Political Ecology: Reflections from the Global South

The Environment and Climate Change - Lecture 8

Lecturer: Prof Mitul Baruah

8 Mar 2023

Political ecology as an area of academic enquiry is relatively new. The history of it in the Anglophone world can be traced back to the 1980s, pioneered by, among others, Michael Watts’ (1983) groundbreaking work on the Sahelian drought, Piers Blaikie’s (1985) work on soil erosion in Nepal, and Blaikie and Brookfield’s (1987) seminal work on land degradation.

Within such a short span of time, however, there has been a meteoric rise in political ecology literature both in the western academia and the Global South. Matching political ecology’s rise in popularity has been its thematic and theoretical eclecticism.

This session is not an attempt to present a comprehensive survey of the political ecology literature. Rather, it is a close exploration of the historical genealogies of the field, and an overview of its key characteristics, thematic foci, and new directions. Based on a case study from the Brahmaputra Valley in northeast India, the session will also highlight the importance of political ecological enquiry in the Global South.

Overall, this lecture addresses the political economic contexts of environmental transformations, as well as the ways in which our understandings of and relations with nature are materially and discursively bound up with notions of culture, identity, and power.


  • Bryant, R. L. (Ed.). (2015). The international handbook of political ecology. Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Davis, M. (2002). Late Victorian holocausts: El Niño famines and the making of the third world. Verso Books.
  • Guha, R. (2010) [1989]. The unquiet woods: Ecological change and peasant resistance in the Himalaya. 20th anniversary ed. Permanent Black.
  • Heynen, N., M. Kaika and E. Swyngedouw (Eds.). 2006. In the Nature of Cities: Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism. London: Routledge.
  • Peet, R., Robbins, P., & Watts, M. (Eds.). (2010). Global political ecology. London: Routledge.
  • Peet, R., & Watts, M. (2004). Liberation ecologies: Environment, development and social movements. London: Routledge.
  • Perreault, T. A., Bridge, G., & McCarthy, J. (Eds.). (2015). The Routledge handbook of political ecology. London: Routledge.
  • Robbins, P. (2011). Political ecology: A critical introduction. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Rocheleau, D., Thomas-Slayter, B., & Wangari, E. (2013). Feminist political ecology: Global issues and local experience. London: Routledge.
  • Sultana, F. (2011). Suffering for water, suffering from water: Emotional geographies of resource access, control and conflict. Geoforum42(2), 163-172.
  • Swyngedouw, E. 1999. Modernity and hybridity: Nature, regeneracionismo, and the production of the Spanish waterscape, 1890-1930. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 89(3).
  • Watts, M. J. (2013). Silent violence: Food, famine, and peasantry in northern Nigeria (Vol. 15). University of Georgia Press.
  • Zimmerer, K. S., & Bassett, T. J. (Eds.). (2003). Political ecology: An integrative approach to geography and environment-development studies. Guilford Press.


Questions for Discussion

  1. What is political ecology? Can ecology be political?
  2. How might a political ecology approach help us gain a critical understanding of nature-society relations?
  3. Can we think of political ecology as praxis? If so, how?
  4. How might perspectives from the Global South further enrich the field of political ecology?