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.