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Feminist Political Ecologies: Just and Plural Futures


Feminist Political Ecologies: Just and Plural Futures

For a feminist political ecology in the twenty-first century, attentiveness to normative and radical epistemologies in late liberal capitalism (Lundberg et al., 2023), racialized legacies of place (Mollet, 2015), resurgence and abundance (Fujikane, 2021), and the modes and mediums in which we engage in praxis and healing are critical (Zargocin and Caretta, 2021; Hernandez, 2022). As Julie Sze (2018:15) implores, reflexive interdisciplinary research, taking seriously cultural values, and investing in situated practices that prioritize the convergence of “academic fields, research and practice, and campuses and communities” … for “new vocabularies and approaches” should buoy and shape not only research designs but how we hold space in our collective work. These calls to action are stark reminders of the inescapable new relations with more than humans in disturbed landscapes (Tsing 2015) as well as the plural and multi-sited political ecologies that are necessary to weave together (Leff, 2003; Escobar, 2011; Torre, 2020). In constellation with such work, policymakers, leaders from Indigenous and Local communities, scholars, artists, and activists identify new tipping points and design approaches that uphold futures that are not based on extraction, oppression, and violence but on care and hope.

Feminist political ecological work is the center of such analysis, engagement, and action. As dominant theoretical frameworks within the “human-environmental” nexus prioritize systems of systems approaches, political ecology’s critical approaches remain its strength, where attentiveness to epistemological and ontological foundations and the steady focus on power remains. Power is central to analyses of “environmental” issues at various scales, providing a toolkit to explore how top-down intersects with intersectional identities and cultural practices (Rocheleau, 2008; Sultana, 2021). In contrast, dominant analytical frameworks often fall into the traps of normative narratives that fail to consider epistemic plurality and culturally diverse perspectives (Zanotti et al., 2020). In this way, political ecologists have taken up theoretical questions that open up possibilities for exploring multispecies relations, justice, and worlds (Celermajer et al., 2022; Price and Chao, 2023), consider the affective dimensions of belonging, embodiment, loss, and healing (Allen, 2020; González-Hidalgo and Zografos, 2020) and confront systemic racism entrenched in society and the academy (Heynen, 2016). Both the porosity and generosity of the approach (Robbins, 2019) accommodate inquiries into new fields of scalar praxis that interpellated worlds within worlds, whether in media ecologies and infrastructures, new glacial politics, sustainability and AI, reproductive health, or extreme weather responses.

Feminist political ecology, though, could do better to (1) enact anti-colonizing and decanonizing politics in research and in the academy more broadly, (2) intensify work to augment the critical importance of Indigenous and Local Knowledges, and (3) transform methodological praxis. In particular, feminist political ecology scholars have engaged with anti-colonial, post-colonial, and decolonial approaches to what is taken for granted in leading discourses, policies, and practices on environment and development (Maldonado-Torres, 2016). Moreover, Liboroin (2021) invites us to question the settler colonial logics that serve as the underlying foundations of late liberalism and petrocapitalism. Addressing colonialism as an ongoing process within which the present day is considered already dystopian (Tuck and Yang, 2012; Whyte, 2018), these works make visible the often hidden distributional, epidemiological, psychosocial, and biophysical effects of settler colonial processes based on theft and extractivism and propose theoretical and methodological replacements to settler colonial academic practices.

Kyle Whyte (2018:126) for example proposes the concept of “collective continuance” to replace discussions on social resilience to show “vicious sedimentation” and “insidious loops” of settler colonial environmental injustice. Whyte defines (2018:131) collective continuance as “a society’s capacity to self-determine how to adapt to change in ways that avoid reasonably preventable harms.” Whyte’s work is one of many that are reclaiming theoretical space to contribute to already flourishing work on Indigenous and Indigenizing research methodologies while at the same time inviting us to revisit concepts and processes and make visible settler colonial “toxic geographies” within political ecological worlds (Nunn, 2018).

Work should not, though, simply focus on marginality and vulnerability, reproducing crisis narratives. Political ecologists are poised to weave new storylines – ones based on “courage, respect, justice, equality, and reciprocity.” (Maldonado and Lazrus, 2019: 34). Emerging trends in embodied, multisensorial, multimodal, and art-based collective praxis are fruitful arenas for engagement and expansion (Todd, 2015; Harcourt, 2019). Feminist political ecological approaches and efforts to suggest that radical collaboration – partnering – not in “co-production” with but in “co-relation” with communities, interlocuters, actants, and communities – is necessary to do the critical work that is in service to survivability, joy, and resistance.

Sensory and multimodal methods bring heightened focus to capturing the diverse nonverbal “discursive modalities” of these sites and the ways they are produced: “visual images, nonverbal communication, architecture, and the built environment” (Jaworksi and Thurlow, 2010:1). For example, within cultural geography, Viannini (2015:318) suggests “non-representational research seeks to cultivate an affinity for the analysis of events, practices, assemblages, affective atmospheres, and the backgrounds of everyday life against which relations unfold in their myriad potentials.” Drawing from visual anthropological traditions, Nakamura (2013:133) outlines two approaches to sensory ethnography. The first, the aesthetic-sensual emphasizes “emotional states through vivid aesthetic-sensual immersion”, and secondly, suggests drawing from phenomenology emphasizes “multisensory-experiential data (vision, taste, hearing, smell, touch, etc.).” Visual and sensory work can provide a material context for apprehending the meanings and relations behind power-laden human and more than human interactions - mapping that represents the visible/invisible materialities, technologies, and infrastructures as well as draws into focus the various ways in which power pulses through political economies and local landscapes (Mosse, 2003: 208).

Such responsive approaches embody respectful, transparent commitments to celebrate strength and center trust and respect (Svarstad, 2020; Neely and Lopez, 2022). This requires a deep and radical transformation of disciplinary practices, politicizing the production of knowledge, reevaluating who is considered knowledge holders, and prioritizing research that is empirical and substantively engages with sovereignty and self-determination. This means centering the voices and lived experiences of scholars, activists, artists, and Local and Indigenous communities from the Global South and deeply engaging with them as knowledge producers and holders as they theorize and develop our radical futures.


[1] Laura Zanotti is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Purdue University and President-Elect of SALSA. For twenty years, she has partnered with the Mebêngôkre-Kayapó Peoples on projects centered on land rights and sovereignty, sustainable energy, and self-determination in a digital age. ORCiD: 0000-0003-2712-4284. Work was supported by the Purdue College of Liberal Arts Global Synergy Grant. We thank Gandhigram Trust and Best Practices Foundation for trusting, collaborating and opening up spaces for me. We acknowledge the traditional homelands of the Indigenous Peoples which Purdue University is built upon. I honor and recognize the Bodéwadmik (Potawatomi),Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo) Lenape (Delaware), Myaamia (Miami), and Shawnee Peoples who are the original Indigenous caretakers.

[2] Shradha Naveen is a PhD candidate in Purdue University’s Department of Anthropology. Her research interests lie at the intersection between cultural and environmental anthropology. She is currently doing her field research in South India looking at ‘rural water experiences’ in the Kaveri Watershed.


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