Thinking through the relations between feminist political ecology, degrowth, commoning and post-development

The Lalang river, in Indonesia, is a common property for the Murung people – almost all Murung activities happens on or around the river. However, catching fish has become more difficult for the Murung women when extractive projects such as coal mines operate in the region. Photo credit: Siti Maimunah.

 

In July this year, four of us (Nanako, Mai, Martina and Enid)  came together online to present our work and bring a feminist political ecology perspective to debates and discussions happening at the IASC-RIHN Online Workshop On Commons, Post-Development and Degrowth in Asia.  This is what we presented – and learned.

With issues of commons and commoning, the more-than-human and care, all featuring in our PhD work, we were keen to learn about the diverse meanings of the commons, their intersecting power dynamics and transformative potential in the context of Asia. For instance, what similarities and differences are shared among commons studies in Asia? Do they go beyond hegemonic formulations introduced by Western concepts, which are often carefully attended to by Asian scholars and in Asian studies? Indeed, using exogenous terms and concepts entails challenges in terms of linguistic and epistemological incompatibility. So why is it necessary to translate locally embedded terms? Nanako touched upon this challenge through questioning the necessity of linguistic and semantic translations in relation to aging, a universal concern, and the specificity of Japanese rural communities and the associated traditional landscape or Satoyama. 

Mai brought the topic of extractivism to the workshop, through the example from her fieldwork where indigenous communities who depend on rivers in Central Kalimantan to sustain their livelihood have experienced the spatial reorganisation of communal forests and agricultural lands, which are being converted into coal mining areas to pursue economic growth. She was interested in questions such as, how do experiences of extractivism relate to commoning practices? Do principles of degrowth support the struggles of people affected by extractivist projects?

This workshop therefore offered us an opportunity to learn and think with others about different commoning practices happening in Asia, and also tackle difficult, often uncomfortable questions about how they are being represented and narrated in degrowth and post-development scholarship. These tensions and our interest in confronting them were further articulated through Enid’s presentation of the idea that a just Degrowth is a Decolonial Feminist Degrowth. The plurality of thinking and praxis around Degrowth, the commons and post development, we found, like feminisms, are infused with constructive tensions and contestation.

We were particularly inspired by the way that the studies presented at the workshop embraced and enriched the practice of working, thinking and researching with situated knowledges. Among the many inspiring presentations, discussions and debates happening both on zoom and the online conference platform, Slack, there were, two presentations that resonated with us: “Gradual Stiffening through Making-Do: A Method of Hope for Degrowthing Shared Public Spaces” by Chris Berthelsen, Xin Cheng, Rumen Rachev and “Covid-19, Common, and Life within Society: Indonesian Case” by Nur Dhani Hendranastiti. 

The former presentation was on the possibilities of collective hope in urban commons and commoning practices. Beyond visions of urban commons as fixed urban spaces, they suggest a re-orientation of notions of property and shared urban spaces and places, that are lived through a method of collective hope, thinking and operating beyond the human, and which is made and remade through the opening up of possibilities which can only exist in ambiguity and uncertainty. Related to this, earlier work by Xin Cheng and Chris Berthelsen explored how small co-habitations might work on a larger community scale through the below ‘hallucination.’ Their collaborations in themselves are inspiring to think through the multiple practices of knowledge co-production in relation to shared spaces and commoning practices – especially in their attentiveness to their more-than-human fellows! You can see more work by Xin Cheng on reframing urban socialities in Hamburg here and read her book on co-producing ‘human(e) shared spaces’ here.

The second presentation by Nur Dhani Hendranastiti, explored the correlations between Islamic ethical principles and degrowth principles. Ethical principles such as Amanah (trust), Adalah (social justice) and Ihsan (equilibrium through distribution) were at the core of the agricultural-financial system that supported farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia. Decentering capital, the system privileges multiple stakeholder equality, including non-humans. Ecological economics and degrowth thinking often refers to ethical principles from Buddhism, (often drawing on the work of Schumacher) but rarely other religions. Whilst the financial system described still worked within the confines of a capitalist system and norms of individual property ownership, Nur Dhani Hendranastiti challenged us to think beyond what may have become dominant narratives about the ethical principles that guide degrowth.

Through the full but enjoyable three days of presentations, discussions and online chats, we were able to connect to a variety of different scholars and artists who helped us to develop a deeper understanding of the debates and practices on commoning, degrowth and post-development in Asia. In that learning and interacting process, we were commoning our knowledge, re-imagining a world full of plurality. Through our own collaborative presentation, we introduced the different issues, concerns, activisms, communities and theoretical frames we are working with and offered a brief intervention from a feminist political ecology perspective on some of the key theory and ideas coming from degrowth, post-development and commons scholarship. The diversity of perspectives made visible at this workshop demonstrated the dynamism of these intersecting disciplines and practices, and created a hopeful and careful space to remain curious in these challenging times.

Feminist political ecologies: situated perspectives and emerging approaches

An article entitled Ecologías políticas feministas: perspectivas situadas y abordajes emergentes by Rebecca Elmhirst has been published in Ecología Política.  

Extract in English

This article reflects on the development of feminist political ecology, a field of research and praxis that offers different theoretical approaches to the social power relations associated with nature, culture and the economy, with a commitment to epistemologies, methods and values. feminists. From a small illustrative selection of research articles, I present a consciously biased and situated commentary on the Anglophone contributions that have resonated in my own research practice, teaching, and everyday life. I consider four related areas of development of feminist political ecology: first, gender dynamics in access and dispossession of resources; second, the debates around post-humanism, bodies and matter; third, academic and activist considerations about sufficiency, commons, and a feminist ethic of care; and finally, recent efforts to develop a decolonial feminist political ecology. My objective is to show the types of questions and concerns that each of these threads raises, considered as platforms to continue the critical debate.

Read the full article here

10th Dimensions of Political Ecology (DOPE) conference at University of Kentucky

Rebecca Elmhirst opened the 10th Dimensions of Political Ecology (DOPE) conference at University of Kentucky with a presentation entitled Beyond handbook tyrannies: Pluralising the practice of feminist political ecology

Her talk introduced the work WEGO is doing to consolidate Feminist Political Ecology as a body of work and ethical approach to research and practice to an audience of largely North and Latin American-based political ecologists, many of whom are early career scholar-activists.

DOPE was started by and continues to be run by the Political Ecology Working Group, an interdisciplinary collective of University of Kentucky graduate students. The conference in February 2020 included a superb range of panels and papers from across a range of political ecology areas, but with a strong emphasis on intersectional scholar activism, including close engagement with environmental activisms in Kentucky and Appalachia. Insights were shared through a plenary panel where Justin Dunnavant presented his action research with young people recovering histories of enslavement in the land and seascapes of the former Danish West Indies, Macarena Gómez-Barris presented on extractivism in Chile and Diana Ojeda described her recent projects bridging political ecology and feminist geopolitics with research focused on the Colombian Caribbean. Dr Alaka Wali, Curator of North American Anthropology in the Science and Education Division of The Field Museum gave a keynote addressdescribing her pioneering work developing of participatory social science action research and community engagement processes based in museum science to further access of museum resources for excluded communities. Her talk was part of the University of Kentucky’s year of equity programme to mark the 70th Anniversary of the successful lawsuit to desegregate the University of Kentucky. 

Practising feminist political ecology: building knowledge communities

The WEGO proposal for a roundtable on ‘Practising feminist political ecology: building knowledge communities’ has been accepted for the 16th The European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) General Conference: Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice taking place from 29 June to 2 July 2020 at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

 Convenors: Wendy Harcourt, Lyla Mehta, Margreet Zwarteveen and Ana Agostino

Feminist Political Ecology (FPE) is an approach that looks at how to promote community well-being, peace and social justice. It analyses power relations within different systems of oppression and at different scales in communities, building solidarity in the global North and South. FPE examines the processes, strategies and political mechanisms that community initiatives use to challenge the existing power relations based on exploitation, domination, and conflict. With audience participation from both the Global North and South, the workshop will share the innovative insights of the Wellbeing Ecology Gender Communities (WEGO) ITN network on how to do grounded research in solidarity with social movements and community initiatives around issues of social and environmental justice, natural resource management and care.

Summer school Bolsena: notes from a feminist writing retreat

For a week in August part of the WEGO team gathered with other academics and activists of diverse places, ages and experiences in the beautiful convent of Bolsena in Italy for a feminist methodologies writing retreat.

Read the full blog on Undisciplined Environments

‘Finding my way in research’: reflections from an early stage researcher

Well, it turns out that it has been a year since we started this wonderful, but at the same time challenging journey of the Ph.D. I find it wonderful because it has allowed me as a person to enter into debates that seemed completely different to my reality and to which I did not pay much attention for my negligence to have a dialogue with European theories. My mentor, Gülay, has been key in this trip. Taking part in her seminars on post-development theory allowed me to realize the infinite similarities between the critical political and social theory of Europe and that of Latin America. Undoubtedly, with different realities and different situational problems, in both geopolitical latitudes, people get organized and fight for a common good and a good life/buen vivir. I find this trip challenging because it is not easy to understand the European reality with other lenses and other theories that have been unfamiliar to my academic path. However, I loved it. Sometimes I feel a bit like “the bridge” referred in the writings of the chicana Gloria Anzaldúa, or the chixi /mestiza proposed by the anti-colonial feminist Silvia Rivera-Cusicanqui to foster a dialogue of imaginaries, to walk interweaving different knowledges. After a year, I finally feel that I am finding my way in my research, and today more than ever I feel the passion for writing and discussing in-depth concepts relevant to my topic, such as urban food commons, food sovereignty, food regime, etc… and hopefully, by the end, I will be filling a gap in the FPE theory. 

Alternative food initiatives in Berlin and Barcelona

I feel more and more comfortable presenting my Ph.D. project in public. I remember that at the beginning of the doctorate I could not even accommodate my ideas in my mind and it was hard for me to verbalize what I thought. However, after a year of being on this trip, the public presentations have become a moment of reflection on what I want to communicate and what I am investigating. They help me to identify deficiencies in my research or possible contradictions. Jena and the rest of the presentations that I have had have worked to me as deadlines of my research, and somehow impel me to continue with the debate of it. Doing a doctorate is not simple, especially when you do not belong to a kind of structured doctorate. We ourselves manage our time, and we get deadlines regarding the goals we want to achieve. Jena helped me to reflect on the progress of my research on the methodological and theoretical framework that I am using and, above all, on the functionality of my research. What do I really want to achieve with it? How can I contribute to the theoretical debate of the FPE? And better yet, how can I make my research useful in practice and not just more words without content?

Info_Kauf Tageskarten im Vorfeld (pdf document)

Hauptprogramm zur Konferenz Great Transformation (pdf document)

Undisciplined Environments goes live

Undisciplined Environments – a platform for political ecology research and activism – has launched today, 1 October 2019

This novel effort is a collaboration between the ENTITLE Collective and the WEGO project, as well as other transnational networks – like the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN).

Undisciplined Environments (UE) aims to become an influential crossroads for activists, researchers, journalists and anyone interested in the mutual imbrications of power, society, culture and ecology. Our commitment is to establish UE as a compelling virtual space to share ideas, stories, concepts, methods and strategies for the elaboration of the knowledges and practices needed to build more emancipatory socionatural worlds.

WEGO members Panagiota KotsilaIlenia Iengo, Irene Leonardelli, Wendy Harcourt and Stefania Barca are on the editorial collective.

 

Climate change is a man-made problem — with a feminist solution!

Join former Irish President Mary Robinson and comedian Maeve Higgins in this uplifting new podcast, celebrating amazing women doing remarkable things in pursuit of climate justice.

Each episode features the Mothers of Invention driving powerful solutions to climate change – from the grassroots to the court room, the front lines to the board room – all over the world.

Mothers Of Invention is a podcast on feminist climate change solutions from (mostly) women around the world.

Women are more likely to be affected by climate change, so women who are spearheading compassionate solutions. Mary, Maeve, and a different guest host every week dig into the biggest climate issues of our time. We learn how to cope, empower and enact change through the eyes of extraordinary women driving climate innovation– our Mothers of Invention. People-powered initiatives to new government policy to groundbreaking research to hard science. It’s not over till it’s over.

 

WEGO lead panel discussion at European Conference on Politics and Gender

WEGO was out in force at the European Conference on Politics and Gender which ran from 3 – 6 July 2019 in Amsterdam.

Wendy Harcourt, Gulay Caglar, Chizu Sato, Constance Dupuis Marlene Gomez and Nanako Nakamura were involved in several panel discussions at the Conference Below are abstracts from some of those panels.

Care and the Commons in Troubling times: confronting whiteness

Led by Constance Dupuis and Wendy Harcourt

Our paper looks at the everyday practice of feminist political ecology as not only practices rooted in one geographical place and culture but also as collective processes that are forming a global community network. We explore how feminist political ecology (FPE) aims to navigate racist structures, gender and class inequalities that determine struggles over rights and resources. Inspired by Donna Haraway’s staying with the trouble, our paper looks at how we confront whiteness in feminist political ecology. We address the ways in which white privilege and colonialism continue to be reproduced and how FPE can engage in critical conversations without centring the white experience.

Analyzing the Politics of the Everyday: A Feminist Political Ecology Perspective

There is ample evidence that neoliberal restructuring has led to precarious living conditions as well as to environmental degradation, both of which negatively affect community well-being worldwide. In response, many alternative initiatives have mushroomed at community level that aim to counter neoliberal policies through changing everyday practices of care and natural resource management. Feminist Political Ecology (FPE) is an approach that analyses these practices by taking into account power relations within different systems of oppression at different scales. With an emphasis on the importance of embodiment, place and scale, FPE aims to unveil the processes through which different actors interact, and the strategies and political mechanisms that community initiatives use to challenge the existing power relations based on exploitation, domination, and conflict. This panel seeks to introduce the theoretical tenets of FPE and to show how FPE contributes to feminist political science. Papers will be analyzing different social movements and initiatives around issues of social and environmental justice, natural resource management and care.