Political ecology—Distributed social agency

(Continuing a 1998 draft paper on Political ecology–a fertile site for development of social theory)

Distributed social agency

We are now in a position to discuss “distributed social agency,” the third broad heuristic that characterizes political ecology as a theory of complexity and distinguishes it with other approaches.  This has implications for the expanded project introduced in the previous section.  The social agency implied in the account of Schroeder was distributed, not centered in one class or place…

The intersecting processes characteristic of political ecology has implications, not only for how environmental degradation is conceptualized, but also for how one responds to it in practice.  Intersecting processes accounts do not support government or social movement policies based on simple themes, such as economic modernization by market liberalization, sustainable development through promotion of agro-forestry practices, or mass mobilization to overthrow capitalism.  They privilege multiple, smaller interventions linked together within the intersecting processes.

This shift in how policy is conceived requires a corresponding shift in scholarly practice.  On the level of research organization, intersecting processes accounts highlight the need, in brief, for transdisciplinary work grounded in particular sites.  They do not underwrite the customary, so-called interdisciplinary projects directed by natural scientists, nor the economic analyses based on the kinds of statistical data available in published censuses.  On the level of scholarly exposition, because we wanted to present Schroeder’s account as one that others can digest and adapt to their own situations, we abstracted away considerable detail.  An even simpler account might have been easier to remember, but we did not want readers to lose sight of how political ecological analyses are best taken up.  Each analysis, such as the one of Schroeder, should be viewed, not as a general explanatory schema, but as a guide for further studies.  Researchers entering the field might first follow this guide, but then depart from it as they faced the particularities of their research sites…

These tensions became less debilitating when we accept that each additional strand of complexity has increased the range of relevant social agents, the diversity of resources they mobilize, and the possible points of engagement and reconstruction.  Our task need no longer be to resolve the tensions and present a comprehensive argument covering the complexity of the expanded project.  Instead, we aim to evoke an on-going process of opening up questions and opening out to greater complexity.  Moreover to do so in a way that invites others to keep tensions like those of the schema active and productive as they reconstruct the complex social and environmental situations with which they are involved.

(the paper needs to discuss workshops as a setting for this; see, e.g., mapping & social-theorizing)

(continued)

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One thought on “Political ecology—Distributed social agency

  1. Pingback: Political ecology—Further complexities and a schema to address them « Intersecting Processes

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