Nightingale, 2011; Sultana, 2011; Mollett and Faria, 2013; Nightingale, 2013; Gonda, 2016; Harcourt, 2016; Nightingale, 2016; Harcourt and Nelson, 2015; Harris, 2009; Harris and Alatout, 2010; Velicu and García-López, 2018; González-Hidalgo, 2017; González-Hidalgo and Zografos, 2017; Sultana, 2009; Tschakert et al., 2016; Nightingale, 2017; Sundberg, 2003; Singh, 2018; Singh, 2017; Singh, 2013; Ahlborg and Nightingale, 2018; Ahlborg and Nightingale, 2012; Ahlborg, 2017)

Ahlborg H. (2017) Towards a conceptualization of power in energy transitions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions25: 122-141.

Ahlborg H and Nightingale AJ. (2012) Mismatch Between Scales of Knowledge in Nepalese Forestry: Epistemology, Power, and Policy Implications. Ecology & Society.

Ahlborg H and Nightingale AJ. (2018) Theorizing power in political ecology: the where of power in resource governance projects. Journal of Political Ecology25: xxx.

Elmhirst R. (2011) Introducing new feminist political ecologies. Geoforum42: 129-132.

Gonda N. (2016) Climate Change “Technology” and Gender: Adapting Women to Climate Change with Cooking Stoves and Water Reservoirs.Gender, Technology and Development20: 1-20.

González-Hidalgo M. (2017) The politics of reflexivity: Subjectivities, activism, environmental conflict and Gestalt Therapy in southern Chiapas. Emotion, Space and Society25: 54-62.

González-Hidalgo M and Zografos C. (2017) How sovereignty claims and “negative” emotions influence the process of subject-making: Evidence from a case of conflict over tree plantations from Southern Chile. Geoforum78: 61-73.

Harcourt W. (2009) Body politics in development: Critical debates in gender and development: Zed Books London and New York.

Harcourt W. (2016) Gender and sustainable livelihoods: linking gendered experiences of environment, community and self. Agriculture and Human Values: 1-13.

Harcourt W and Nelson I. (2015) Practising Feminist Political Ecologies: Moving Beyond the ‘Green Economy’ London: Zed books.

Harris LM. (2006) Irrigation, gender, and social geographies of the changing waterscapes of southeastern Anatolia. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space24: 187-213.

Harris LM. (2009) Gender and emergent water governance: comparative overview of neoliberalized natures and gender dimensions of privatization, devolution and marketization. Gender, Place & Culture16: 387-408.

Harris LM and Alatout S. (2010) Negotiating hydro-scales, forging states: Comparison of the upper Tigris/Euphrates and Jordan River basins. Political Geography29: 148-156.

Mollett S and Faria C. (2013) Messing with gender in feminist political ecology. Geoforum45: 116-125.

Nightingale AJ. (2003) A Feminist in the Forest: Situated Knowledges and Mixing Methods in Natural Resource Management. ACME: an International E-Journal for Critical Geographers2: 77-90.

Nightingale AJ. (2006) The Nature of Gender: work, gender and environment. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space24: 165-185.

Nightingale AJ. (2011) Beyond Design Principles: subjectivity, emotion and the (ir-)rational commons. Society & Natural Resources24: 119-132.

Nightingale AJ. (2013) Fishing for nature: the politics of subjectivity and emotion in Scottish inshore fisheries management. Environment and Planning A45: 2362-2378.

Nightingale AJ. (2016) Environment and Gender. In: Richardson D, Castree N, Goodchild MF, et al. (eds) International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology.New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 1-13.

Nightingale AJ. (2017) Power and politics in climate change adaptation efforts: Struggles over authority and recognition in the context of political instability. Geoforum84: 11-20.

O’Reilly K. (2006) “Traditional” women, “modern” water: Linking gender and commodification in Rajasthan, India. Geoforum37: 958-972.

Rocheleau DE. (2008) Political ecology in the key of policy: From chains of explanation to webs of relation. Geoforum39: 716-727.

Singh NM. (2013) The affective labor of growing forests and the becoming of environmental subjects: Rethinking environmentality in Odisha, India. Geoforum47: 189-198.

Singh NM. (2017) Becoming a commoner: The commons as sites for affective socio-nature encounters and co-becomings. ephemera: theory and politics in organisation17: 751-776.

Singh NM. (2018) Introduction: Affective Ecologies and Conservation. Conservation and Society16: 1-7.

Sultana F. (2009) Fluid Lives: subjectivites, gender and water in rural Bangladesh. Gender, Place and Culture16: 427-444.

Sultana F. (2011) Suffering for water, suffering from water: Emotional geographies of resource access, control and conflict. Geoforum42: 163-172.

Sundberg J. (2003) Conservation and democratization: constituting citizenship in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala. Political Geography22: 715-740.

Sundberg J. (2004) Identities in the making: conservation, gender and race in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala. Gender, Place & Culture11: 43-66.

Sundberg J. (2014) Decolonizing posthumanist geographies. Cultural Geographies21: 33-47.

Tschakert P, Das PJ, Shrestha Pradhan N, et al. (2016) Micropolitics in collective learning spaces for adaptive decision making. Global Environmental Change40: 182-194.

Velicu I and García-López G. (2018) Thinking the Commons through Ostrom and Butler: Boundedness and Vulnerability. Theory, Culture & Society.

 

Introducing WEGO-ITN

Image by Emma Claire Sardoni

Well-being, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity – Innovative Training Network

1 January 2018 to 31 January 2022

As the first international feminist political ecology research network of its kind, WEGO-ITN aspires to tackle socio-ecological challenges linked to policy agendas. This innovative and path-breaking project will help local communities to build resilient, equitable and sustainable futures. The goal of WEGO-ITN is to provide research that will demonstrate to policy makers how communities actively sustain and care for their environment and community well-being. Ultimately, WEGO will collectively provide important guides to strategies of resilience and sustainability that are required for meeting the SDGs.

The WEGO-ITN is made up of scholar-activists working on feminist political ecology from ten institutions in five European Union countries: Germany, Italy, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom and eight institutions from six countries for training and secondments: Australia, India, Indonesia, Italy, Uruguay and USA.

Women’s Week Special | Feminist political ecology in research and action

Image by Emma Claire Sardoni

by Wendy Harcourt

On 8 March 2018, Professor Wendy Harcourt will be inaugurated at the International Institute of Social Studies, becoming one of the few female professors at the Erasmus University. This blog is a reflection of her personal journey to professorship and on the ‘Well-being, Ecology, Gender and Community’ (WEGO-ITN) project that she heads, which will be launched on the same day at the ISS.

The road to a personal feminist political ecology research agenda

I was awarded my PhD in 1987 from the Australian National University but I had long decided that I was not going to be an academic. I wanted to be part of the real world of social movements and on the ground politics as a feminist and environmentalist. Most of my PhD days were spent juggling my time between the need to get on with the PhD and the many commitments to different political causes—ranging from making sure the campus was safe for women at night to protests to stop uranium mining and the logging of wild rivers. Once I had completed the PhD, instead of taking up a lectureship in Australia, I went to Rome, Italy (I confess for romantic reasons) and after a year of looking for jobs became a programme coordinator and editor at the international secretariat of the Society for International Development.

Professor Wendy Harcourt walking through a forest in Nepal during a research trip in 2012.

In the 23 years I worked in Rome, I continued my juggling act as an advocate at the UN level and as a social movement activist. My passion for feminism and environmentalism remained. As well as my on the ground community work, I became part of transnational feminism establishing a wide network of people and most importantly writing—and editing a journal called Development. The networking, publications and advocacy all stood me in good stead when I decided that, after all, I was an academic at heart. And after a visiting fellowship at Clare Hall at Cambridge University where I wrote an academically recognised book Body Politics in DevelopmentI was lucky enough to get a position at the ISS.

A move towards feminist political ecology

At the ISS I have continued to focus on feminism and environment, joining forces with other feminist political ecologists, many of whom I had met as an advocate in my NGO days. Feminist political ecologyis a subfield of political ecology (Harcourt and Nelson 2015). It is the study of the conflicts and convergences between development, conservation, cultural survival, body politics, gender equality, and political autonomy. At the core of feminist political ecology is learning about how people in different places are living in, and engaging with their natural and cultural environment (Rocheleau 2008).

By exploring what is happening in specific places where people are negotiating life and livelihoods in human damaged environments, feminist political ecology calls attention to emotions, feelings, the spiritual, non-scientific knowledges and interactions with non-humans, with technologies, life and death (Elmhirst 2011). The research is mostly based on case studies and is embedded in an understanding of broader political, economic and social issues (Nightingale 2011). It aims to explore the nexus of gender, diversity and the environment. Importantly, feminist political ecology invites us to step out of the bounds of modern science and economic thinking to look at political ecology as a relational and fluid social process.

So, to take an example, from a feminist political ecology perspective the Sustainable Development Goals can be studied on a variety of scales (Hawkins and Ojeda 2011, Resurrección 2017). Going beyond the obvious need to study agricultural practices, waste, water and forest management, we can examine forms of networked and rooted interactions in institutional development practices. We can record at the grounded level the lived experiences of the villagers who receive funds for a green road project. And at an embodied level we can register the emotions and concerns of women who are obliged to take contraception when they receive funds for a startup micro enterprise by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Harcourt et al. 2016).

The Well-being, Ecology, Gender and Community (WEGO-ITN) project

The EU Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Innovation Training Network Grant for the project ‘Well-being, Ecology, Gender and Community Innovative Training Network’ (WEGO-ITN) (www.iss.nl/wego-itn) will provide an important space for European-based feminist political ecology to come to the fore with well-positioned and engaging research that asks these sorts of questions.

WEGO-INT in a nutshell

  • Grant value: €4 million (€4.000.000)
  • 10 partner universities in 5 countries across Europe
    • Freie Universität Berlin (FUB);
    • Humboldt University Berlin (HUB);
    • Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Sussex University;
    • Pangea Foundation (PF);
    • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU);
    • International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam;
    • University of Brighton (UofB);
    • University of Passau (UPAS);
    • IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft (IHE); and
    • Wageningen University & Research (WUR)
  • 8 training laboratories at
    • University of Auckland (UoA);
    • University of Vermont (UVM);
    • University of Western Sydney (UWS);
    • Defensoria del Vecino de Montevideo (DVM);
    • Island Institute (II);
    • Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM);
    • Associazione Culturale ‘Punti di Vista’ (PDV); and
    • Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
  • Yielding 15 PhD positions
  • 3 interconnecting research themes
    • Climate change, economic development and extractivism;
    • Commoning, community economies and the politics of care; and
    • Nature/culture/embodiment and technologies

In its research, WEGO will build from local engagement and knowledge of peoples’ practices and visions of how to live on this planet under climatic conditions never before experienced. WEGO will co-produce knowledge with people in both the Global North and South on how hybrid and emergent ecologies are creating new forms of livelihoods or life-worlds, in response to growing lack of resilience of the economy and ecosystem.

With that knowledge WEGO will then engage in the debates now being opened up by the Sustainable Development Goals in order to bring the stories of peoples’ changing historical and current experiences of care for the environment into the policy arena. Such grounded and engaged research will not only be about collecting data and evidence, but also about understanding political processes including the contradictions, the emotions and embodied reactions of people to economic, social and environmental change.

As the first international feminist political ecology research network of its kind, WEGO aspires to tackle socio-ecological challenges linked to policy agendas. This innovative and path-breaking project I hope will help to build resilient, equitable and sustainable futures. Ultimately, WEGO aims to provide important guides to strategies of resilience and sustainability that are required for meeting the SDGs.

Wego thematic diagram
The three interconnected research themes of the WEGO-ITN project. Source: https://www.iss.nl/en/research/research-projects/well-being-ecology-gender-and-community

My vision is that WEGO, by providing a gendered knowledge of every day experiences of environmental practices, will make a difference, not only to the academe but also to the lives of the people with whom we co-produce knowledge. At the political level, I hope that WEGO can open up questions around scientific truth and the mistaken story of systemic coherence of unsustainable economic growth.

I am confident that Feminist Political Ecology can help to guide us along new tracks as we engage in encounters of different life-worlds, form connections among communities, and link exciting academic research to effective policy crucial for today’s sustainable development agenda.

Introducing WEGO-INT through visual media

A group of ISS students were asked to create a video for the WEGO project. Victoria Simpson, an intern from Erasmus University who participated in the making of the video, explains that the trick was to produce something that addressed activists, students and academics all at once. Since many written explanations seem to be designed for experts in the field of social sciences, we wanted to create audience-flexible knowledge through the help of animations, visuals and narrations. With this idea in mind, we shot a film that shows the relevance of the WEGO project in the face of the ecological and social crises we are dealing with today. Specifically, we wanted to show how difficult it is to solve these overwhelmingly large issues on a basis of a €4 million research grant. We had the idea to asked people of different groups how they would use this grant to make a positive impact. The notion behind this was to show that even when the problem of gaining financial resources is solved, it is challenging to come up with a way to use them effectively.

 The video can be viewed at xxx

Main picture: Picture by Emma Claire Sardoni representing the life worlds of Lago Di Bolsena in Lazio, Italy.

References
Elmhirst, R. (2011) ‘Introducing new feminist political ecologies’, Geoforum 42: 129–132.
Hawkins, R. and D. Ojeda (2011) ‘Gender and Environment: Critical Tradition and New Challenges’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29(2): 237–253.
Harcourt, W. and I.L. Nelson (eds) (2015) Practicing Feminist Political Ecology: Beyond the Green Economy, London: Zed Books.
Harcourt, W., R. Icaza and V. Vargas (2016) ‘Exploring embodiment and intersectionality in transnational feminist activist research,’ in Biekart, K. , W. Harcourt and P. Knorringa (eds) Exploring Civic Innovation for Social and Economic Transformation, 148–167. London: Routledge.
Nightingale, A.J. (2011) ’Bounding difference: Intersectionality and the material production of gender, caste, class and environment in Nepal’, Geoforum 42: 153–162.
Resurrección, B. P. (2017) ‘Gender and environment from “women, environment and development” to feminist political ecology,’ in MacGregor, S. (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment, 471–485. London: Routledge.
Rocheleau, D.E. (2008) ‘Political ecology in the key of policy: From chains of explanation to webs of relation’, Geoforum 39: 716–727.

 

 

wendy_harcourtWendy Harcourt is Professor of Gender, Diversity and Sustainable Development at the ISS. She is currently Chair of the ISS Institute Council, member of the ISS Research Committee, CI Research Group Coordinator, and Coordinator of the Marie Curie ITN ‘WEGO’ project.