Political ecology as a fertile site for social theorizing

During the 1990s political ecology became an active field of inquiry into environmental degradation and, sometimes, environmental restoration. Political ecology also had the potential to contribute to the process of social theorizing, which stemmed from the implications of what this paper calls “intersecting processes.” This term signifies that political ecological analyses attempt to make sense of dynamics produced by intersecting economic, social and ecological processes operating at different scales.

Talk, 21 minutes

Not surprisingly given the complexity of intersecting processes, political ecology has generated its own variants of the on-going debates in the social sciences about how to overcome the macro-micro and structure-agent splits, to span multiple levels of analysis, and to balance generality and particularity. In order to connect this paper to the cultural and political geography of water, this paper begins with my early research on salinization and moves through the development of my account of intersecting processes and its implications.

Political ecology as Intersecting processes:

  • Taylor, P. J. and R. García-Barrios (1995). “The social analysis of ecological change: From systems to intersecting processes.” Social Science Information 34(1): 5-30.

Case study of Intersecting Processes:

  • Little, P. (1987). Land use conflicts in the agricultural/pastoral borderlands: The case of Kenya. Lands at Risk in the Third World: Local Level Perspectives. P. Little, M. Horowitz and A. Nyerges. Boulder, Westview: 195-212.

Implications for social theorizing:

  • Taylor, P. J. (2005). Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, Chapter 5
  • Taylor, P. J. (2013) “Now it is impossible ‘simply to continue along previous lines’–Notes on Enactable Social Theorizing,” http://ptaylor.wikispaces.umb.edu/socialtheorizing

Case study of salinization in Australia:

  • Taylor, P. J., J. O. Ferguson, et al. (1979). Economic Aspects of the Use of Water Resources in the Kerang Region. Melbourne, IAESR University of Melbourne.
  • Taylor, P. J. (2005). Unruly Complexity, Chapter 4A

Science studies meets Political ecology:

  • Taylor, P. J. (2011) “Agency, structuredness, and the production of knowledge within intersecting processes,” pp. 81-98 in M. Goldman, P. Nadasdy, and M. Turner (eds.), Knowing Nature: Conversations between Political Ecology and Science Studies, Chicago: University of Chicago Press


  • Taylor, P. J. (1999). Mapping the complexity of social-natural processes: Cases from Mexico and Africa. Living with Nature: Environmental Discourse as Cultural Critique. F. Fischer and M. Hajer. Oxford, Oxford University Press: 121-134.
  • Taylor, P. J. (2005). Unruly Complexity, Chapter 5

Participatory processes:

  • Taylor, P. J. (2009). “Infrastructure and Scaffolding: Interpretation and Change of Research Involving Human Genetic Information.” Science as Culture 18(4): 435-459 (last sections)
  • Taylor, P. J. (2004). ‘Whose trees/interpretations are these?’ Bridging the divide between subjects and outsider-researchers. Appropriating Technology: Vernacular Science and Social Power. R. Eglash, J. Croissant, G. DiChiro and R. Fouché. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press: 305-312.

Cultivating Collaborators:

  • Taylor, P. J. and J. Szteiter (2012). Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement. Arlington, MA, The Pumping Station.
  • Probe—Create Change—Reflect, http://pcrcr.wordpress.com/

New England Workshop on Science and Social Change:

  • Taylor, P. J., S. J. Fifield, et al. (2011). “Cultivating Collaborators: Concepts and Questions Emerging Interactively From An Evolving, Interdisciplinary Workshop.” Science as Culture 20(1): 89-105.

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