Feminist Political Ecology – some core themes
WEGO’s first aim is to establish a vibrant European network of excellence on FPE that will link researchers, communities and policy makers for maximum impact in the environment and development policy arena, and positive change for the communities involved in the research. WEGO will achieve this first aim through the following objectives:
a) consolidate an exciting and multifaceted FPE framework through new collaborations;
b) undertake in-depth analytical and cutting edge societally relevant research projects looking at gender, ecology and community well-being;
c) put in place processes of mutual learning among researchers and communities;
d) map out strategies of resilience and sustainability in communities;
e) document how gendered power relations shape resource access and control in specific contexts with a focus on climate change, economic development and extractivism; commoning, community economies and the politics of care; and technologies; and
f) analyse the different community’s everyday lives and emotional relations to natural and cultural (natureculture) resources.
WEGO’s second aim is to create a new generation of early stage researchers (ESRs) in a societally relevant research platform. WEGO will achieve this second aim through the following set of objectives:
a) train ESRs in network-wide training courses with labs on critical participatory research and policy application and writing of policy briefs;
b) train ESRs to partner with communities in local activities that support inclusive governance processes for sustainability;
c) train ESRs on how to convert the acquired knowledge into inclusive and sustainable policy that takes into account the knowledge and experience of communities; and
d) train ESRs in networking, management and communication skills in order to disseminate their research in social media and policy arenas.
WEGO’s third aim is to consolidate FPE as a key conceptual approach to resilience and sustainability by bringing fresh perspectives on gender to the policy space on environment and development being opened up by the SDGs. WEGO will achieve this third aim through the following set of objectives:
a) hold roundtables that engage policy makers and synthesise the findings based on local community knowledge in order to contribute to debates on resilience and sustainability;
b) publish policy briefs, academic papers and contribute to social media platforms on gender, community well-being in relation to strategies for resilience and sustainability;
c) contribute to policy and social movement events on the SDGs on climate change resilience, community economies and population and development; and
d) organise a major academic conference on FPE to disseminate findings.
1. Enhancing the career perspectives and employability of researchers and contribution to their skillsdevelopment
On completion of the training programme, ESRs will be in an excellent position to be at the forefront of the field of gender studies, sustainable development and political ecology able to continue their careers as researchers or to apply what they have learnt through WEGO training to work in International Organisations including the European Union agencies and UN entities, policy institutes, local government, NGOs, applied research and community based organisations.
Initial discussions between WEGO beneficiaries and partners have defined the following skills that the ESRs will gain: a) interdisciplinarity; b) gender aware critical thinking; c) creativity; d) capacity to work with communities in non extractive research; e) ability to understand environmental problems holistically within their broader socio-political context; f) knowledge of existing experiences of development inspired by gender equality and environmentally sound principles and practices; g) in-depth understanding of global dynamics and cultural differences in development processes; h) adaptability and capacity to work in different work environments; and i) ability to link research to policy and civic advocacy.
With such a strong skill set it is anticipated that the ESRs will find employment as university researchers, university professors, investigative journalists, free-lance writers, researchers in NGOs and social movements, analysts in consultancies or freelance consultants, civil servants, political appointees, development planners in the private or public sector. WEGO’s goal is to ensure that all ESRs are recruited in a job of their choice within 12 months of completion of the WEGO contract. Given this goal, throughout the project WEGO will work to establish longer term collaborations and/or lasting structured training programme that will continue after WEGO through the direct collaboration between the institutions.
The ESRs on completing the WEGO programme will have acquired a unique set of skills, knowledge and networks not typically offered by PhD programmes in Europe through exposure to a series of dynamic and exciting training opportunities. They will receive:
a) interdisciplinary training from a range of scholars based in the Global North and Global South, ranging from social geography to anthropology to gender studies to political ecology from rural and urban studies to development studies and social work;
b) targeted training in grounded research methodology and design;
c) participatory action training on a range of necessary skills, from writing and communicating effectively, to managing projects, to organising workshops, writing policy proposals, writing for the social media, and organising outreach and mobilisation campaigns;
d) international mobility in research, travelling to both Global North and Global South countries in the training labs and through their secondments, learning to know and understand different cultural and national perspectives;
e) engagement with non-academic sectors such as NGOs, local government authorities, community based organisations and social movement networks;
f) work experience in project management and networking, organising public and training events, managing a conference, as well as producing research outputs directly relevant for the communities with whom they are working; and
g) interactions with communities learning how to build into the research design a process of respectful co-production of knowledge.
In sum, this new generation of researchers will be uniquely placed to understand local environmental issues from community and gender perspectives and to address the gap between the big picture policy approach to sustainable development and the reality of life on the ground. Such in-depth global knowledge will make an important contribution to universities and research organisations, environmental and public policy consultancies, think-tanks and NGOs at European level and also strengthen the research of partners in the Global South.
2. Contribution to structuring doctoral/early-stage research training at the European level and to strengthening European innovation capacity
Key to the WEGO contribution to European excellence is training the ESRs in how to translate their research into relevant policy arenas. One major result of the programme will be to ensure researchers are capable to take up policy analysis, design and implementation. The secondments at non-academic beneficiary and partner institutions will include placements at: local government organisations; applied research organisations; NGOs; and advocacy groups. The non-academic secondments will enable the ESRs to gain first hand knowledge in how to apply critical FPE insights. They will learn from a large network of specialists working in FPE both in the Global South and North. The exchange of knowledge and insights within WEGO as ESRs learn together in the network wide trainings will build an important repository of knowledge on gender and political ecology. The interdisciplinary training programme and the exposure of the researchers to different non-academic environments and community contexts, through field-work and secondments is designed to provide direct input to on-going work of the European Commission (EC), European NGOs and local government in fields such as gender equality, environment, climate, human resource development, rural and urban planning. In addition, developing a strong cohort of future FPE experts ready to advise in these fields will contribute not only to important policy debates in Europe but also provides an example of innovative societally relevant European doctoral training. In sum, the non-academic sector partners are key to WEGO’s doctoral training programme, because they enable ESRs to have hands on experience in relation to implementation as well as working directly with communities to shape the research and its application at the policy level.
An important contribution to European excellence in research will be to establish long-term collaborations and intervarsity training programmes among the European universities of the WEGO network. Given the already established connections among the institutions, WEGO will provide the possibility for the universities to do more joint teaching programmes working towards accreditation for collaborative degrees, specialised courses on gender, ecology and community well-being, and summer schools and organised secondment periods at the WEGO partners.
Following the grant, WEGO plans to continue to foster European-wide collaboration with direct collaboration between the institutions, the building of joint curricula of local postgraduate courses, use of on-line material in teaching, and continued shared research and publications. After the completion of the project further funds will be raised for collaboration such as the recruitment of new PhDs and post- doc researchers and any jointly held trainings.
In terms of innovation, the research undertaken by WEGO is directly relevant to many of the thematic policy priorities of the EC’s DG Environment and will provide compelling stories for policy makers that enable greater understanding of the interaction between sustainable development policy goals and objectives on the one hand, and community engagement on the ground on the other. The research will also feed into the debates on the SDGs bringing the research on well-being, ecology, gender and community from outside of Europe to the European policy table making a case for tighter links between EU’s trade, development, environmental and external policies.
3. Quality of the proposed measures to exploit and disseminate the results
WEGO will use a multi-targeted dissemination strategy that capitalises upon new social media, web connectivity, policy labs and roundtables as well as conventional academic outputs such as journal articles, conference presentations and books. WEGO places importance on training ESRs to disseminate their results not only to the academic community but also trains them to link with policy decision-makers and also to feedback their results to the community with whom they have been working. The emphasis is on societally relevant research embedding the research in social processes and learning through the dissemination strategy to ensure effective mutual learning and communication. The ESRs will be enhancing their own dissemination and communication skills by engaging social media, writing policy briefs, blogs, fieldwork and methodological notes, press releases, organising roundtables, and participating in the organising of the final international conference.
The WEGO website will offer free-access to all publicly available material produced by the network (briefs, papers, presentations), training material and syllabuses (with self-teaching instructions), videos presenting the project and press releases and other material for the media. The website will be interactive with rolling blogs where researchers can report on their experience as they work with communities, and engage in conversation with interested visitors to the site, with space for the public to comment on WEGO research and training outputs.
The activities for the next four years will be based on a dynamic process with time for reflections and learning. There will be space for several feedback loops as the ESRs move from research and design to reflections and trainings towards the ultimate goal of having policy impact.
Local courses and specialized intensive network courses will be offered at different beneficiary and partner institutions. In addition to the training offered at the individual host institutions, there will be a joint training programme for all PhDs with the following four components: an E-learning Environment, Annual Training Labs, WEGO National Outreach Roundtables and Final WEGO Conference.
The individual doctoral study projects will explore three interconnecting research themes:
How communities respond to economic and ecological changes in everyday social struggles and organizing for well-being in efforts to move out of situations of inequality, exclusion and poverty.
Theme one will research the community response to climate change, neoliberal capitalism and extractive development processes. The focus will be on how communities respond to economic and ecological changes in everyday social struggles and organizing for well-being in efforts to move out of situations of inequality, exclusion and poverty. The individual projects will explore gender power relations in organizing for the security and protection of local natural resources in Nepal, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and the UK. The studies are based in Global South contexts as well as Europe in order to look for modalities of power that cross different geographical contexts, and that produce similarities and differences in community responses to the impacts of climate change, economic development and resource extractivism, and the forms of knowledge, power and authority that sustain extractive development processes.
The shared framework will look at:
1. modes of governing natural resources by national and international governments and private companies;
2. forms of community mobilization to defend water and food security, energy, livelihoods and demand fair labour conditions; and
3. alliances being formed by communities within and across different locations with attention to gendered cultural, social and economic resource-reallocation.
- Climate change adaptation programmes and political violence in Nepal
- Virtual water flows: re-articulating gendered structures of accumulation along emerging agro-food commodity chains in Maharashtra, India
- The feminist political ecology of mining on gender and ethnic identities in Kalimantan, Indonesia
- The politics of uncertainty and adaptation to climate change in Kenya and Tanzania
- Drilling through the Anthropocene: fracking, land and expertise in contemporary Britain
How gender relations are being shaped in emerging practices of commoning, community economies and work of care for families and communities in successful strategies of ‘living well together’.
This theme will focus on in-depth case studies in six countries of commoning experiments. Special attention will be placed on the relationships between gender relations and resource extraction and governance to understand how commoning can add to transformation of sustainability outcomes. The individual projects will have a strong focus on the Global North (Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Scotland and Japan) as well as the Global South (India and Indonesia). The PhDs will benefit from the on-going relations with communities where WEGO beneficiaries and partners are actively engaged. The projects will examine how changing gender relations in rural communities have come under pressure from changing resource depletion as well as policy changes that have transformed the political economy of small-scale communities.
The shared framework will look at how communities are being transformed into more resilient and sustainable ones by exploring:
1. ‘commoning’ efforts to promote the recovery of their food security and their communities;
2. care practices in interconnected spaces, the enterprise, its members’ households and embedded communities and environments;
3. subjectivities (masculinities and femininities) to create and enable a more inclusive community and commitment to place;
4. market rationalities in the shift to alternative ideas of sustainable livelihoods;
5. entrepreneurial practices and resource management by community groups linking rural producers and urban consumers; and
6. political and ecological consequences of new value chains and how they intersect with notions of class, gender, religion (caste) and age.
- Community, commoning and care in the ruins of post-oil palm landscapes in Indonesia
- Eating relations: community economies, belonging and place-based food in the megacity Chennai, India
- The politics of care and defining the good life: elderly women’s community food economies in rural Japan
- Transformation of small-scale fishing communities
- The politics of food in urban southern Europe
- Women organizations in gendered economic landscapes in rural Italy
How environmental justice takes into account the ways embodied, gendered and everyday lived experiences are mediated by technological interventions marked by economic and social inequalities that require a rethinking of issues around reproduction, production and population growth.
The projects in this research area will explore how people and communities are facing dramatic ecological and economic change in an analysis of today’s disquieting troubles about: the impact of environmental degradation fueled by consumerism on both human and non-human lives; the difficulty to include queer movement’s analysis of environmental change in policy debates; the gendered governance of water; the ethical concerns around the escalating interdependence of bodies and technologies; and how advocates of reproductive freedom can address the problem of growing populations and scarce resources. What is new and exciting is the focus on the body as the first place where people experience the environment as well as the political struggle of people to claim control over their own biological, social and cultural embodied experiences. The research will move beyond the conventional environmental focus on nature that separates humans from their environments. Instead, it will look at how bodies, technologies and economies need to be understood as integral to understanding our material environment and ecological practice and theory.
The shared framework will look at:
1. the concept of naturecultures and how to look at the interrelationship of human and non-human in changing ecologies and economies;
2. the emerging narratives that can unmake and make new worlds in the “turn” to new eco-criticism and new eco-politics; and
3. the interdependence of technologies, ecologies and bodies and the implication for sustainable development policy frameworks.
- Social (re)production and the good life in a post-growth society: a feminist and queer perspective
- Liquid encounters - fluid conversations around water, environment, and gendered naturecultures
- Bodies, technologies and well-being
- Population growth and environmental justice: rethinking reproductive freedom
In addition, training laboratories will be held annually engaging with partners in the network from 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), Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Centre for Social Studies-University of Coimbra (CES-UC) and Swarthmore College (SC).
Feminist Political Ecology – some core themes
- Gender does not signal women. Rather, FPE uses intersectional social difference as a way to understand the operation of power. This has led 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)
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)
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.
Important contributions here include:
- Sundberg, Mollett, Icaza Garza
This is 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
- 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.
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
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
(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)
See also introduction to Practising FPEs, Sundberg, Elmhirst and Nightingale overviews.
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.