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Political Ecology

Political ecology investigates topics at the intersection of physical-material and social processes. As such, research in this field focuses on causes, consequences and political negotiations of global environmental change, as well as environmental conflicts at the local level.
Within the framework of political ecology, Freiburg's geography department focuses on a variety of topics, including development-related issues as well as conflicts over resource exploitation and questions of sustainable urban development. From the standpoint of political ecology, two perspectives are central to the study of these themes: firstly, environmental politics and conflicts are understood as expressions of social negotiation processes and power relations. Such a perspective draws attention to issues of social participation in resource allocation and the inclusion or exclusion of different social groups in environmental decision-making. Secondly, environmental planning, policies and conflicts are interpreted as the interplay of processes that take place across multiple scales, thus expressing concrete manifestations of Global Change processes.

Research Interests related to Political Ecology

  • Marketization of sand in Cambodia: global networks, conflicts and materialities
    Project Manager
    Mattissek A
    Start/End of Project
    01.11.2018 until 31.10.2021
    Sand is not a resource that many people associate with conflicts. Accordingly, the increasing exploitation of sand due to processes of globalization is rarely the object of scientific and public debates. But despite the common perception that sand is neither rare nor precious, it has evolved into the most important building material and a scarce resource in many regions of the world, especially those characterized by rapid population increase and urbanization. In South-east Asia, a region marked by an intensive boom in the building sector, vast quantities of sand and gravel are used in the construction of buildings, infrastructure and land reclamations. Thereby, sand has developed into an increasingly valuable economic resource that is extracted extensively and traded over long distances. However, the expanding sand extraction remains not without consequences, but leads to massive ecological damages and conflicts with the affected sections of the population. The commodification of sand can be interpreted as part of larger processes of the marketization of natural resources which in human geography is discussed as “neoliberalization of nature” (Bakker 2010). Respective studies demonstrate that capitalist logics of resource exploitation often have negative social and ecological effects. At the same time, they argue that processes and mechanisms of neoliberalization or marketization play out differently in different contexts and produce heterogeneous and ambivalent effects. This project analyzes conflicts over the marketization of sand in Cambodia as a manifestation of capitalist market processes and their interactions with the materialities involved. Drawing on the Global Ethnography approach by Michael Burawoy (2000) and Anna Tsing (2005) and on ideas developed within the debate on New Materialism (Bakker 2010; Mattissek und Wiertz 2014), the project applies a set of qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze three main research questions: (1) Which global and regional factors influence the constitution and transformation of the Southeast Asian sand market, its respective structural conditions, trading routes and relations? (2) What role do actors play that are involved in the establishment of sand markets or protest and mobilize against the extraction and trade of sand? How are their respective strategies and practices affected by multi-scale influences and networks? (3) How do geological, biophysical (non-human) and social processes and entities of the sand-market interact and how do they shape the marketization of sand?
    Contact Person
    Prof. Dr. Annika Mattissek; Robert John
    Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)