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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


  • Geographies of resettlement in the context of multi-scale global environmental change and degradation processes – a case study of coastal resettlement in the Volta River Delta in Ghana
    Project Manager
    Fünfgeld H, Neu F (Team)
    Start/End of Project
    01.12.2019 until 30.11.2022
    Description
    During the last five decades, state-led resettlement has accompanied many construction projects of dams – especially in the Global South – and has been framed as a side effect that needs to be accepted in order to foster development (see Rogers/Wilmsen 2019). However, resettlement is nowadays increasingly taking place in response to extreme weather events that become more frequent and intense, also due to climate change (see e.g. Arnall 2014). On a global level, low-lying coastal regions which often have a high population density and are threatened by flooding and coastal erosion due to global sea level rise are particularly vulnerable. For instance, in some areas of the Volta River Delta in southeast Ghana, the coastline has been shifted inland by up to three kilometers, an incremental process that was triggered by a combination of rising sea levels and sediments of the Volta River being retained by the Akosombo Dam. As a result, entire villages literally were swallowed by the erosion processes of the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, from 2017 onwards, state institutions set up a resettlement village for several hundreds of affected households on a piece of reclaimed land in the lagoon of Keta, east of the mouth of the Volta River. Unsatisfyingly, resettlement so far has been scientifically examined mostly in the context of dam projects and not so much against the background of climate change. In addition, those studies often aimed at optimizing the resettlement process without questioning resettlement and the logics behind in the first place. Thence, Rogers and Wilmsen (2019) called for a critical geography of resettlement, i.e. studies in the field of geography that critically and profoundly examine resettlement projects. The research project will make a contribution to this new field of research and therefore analyzes the Ghanaian example described above as part of a case study. Abstracted from the case study, it deals with geographies of resettlement in the context of multi-scale processes of environmental change and degradation, which are examined from the standpoint of political ecology. The corresponding analytical framework is based on theories of power (e.g. Foucault), violence (e.g. Watts, Nixon) and justice (e.g. Rawls, Sen). The research project focuses on three key elements within the resettlement processes: actors, power and interests. Buildung on this, three research questions are pursued: 1) How did different actors use their respective power to shape the resettlement process in a way that serves their own or others’ interests? 2) How was resettlement legitimized and by whom? 3) Which social, political and economic effects on resettled people can be identified and to what extent can they be linked to certain resettlement practices applied? As part of the research project, several phases of field research are be necessary to collect primary data in the Volta River Delta. The methodological toolbox used during these stages contains qualitative and ethnographic research methods of geography.
    Contact Person
    Friedrich Neu
    Phone: +49(0)761 203-54233
    Email: friedrich.neu@geographie.uni-freiburg.de
    Financing
    DAAD (Feldforschung)
  • Marketization of sand in Cambodia: global networks, conflicts and materialities
    Project Manager
    Mattissek A, John R (Team)
    Start/End of Project
    01.11.2018 until 31.10.2021
    Description
    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
    Email: annika.mattissek@geographie.uni-freiburg.de; robert.john@geographie.uni-freiburg.de
    Financing
    Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)