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Geoforum 39 (2008) 698–707 www.elsevier.com/locate/geoforum

Political ecology and development: Intersections, explorations and challenges arising from the work of Piers Blaikie
David Simon
Centre for Developing Areas Research, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX, UK Received 24 March 2006; received in revised form 22 January 2007

Abstract While most contributions to this collection focus centrally on political ecology (PE), this paper approaches the work of Piers Blaikie through a somewhat different lens, situating his political ecological contributions within the broader context of his engagement with related themes in development studies. I trace and discuss his work in approximately chronological terms, from the spatial organization of North Indian villages through the political economy of agrarian change and of peripheral capitalist (under-)development in Nepal to political ecology, pathbreaking work on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Uganda, more general disaster vulnerability and recoverabililty, and a survey of post-structural challenges in development theory. Not only does this approach provide a distinctive view of Blaikie’s evolving concerns over the course of his career and thematic connections between them, but it also reflects my personal experience of his work and its influence. This foundation then enables an exploration of several issues about current directions in, and possible future extensions of, PE which should help to ensure that PE does not, as some critics claim, have only limited remaining shelf-life. Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Piers Blaikie; Development studies; Political ecology; Political economy; Post-structural theory; Disasters; Risk; HIV/AIDS; Nepal; Uganda

1. Introduction My connections with Piers Blaikie and his work stretch episodically over my own research career, dating back to my doctoral studies in Oxford (1979–83). We have worked in the same parts of the world (Southern and East Africa, and South Asia) at different times and stages of our careers, although never together. There have also been several interesting parallels and intersections in our broad but related interests in the political economy, political ecology and the nature of development, as well as in our combinations of academic and policy-related research and consultancy. Therefore the invitation to participate in the panel sessions at the Denver meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in April 2005 and this Festschrift, which derives from the conference, was easy to accept. It has provided an opportunity for me to reflect on these per-

sonal resonances, on Piers’ prominent contributions to fields of common endeavour and on how the current state of thought and field research in relation to the diverse terrain of political ecology (PE) might be taken forward. Reflecting in part my own engagement with Piers’ work and its influence, in this paper I assess his contribution within development studies (or development–environment research and thinking more generally, if the putative disciplinary label of ‘studies’ is seen as problematic or restrictive).1 This broadly chronological survey provides the foundation for a brief exploration in the concluding section of pertinent current concerns and possible future extensions of PE and development studies. The juxtaposition of PE with development research also reminds us of the evolutionary connections between them over the last 20– 30 years.

E-mail address: d.simon@rhul.ac.uk 0016-7185/$ - see front matter Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2007.01.011

1 This is not the place to engage in detailed definitional debates about the nature or scope of development.

. (‘cut the fancy jargon and give some recommendations. which was supervised by Benny Farmer at the University of Cambridge. for the nature of development research is quintessentially multifaceted and cumulative. It also provided me with fascinating insights into a part of the world then beyond my ken. he moved to a lectureship at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in 1972. thesis. etc. gaining successive promotions until becoming a full professor in 1990. undertaking doctoral research in Rajasthan and the Punjab for his 1967 Ph. The findings initially appeared as a report to the ODA’s Economic and Social Committee for Overseas Research (ESCOR). Indeed. senior bureaucrats. This research was summarised in one of Blaikie’s earliest papers. He subsequently undertook a further year’s field research (1970/1) on family planning issues in a very poor part of India. 2. The original research in 1974/5 comprised a large-scale survey of 667 rural households and associated surveys of mobility. and it certainly put Nepal on the . Such commercial engagement formed an integral part of the UEA academic contract. In this context. has contributed in no small way to building up its international reputation for leading-edge research as well as teaching and consultancy through the Overseas Development Group (ODG). in Nepal during the mid. 14 Sept 2005). underdevelopment and regional inequality in northern India and Nepal. In particular.. for the rest of his career. 1979. which appeared in the flagship journal of the Institute of British Geographers (Blaikie. comm.. South Asia is where he cut his academic teeth. Nepal in Crisis used the research as the basis for broader neo-Marxist arguments about the crisis of peripheral capitalist (under-)development in the absence of meaningful state capacity and an entrepreneurial national bourgeoisie. Piers thrived in the strong inter-/multidisciplinary atmosphere of UEA’s School of Development Studies and.a first taste of the difficulty of addressing academic audiences (theoretically elegant.D. He regards the resultant book (Blaikie. Following a four-year sojourn as lecturer at Reading University. ‘Spatial organisation of some villages in Northern India’. the challenges of the applied nature of this research provided . 1971). please’) (Blaikie.. good for one’s career!) at the same time as policy making. He took early retirement in 2003 but retains his affiliation with UEA as Professorial Fellow and remains as research-active as ever. pers. 1980b) and a few book chapters or journal articles. . there have inevitably – and most importantly – been overlaps and interconnections between them. the aid-funded trunk roads were seen as conduits for the formation of a new national core and periphery and for integrating Nepal as the outer periphery in the South Asian and global political economy through layers of unequal power and exchange.D. disasters. before being recast and integrated with followup research for publication in two books (Seddon et al. comm. it was banned for two years until a change of government (Piers Blaikie. road traffic and transport-related livelihoods. John Cameron and David Seddon. Therefore. and recall finding its arguments both plausible and appealing. Simon / Geoforum 39 (2008) 698–707 699 The following sections reflect some of the principal foci and phases in Blaikie’s research. 1980a) an extended report (Blaikie et al. as a founder member and one of the longest-serving staff. . There he was to remain. Nepal in Crisis created something of a stir. somewhat dated in today’s terms. namely Namibia. this simultaneous engagement with theory and policy became an enduring feature of his work. They had received a grant from the UK government’s Overseas Development Administration (predecessor of the Department for International Development) to assess the effects and possible future development impacts of ODA-funded and other roads in the West-Central region of that poor and isolated Himalayan kingdom on India’s northern border.. and contributed to Blaikie’s sustained crossovers between theoretical and policy concerns. reflects the geographical paradigm of the time. pers. where Piers had previously completed the Geography Tripos in 1963 (Rigg. . it is essential to understand Blaikie’s more recent work in PE. being very well reviewed in academic journals and among Nepali intellectuals but going down like the proverbial lead balloon in official circles. no doubt thereby enhancing the authors’ reputations! The approach adopted in this work was at the forefront of contemporary neo-Marxist analysis in Geography and cognate disciplines.to late 1970s that his wider reputation was established. Blaikie et al. I read Nepal in Crisis as a doctoral student very shortly after its publication. namely the political economy of agrarian change. 2006). it was through his collaboration with UEA colleagues.. His thesis title. in terms of which empirical spatial regularities and organisational norms of the built and social environment of non-western cultures were being explored as extensions of such work in the global North. HIV/AIDS epidemiology and development theory in the context of his earlier engagements with poverty. They should certainly not be seen as separate compartments. then only beginning to open up to the outside world. 1975) – his first – as very important to him and his future career direction. innovative . 8 April and 14 September 2005). Formalised by subsequent contractual obligations (see below). They certainly helped me to think through and enframe my own conceptual underpinnings for the political economy of urbanisation and social change in a very different and heavily exploited part of the global outer periphery. Both books and the report have been republished in recent years (see below). Although addressed in broadly chronological order. Whereas Peasants and Workers in Nepal had a more specific rural focus. while his political and epistemological approaches reveal strong continuities over time. The political economy of (under-)development Indeed.

Blaikie et al. the authors accept the weakness of their original framework in terms of understanding dynamic processes. 1991). ideologically-driven generalisations and abstractions that characterised so much of that body of literature. what distinguished – and still distinguishes – it were its grounding in extensive and detailed primary research that precluded the sweeping. Such comparative static primary research over a long period through re-study by the same researchers has very rarely been undertaken (e. The original model underestimated the capacity of the global labor market to provide work and remittances to sustain rural life and to stave off a more generalized crisis – at least in this part of Nepal. This resulted in the publication for which he is arguably most widely known.’’ Some of these ideas were explored further in Land Degradation and Society (Blaikie et al. Urban growth and international labour migration were underestimated but stocks of social. which opens with the bold proclamation that Land degradation should by definition be a social problem. where soil erosion in the Himalayas reached apocryphal proportions and received wide media coverage in the 1980s. This may seem uncontroversial and is widely accepted today. 2002) provide fascinating insights into the research and the empirical findings. 2002. but the basic vision (and prediction) of dependent underdevelopment in the rural study area itself has. Conceptually.. with another ESCOR grant.700 D. livelihoods and the like. along with village-level studies using participatory and rapid rural appraisal techniques. This relatively modest text. Gugler. The principal ‘international’ outputs of this follow-up or re-study (Bagchi et al.. 1998 [which included a comparative element on livelihood trajectories with Eastern India]. Nevertheless. should have contributed to his growing awareness of the importance of the phenomenon. Simon / Geoforum 39 (2008) 698–707 map. We are struck by our findings. Purely environmental processes such as leaching and erosion occur with or without human interference. Although some observers might regard it as anachronistic to deploy (neo-)Marxist frameworks relatively unaltered since the 1970s – albeit taking on board aspects of the sustainable livelihoods approach and other more recent perspectives – it was essential in order to ensure a meaningful comparative static analysis of class structures. and in parts of semi-arid southern Africa. thereby also facilitating the recent republication of the three volumes in India to target the South Asian market. As Rigg (2006.. despite the gradual disappearance of ‘semi-feudalism’. written in characteristically concise and accessible style. 2006). 1). we believe. self-reflexive discussion of epistemological and methodological issues associated with the necessary retention of much of the original conceptual framework in substantially different circumstances (the ‘prisoner of past ideas’ problem). 1987). rural class formation and the like were largely borne out. which suggest that the Marxist class analysis and dependency meta-narrative has proved surprisingly robust in describing both continuity and change . as far as possible the same households were tracked down and surveyed. However. as well as frank. particularly the need to influence the political agenda in favour of appropriate intervention.. natural and produced capital have remained broadly static. 1985). p. ‘‘Here was a social scientist invading the traditional turf of natural science to argue that a physical process – soil erosion – could only be understood in terms of political economy. not least its strong economic reductionism and over-determinism. Although the Nepali re-study was smaller. the predictions about poor prospects for commercial agricultural development. The Political Economy of Soil Erosion (Blaikie. where erosion and land degradation are also longstanding problems. . in the international Anglophone social scientific literature. 36) puts it. pp. been broadly confirmed (Blaikie et al. These features no doubt widened its audience and ensured greater longevity of the ideas and analysis. This research has more recently also become distinctive in a totally different way: Piers Blaikie. it was this analysis – carried over from The Political Economy of Soil Erosion and also applied See Harriss (1994) for a different assessment of agrarian research challenges in the context of changing theoretical perspectives. The findings from their re-study provide relevant food for thought: while there has not been the rapid slide into deeper and more widespread poverty anticipated in the original research. with the objective of ascertaining ‘livelihood trajectories’ in the context of agrarian change and national development during an era of rapid globalisation which had had a profound impact on Nepal. 2 .2 It also provides a useful litmus test of the validity of those frameworks at a time when there are increasing calls to ‘bring political economy back in’ to social scientific analysis (Simon. . modernisation of inputs. drew attention to the anthropogenic origin of land degradation and soil erosion and highlighted the need to explore the interrelationships and policy implications. John Cameron and David Seddon revisited their original research in 1997/8. so to speak. 3. Political ecology in development It is hardly surprising that Blaikie’s Nepali experience. and the moderation and clarity of the prose. but for these processes to be described as ‘degradation’ implies social criteria which relate land to its actual or possible uses (p. 1268–1269). in particular. Beyond that. This would require demonstrating the relevance of the problem and its causes – and how they threaten prospects for capital accumulation – to the ruling elite in each case. in order to assess the nature and extent of change over the intervening 23 years.g.

without any mention of Blaikie. his contributions to each have been notably authoritative and rapidly recognised as such. for instance. 6. 1998. with the balance of work and literature weighted increasingly towards the South at one stage but now more intellectually diverse and geographically distributed again (see below).and post-development theorising during the 1990s (Mohan and Stokke. HIV/AIDS. However. 38–39). Stott and Sullivan (2000. This insight helps to explain much about the origin and subsequent evolution of the approach to PE with which he is associated. p. I return to PE and development research with some observations regarding their current links and status and potentially fruitful future directions. 1975.g. 17) describe their approach to PE. Adams. 2000. disasters and development theory Surveying his list of publications. The shifts of focus over his research career can be understood with reference to the concerns that connect them. to development theory and back again? Given my commensurate range of interests and field research experience. and also within classes and groups within society itself’’. For instance. it is still all too rarely carried out in practice. Brookfield and others. as explained above. cross-fertilise and eventually crystallise into something recognisably distinct. ‘‘the constantly shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources. increasingly rapid change on the ground and – not insignificantly – an ever more rigorous academic research audit culture in many countries. Forsyth. 4. to disaster vulnerability. namely the integration of social and natural science in order to understand the relationships between people and their environment. pp. 2004). Watts and Peet. The surveys of PE’s application to visual cultural analysis (of environmentalist photos) (Flitner. Eric Wolf and other ecological anthropologists to challenge the prevailing explanations of environmental crisis (Watts and Peet. p. Harold Innes (1894–1953). however. 3 and the importance of his Nepali and north Indian experience – as outlined above. the former emerged out of his engagement with the latter. this collection has been less widely utilised on account of many of the contributions being written in German. a relationship that is reflected in the title of this paper. 2006) and which Brown and Purcell (2005) warn against within PE. focused particularly on social movements and activism in the manner of ‘liberation ecologies’ as articulated by Peet and Watts (1996) and Watts and Peet (2004). This subtle metamorphosis retains the ‘political’ but replaces ‘economy’ with ‘ecology’ to signify the conscious marriage of the social scientific concerns with political economic process to the natural environmental processes of ecology. As explained above. Bryant.D. pp. He has also avoided the ‘localist trap’ that beset much development research utilising participatory methodologies as well as anti. could one shift from Nepali underdevelopment and poverty to PE and then to the epidemiology and social response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Uganda. Blaikie et al. Blaikie could be said sometimes to have moved too effortlessly across geographical scales in generalizing from one field area to the national level (e. Political Ecology (PE). 2004. 250–255. or as Blaikie and Brookfield (1987. while the importance of evidence-based integration. Cooke and Kothari. 1980a). where the trend has been inexorably towards greater specialisation and fragmentation in the face of burgeoning literature (both conventional and electronic of diverse providence). Simon / Geoforum 39 (2008) 698–707 701 in Hecht and Cockburn’s (1989) landmark volume on the Amazonian forest and its inhabitants – that has become widely associated with the genesis of the field of endeavour that acquired the label. In the final section. with the nature of that distinctiveness reflecting in part the position(ality). Blaikie’s perspective has remained broad and has not. 2003. 2005. 2006. If anything. How. 2003. It also reflects Blaikie’s own research trajectory – Sadly. pp. Neumann. for instance. Most distinctively. 1999) and to global environmental change and unsustainable development (Reusswig. This healthy diversity of accounts and approaches serves to highlight how various intellectual currents and trajectories interact. In fact. as reflected in this collection (see also Rigg.g. linking scales (but see above) and foci of analysis both vertically and horizontally as well as empirically and theoretically over time. 1999) are distinctive. 1999. lying with the efforts of Alexander Cockburn. Simon. (1998) emphasise Marxist roots and the contribution of the Canadian political economist. Blaikie.. 2001. Purcell and Brown. ‘joined up thinking’ and holistic or systems analysis (as distinct from macro-scale theorising) is often admitted or even invoked. important to note that Piers’s perspective has been underpinned by an essential integration between PE and development research. in Blaikie’s (1999) own reflections as part of an earlier and very useful stocktaking exercise3 and elsewhere (e. the origins of the name and some of the associated but often quite diverse intellectual currents which now dominate PE predate Blaikie’s work by a decade. risk and responses. there are some differences between traditions deriving from research in the global North (by Innes and others) and South. someone unfamiliar with Piers Blaikie’s research might be forgiven a sense of bemusement at the range of apparently disparate topics on which he has worked and written. 1997. and the essential interrelationships among the various categories . while Keil et al. 2005). Piers is one of the few to have achieved this very effectively. research traditions and fieldwork locations of the beholders. this paper does not offer a substantive review of Piers Blaikie’s distinctive contribution to PE since this can be read elsewhere in this collection. Underlying it is one of the dilemmas of contemporary scholarship and knowledge production. respectively. Bryant and Bailey. indeed. It is. I too have been asked this question occasionally. 2001. 2–3) claim to be able to trace its ‘unconscious’ origins back as far as Virgil and Rousseau.

sought international assistance and – crucially – undertook proactive campaigns to raise awareness and promote behavioural change. students5 – explains the work contained in At Risk (Blaikie et al. what distinguished it and earned it its reputation was the perspective: examining not only the epidemiology per se but. is in the detail.uk/press/ releases/safrica_food_crisis080905. the country worst affected by the pandemic in the 1980s and early 1990s and therefore the benchmark against which other experiences and coping strategies have been measured. broader scales and theoretical or conceptual frameworks is the care and nuance required.4 Careful empirical work acquires greater significance – and a different level of understanding – in contextual terms in relation to other spheres. Webb.. HIV/AIDS in Uganda Blaikie’s concern with vulnerability and coping strategies also ultimately underpinned his seminal research on the impact of HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Central to his Nepali work and the political economy/political ecology of soil erosion and land degradation were the linked phenomena of poverty.1. A simultaneous Oxfam press release warned of its contributory role in the current food shortages in several of the region’s countries (http://www. The macro-picture is unsettling but the statistics are but nothing compared with the personal accounts. Unlike so many governments in Africa and elsewhere. 4. That this work remains highly pertinent is borne out by the Human Development Report 2005 (UNDP. in relation to the PE of the Worldwide Fund for Nature and of monsoonal floods and vulnerability in India. This experience and the insights derived from it. comm. quite literally. 1998). unequal power relations. 5 Including Sally Westward and Peter Winchester. ‘environmental risk’ and recoverability – linked to exciting work undertaken by several of his Ph.g. Adam Pain and Ed Allison. In just a few years.. The research by Barnett and Blaikie (1992. Nevertheless. which operate at different scales and require embedding in an appropriate theoretical framework. though.D. The evolution of his work from political economy to political ecology has already been explained above. I do. exposing the very personal and human cost of HIV/AIDS. 2003). 4 . exploitation and hence vulnerability and the difficulties of coping with loss of land and/or its productive potential. the research utilised a disaster and vulnerability approach – suitably modified from the more physical environmental focus of soil erosion. while adult mortality. Piers and his colleagues benefited from the government’s attitude in terms of being able to undertake their research but also contributed substantially to the evolution of the progressive policies and coping strategies through the publicity that their results received in that country and beyond. Nick Abel.g. the Ugandan authorities rapidly acknowledged the scale of the problem. e. recall wondering at the time whether and to what extent the book would have differed (and how it would have been received) had it had Ugandan co-authorship. in turn. marginalisation. 1997. 4. 14 Sept 2005) attributes this interest to having studied geomorphology as part of his undergraduate curriculum and having worked with excellent natural scientists at UEA.org. which precludes Blaikie (pers.2. The devil. fed back into At Risk. the individual family traumas and the insights into how they were seeking to deal with the illness and death of parents and key breadwinners.. crucially. 1994) and their Ugandan team represented the first substantive social scientific study to be published on these themes. Following as it did the prolonged political turmoil and murderous carnage of Idi Amin’s dictatorship and its traumatic aftermath under Milton Obote. 2004). he described himself as essentially ‘‘a karaoke natural scientist’’ during his response in the AAG session. respectively. The subsequent shifts have a similar logic. Alan Whiteside and others at UEA and the University of Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) has contributed to this group’s reputation in social scientific research into HIV/AIDS. who were also knowledgeable about social science. land degradation and monsoonal inundation – but demonstrating the effectiveness and robustness of such a framework in very different circumstances. Moreover. AIDS in Africa blends these most effectively. From here. Blaikie’s moral concern with human wellbeing and – in the context of poverty and deprivation – development prospects provides this Weltanschauung. orphanhood and poverty levels rose alarmingly.702 D. the essential matrix that binds together the various aspects of his work. 1994. sectors or endogenous and exogenous drivers. It has also inspired many others to explore new horizons in relation to the structure-agency construct and the constituents of risky situations and risky behaviour (e. Subsequent continuation of such work by Tony Barnett (now at the London School of Economics). although they have recently stabilised in several others. Ugandan life expectancy plummeted and population growth rates fell. using in-depth interview research with households at the local level as well as with officials and key informants at different levels of Ugandan state and society.htm). HIV/AIDS further undid the country’s development dreams and rendered it one of the most desperate countries in the world. It is no accident that Uganda remains perhaps the only country to date where seropositivity rates have fallen substantially. the desire to explore and understand other conditions of vulnerability. In terms of the subject of this essay. something which already then might have been expected for this kind of sensitive social research.oxfam. Development theory One distinguishing feature of researchers who theorise ‘groundedly’ both upwards and downwards between detailed field research. Simon / Geoforum 39 (2008) 698–707 of people and facets of development. which draws attention to the human cost and erosive effect on development of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. Wisner et al.

This characteristic of Piers is evident in his somewhat sceptical engagement with post-structural development theory when it came into vogue during the 1990s. Piers turned his attention back to PE – for which he did consider the usefulness of post-structural approaches briefly (Blaikie. Whereas I continued to explore the potentialities of post-modern. I would suggest. 1995). and the failure of immediate disaster response mechanisms. in ways complementary to the recent initiative to highlight the importance of ethics within PE as part of the ‘moral turn’ in geography (Bryant and Jarosz. anti-development and post-development as a way out of the ‘development impasse’. in particular. The enthusiastic reception accorded post-modernism. further. Urbanising PE No doubt reflective of the rural agrarian context in which it evolved. 2005. pp. 1997. 2003. suggested that this could become the new hegemony in progressive development thought. that it may have reflected the deep historically-rooted preoccupation with individualised ‘civil liberties’ in North America and the UK. PE was applied rather more in the global South notwithstanding some Northern strands referred to above and the important work of people like Tom Sheridan (1988. 2001.g. see also below with respect to liberation ecologies). we did not pursue our discussion of these issues. Kosek. Piers Blaikie suggested that this may have been due to the fundamental importance of the body of environmental law and related practice in the USA. Somehow. 1999.D. Unbeknown to each other. These imply that locating a major coastal city below sea level and separated from the mighty Mississippi River and Lake Ponchantrain only by levees in a notorious ‘hurricane alley’. Harold . 2004). Hence it takes major catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005 to expose the fault lines in (in this case) the US economy and society (but cf. 2000). In his conference response. However. Kaika. Whiteside’s (2002) assessment of differences between Anglophone and Francophone approaches to PE. although both papers were duly published (Simon. cf. Blaikie and Muldavin. and to identify potentially fruitful ways forward. environmental ethics. Heynen. That intellectual moment represented another of my episodic points of contact with Piers. and the increasingly widespread international dominance since the 1980s of (neo-)liberal economic discourse. one profound consequence is a mainstream failure to analyse structural or distributional causes and consequences in holistic fashion. as part of the ‘cultural turn’ and post-Cold War move away from political economy. The current post-Hurricane Katrina period may be particularly auspicious for such endeavours by virtue of the ability to highlight the effectiveness of PE precisely in those respects where conventional analysis and planning have so demonstrably failed. has been to explore ways of (re-)inserting PE into Northern analyses and ultimately to transcend such geopolitical boundaries (e. Neumann. Heynen et al. which entrenched individualism and a pervasive intellectual separation of political and economic analysis originally derived from neoclassical economics. 2003.2. 2000.. While arguably functional to preservation of the status quo. 2003. Robbins. New approaches and ideas which may seem to have relevance or open hitherto unexplored terrain need therefore to be examined carefully. PE and development theory This final substantive section draws on the foregoing assessment in order to raise some pertinent issues about PE as such and in relation to development research/development studies more generally. is also suggestive of the further potential of post-colonial and post-traditional perspectives. Simon / Geoforum 39 (2008) 698–707 703 gross and simplistic generalisation. he needed convincing that the new ideas were actually helpful not just in terms of intellectual debate but – crucially – also to understanding the real-world forces at work and hence the prospects for addressing poverty and underdevelopment. 5. 2002. ‘(Re-)Exporting’ PE from South to North? For a time. post-colonial and similar theoretical approaches for development in various contexts (Simon. The model and approach of the second edition of At Risk have much to offer in this context. However. 1999. Sheridan. Not only were we paired in the same session but our strikingly similar assessments of the ‘new directions in development thinking’ caused some amusement and even a light-hearted charge of collusion. Blaikie. Robbins and Sharp. 1996. Partly because of his more nuanced political economy pedigree and partly for the reason just mentioned. political and activist spaces are so profoundly different that the challenge to relate PE to the environmental justice and civil rights discourses and policy agendas at local and larger scales – appealing as it is – will be formidable. 2004).g. there is still unexplored potential for further developing post-structural perspectives in the context of PE (Simon. we were both invited as plenary speakers at the inaugural conference of the newly integrated post-apartheid Society of South African Geographers on the theme of Environment and Development in Africa in mid-1997. 5. 1998. following that conference. The challenge. were in no sense contributory factors to the scale of calamity. with nature–identity issues far more prominent in the latter. 2004) even as the myth of it being a purely ‘natural’ disaster is perpetuated in official pronouncements. social justice and (admittedly principally soft) sustainability.1. increasingly taken up over the last decade or so. concerns with the ‘green agenda’. 2006. 1995). which is substantively different and requires a particular legal skill-set to participate or contest. In view of the scope and breadth of Northern environmental movements. 2004. 5. 2003. 2000. the intellectual. this was somewhat surprising. 141–144) – and also his growing research interests in China (e. and in which Piers Blaikie. also Watts. 2006). 2006.

Ranajit Guha. 2004. Despite the burgeoning literature on PUIs. drawing on field research in both the global South and North. 2002). 2003. Loftus and McDonald. the same should apply with respect to PE. we should now pose the question of whether the privileging of the social scientific dimensions and the growing emphasis on social constructions of the environment as ‘socio-’ or ‘social nature’ (e. The PUI also often straddles administrative and political jurisdictions. Tim Forsyth and others have mainly worked. Swyngedouw and Heynen. Loftus. political and social relations that have led to urban environmental change. . not to mention personal or elite ‘capture’. However. PE in the global South has to date been applied principally in rural areas. regional or other positions. 2003.3. has emerged over the last decade (e. Castree and Braun... As dynamic zones of interaction and change. 5. despite the important contextual differences. 1999). 2006). creating further ambiguities and conflicts (McGregor et al. . both in relation to poor and marginalized groups and society more generally. too. peri-urban and rural areas. Here it might be useful to consider both the theoretical/conceptual approach of PE and its utility in practice as an interdisciplinary tool. . Just as the UK’s DFID has promoted the adaptation of sustainable livelihoods analysis (SLA) from its original rural context to that of urban areas in order to understand the often-diverse survival strategies of the poor in their own terms in different contexts (Rakodi and Lloyd-Jones. A growing body of urban PE literature. perhaps including more than one country and continent.there is no necessary and progressive link of supposedly ‘‘local’’ knowledge to policy processes via social movements. ethnic. since these are now widely recognized as intimately interconnected. 2004. Heynen et al. PUI) would be particularly well suited to PE approaches since the competing interests of ‘indigenous’ residents versus new migrants. Heynen et al. there are rich traditions in human and urban ecology which suggest that PE should have value as an urban and periurban tool as well. 2004.g. 434). Such dispersal often embraces urban. Various urban-based issues and planning approaches now seek this broader understanding. 2001. 2003 and Forsyth. corruption. many people’s livelihoods comprise diverse and geographically dispersed strategies in the search for sustainability. Swyngedouw et al. 2003.. they must inherently be understood within the context of the economic. This concern is indeed important and reminds us of the importance of class. and has been necessary in order to challenge the previously dominant hegemonic discourses of the environment and economic development (Bryant. it is important to avoid dichotomizing analysis of urban and rural areas or processes. 2006) have perhaps gone too far and that some ‘renaturalization’ might be appropriate (cf. 2002. p. or dependence on outside ‘expert’ research – some of the essential elements of political economy and PE. research to date has only just begun to scratch the surface in respect of PE analysis as such (Freidberg. forthcoming. and expertise is often poorly established or mistrusted (Forsyth.. Forsyth (2004) extends the essentially rural focus of liberation ecology to industrial and urban areas. Tony Bebbington. This need is as great in the global North as in the South. Indeed. I see them as essentially complementary and necessary elements of a more comprehensive PE or liberation ecology (see below). Furthermore. This trend is consistent with the (neo-)Marxian political economic foundations of key strands of PE as set out above. 2004).g. in part through recent PUI and sustainable livelihoods research initiatives (see above) that have added value to earlier studies of oscillating migration and the multi-local and multi-scale survival strategies of households. Importantly. Evolving research issues Following from the previous observations. although certain features and elements of PE are occasionally evident. Swyngedouw and Heynen. 2001. Simon Batterbury. Castree’s (2005) use of the term ‘de-naturalisation’ to denote bringing nature back into social science). Echoing Peet and Watts’s (1996) warning of the naı ¨vety of assuming the content of all green movements to be progressive. as risks are often new and uncertain. Simon / Geoforum 39 (2008) 698–707 Brookfield. Swyngedouw. Robbins. 903) reaffirm the importance of Marxian PE – a paradigm that has underpinned all Swyngedouw’s work – and provide a useful manifesto for the urbanization of PE: While an understanding of the changes that have occurred within urban environments lies at the heart of political ecology research. One of the suggestions below seeks to take forward the potentials in this area. His examination of lead and lignite pollution problems and campaigns in Thailand is set against the trajectory of environmental politics and social action over several decades. Forsyth also challenges liberation ecology more broadly to avoid the implicit assumption that poor or marginalized people’s environmental social movements and their discourses are necessarily progressive and liberatory: . 1997. Perhaps this is something more challenging to the brown environmental agenda. periurban areas (or the peri-urban interface. 2001). Swyngedouw and Heynen (2003. 2006. Madhav Gadgil. and PE and liberation ecology must do so too.704 D. While it is also important to incorporate the brown environmental agenda into the more conventional concern with elements of the green agenda. p. Ray Bryant. I would contend – rather less trenchantly than Vayda and Walters (1999) and more akin to Walker (2005) – that much (but certainly not all – see below) work within PE has become increasingly political at the expense of ecological. and of different social and occupational groups within villages play themselves out very conspicuously and for high stakes as agricultural land is converted to non-residential uses. Robbins and Sharp. . .

where simplistic notions from cultural studies/geography of ‘nature’ as socially constructed have gained purchase. 6. perhaps inspirationally for the emergent approach to liberation ecologies. 1999. extending benchmark recent work to rebalance the political and ecological dimensions of PE and to explore further integration with SLA. or understanding of. Accordingly. However. environment and livelihoods. Batterbury and Bebbington. 2001). Perreault. .. leads me (perhaps more than Blaikie. 2001. the paper has highlighted the continuities and connections between Blaikie’s PE work and that on other themes such as the Ugandan HIV/AIDS pandemic. this has often resulted in a relatively superficial engagement with. the analysis of risk and disaster responsiveness. accountable. I see them as complementary in the sense of facilitating a wider range of applications and aptitudes for PE. runs the risk of being at the very best partial (Bebbington and Batterbury. such work can . 144) unassumingly put it. Equally.document that there is a dialectic between ecological dynamics and livelihood decisions and possibilities. 1999. On the contrary. 1999. PE may also facilitate bringing back an element of political economy and progressive environmental science into development studies. while SLA research can lend PE a finer texture and an enhanced socio-cultural dimension. the environmental/ecological dynamics of local people’s lives and livelihoods. He has maintained a concern for political economy throughout. Batterbury. (1987). As such. Some might see the integration of PE and sustainable livelihoods analysis (SLA) as methodologically contradictory. These focus on expanding PE into peri-urban and urban contexts (not least linked to the SLA).. Many writers invoking PE hail from predominantly. As indicated above. However. though now more diverse and still evolving. PE can provide the missing political economic and environmental dimensions to SLA.6 which. 371). such work adopts a multiscalar approach to linking people. thereby helping to integrate different scales of analysis more effectively and to facilitate critical examination of some of the implicit assumptions of PE or liberation ecology as discussed above. assimilated principally into the discourse in terms of environmental rights. 2005). perhaps reflecting the natural science training of some team members. Along with other studies in the same edited collections. focused very much on the vanguardist radical/progressive role of local and ‘new’ social movements. In other words. In many respects. 2001. Gray. Rocheleau et al.g. This survey of Blaikie’s work has also provided the platform for a series of observations on the current state of PE in development studies and beyond. As Blaikie (1999. 2006). 2003 and Walker. egalitarian and democratic environmental future. a factor probably accounting in part for the trajectory of strong streams within the approach and its success as an antidote to predominantly positivist environmental science. aspirations and struggles. the former being overtly political and SLA often criticized for being more or less apolitical. Batterbury and Forsyth. As the work just cited demonstrates. Zimmerer and Bassett. 2001. not in a narrow or deterministic manner. a stronger ecological/environmental toolkit deployed more widely within an integrated approach to PE would enable the perspective to find application and acceptance in a broader range of circumstances and debates. 2001. 1999. 1999) to speculate that there remains unfulfilled potential to integrate PE in ways more nuanced and accommodating than Escobar’s (1996) anti-developmental proposals. this strand of research is probably the closest to the perspectives originally enunciated by Blaikie (1985) and Blaikie et al. . was firmly rooted within development research and in a manner that sought to integrate natural and social scientific analysis. this trend is by no means universal and an important stream of work has demonstrated effectively the value to be gained from balanced and integrated attention to the biophysical/environmental and socio-political realms at different scales in diverse Latin American and Sahelian contexts (e. 2001a. . Finally. as was central to its early evolution. and that any analysis that understates this . 2001). adding credibility that is sometimes now lacking in engagements with environmental professionals and other intermediaries (see also Forsyth. In this.g. the theoretical maturation of post-structural and related approaches to development studies referred to above. p. (e. and the poststructural challenge in development studies. Bebbington and Batterbury. . and suggestions for further work. Escobar has modified his stance (Simon. and promoting the reintroduction of political 6 It is worth noting that in more recent writing. . I see this question more as a challenge to increase further the value of PE by matching the increasingly sophisticated social scientific content with enhanced ecological/environmental analytical power (see the next paragraph).D. There may be a case for choosing that method of constructing nature which is most conducive to the promotion of a just. but in a flexible and adaptable form that has remained open to new and diverse currents and discourses but which leaves him sceptical of ‘the cultural turn’ and post-structural theory that privileges cultural and identity issues to the exclusion of the material. not least in following directly from the concluding observations in the previous sub-section above. in view of their very different origins and applications. Turner. if not wholly. Bebbington. social scientific backgrounds. Simon / Geoforum 39 (2008) 698–707 705 This should not be misunderstood as a call for a reduction of the political content of PE or of its potentially liberatory agenda. PE. p. 2003.b. Batterbury et al. Conclusion Piers Blaikie’s importance to the rise of political ecology has been examined in the context of the broader trajectory of his lifetime engagement with development research.

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