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doi:10.1111/j.1467-9493.2012.00453.x

Bringing the other into political ecology:


Reecting on preoccupations in
a research eld
Soyeun Kim,1 Godwin Uyi Ojo,2 Rukhe Zehra Zaidi3 and Raymond L. Bryant3
1

Department of East Asian Studies, University of Leeds, UK and Re-shaping Development Institute, Seoul,
South Korea
2
College of Arts and Social Sciences, Igbinedion University, Okada, Nigeria and Environmental Rights
Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria
3
Department of Geography, Kings College London, London, UK
Correspondence: Soyeun Kim (email: s.s.kim@leeds.ac.uk)

For all its vitality political ecology often appears to be a project in which work by AngloAmericans in particular, if it is not privileged, certainly predominates. This trend reflects wider
language and intellectual tendencies in human geography and the social sciences that distort the
development of the field by downplaying or obscuring the contributions of many non-AngloAmericans and by naturalizing Anglo-American assumptions at the heart of research. The latter in
turn determine what constitutes good work even as there is no single definition of political
ecology. Arguing against this tendency, this paper draws on postcolonial thinking to emphasize the
need to reassess and reorient the field as other political ecologies are feasible and desirable.
Keywords: political ecology, postcolonial, other, Anglo-American assumptions

Introduction
The field of political ecology is one of the multidisciplinary successes of the past
generation. With roots in the 1970s it has established itself at the interface of human
geography and anthropology as a critical and radical project endeavouring to assess
unequal power relations shaping humanenvironment interactions worldwide.
Success was linked to a particular combination of factors in western academe. From
the 1960s, environmental problems were seen as being intertwined with human existence, while critics increasingly emphasized the failure of conventional technical
approaches to address causation. Those critics drew on structural and poststructural
theories that did target causation notably in relation to questions of class, gender,
discourse, state action, colonialism and NorthSouth inequalities even as students
demanded perspectives on uncomfortable truths. Interventions by the likes of Blaikie,
Watts, Turner II, Schmink and Wood created space for critical thinking that combined
concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy (Blaikie & Brookfield,
1987: 17). A subsequent generation then followed in their wake mainly at AngloAmerican universities.1
Political ecology has now come of age as a favourite of university study (Kepe et al.,
2008), and with research published in top social science journals and in numerous
textbooks (on the latter see Blaikie, 1985; Peet & Watts, 1996; 2004; Rocheleau et al.,
1996; Bryant & Bailey, 1997; Stott & Sullivan, 2000; Forsyth, 2003; Zimmerer & Bassett,
2003; Robbins, 2004; 2012; Neumann, 2005; Biersack & Greenberg, 2006; Goodman
et al., 2008; Peet et al., 2011). The gaze of political ecology has not only widened spatially
and increasingly addressed issues in both the North (McCarthy, 2005; Schroeder et al.,
2006) and the South. It has also expanded thematically, covering issues such as air
Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 33 (2012) 3448
2012 The Authors
Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 2012 Department of Geography, National University of Singapore and
Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd

Bringing the other into political ecology

35

pollution and toxic waste as well as traditional ones such as land degradation and
deforestation, while also scrutinizing diverse actors such as states (Peluso, 1992), NGOs
(Bryant, 2005), businesses (Bury, 2008), community groups (Escobar, 2008) and international organizations (Goldman, 2005).
And yet despite these developments, the scholarship that tends to predominate is that
of Anglo-American researchers (who are themselves becoming more socially differentiated), mirroring thereby a trend in human geography (Minca, 2000; Garcia-Ramon,
2003). This tendency what Power (2010: 433) calls the parochiality of a US-UK
configuration does not just distort the development of the field, both by downplaying
or obscuring contributions by many others and by naturalizing Anglo-American assumptions at the heart of political ecology, but also determines what constitutes good work
even allowing for no single definition in political ecology (CAPE, 2004). We thus argue
that it is valuable to reassess and reorient the field as other political ecologies are feasible
and desirable (and part of a wider effort, see Garcia-Ramon, 2003; Tickner & Waever,
2009; Chen, 2010; Ntarangwi, 2010).
First, we clarify our use of the term other. Key insights derive from postcolonialism,
particularly in the wake of Saids Orientalism (1978) insights that even now require
wider integration in political ecology (Escobar, 1996; Wainwright, 2005; see also
Sidaway, 2000a; Ashcroft et al., 2006; Sharp, 2008). Other generally refers to a long
and ambiguous cultural politics steeped in colonialism in which Euro-American senses
of identity are co-constructed with equivalent senses of identity that are imposed on
other peoples and regions. This process can be seen in Saids (1978: 5) analysis of
Orient and Occident: two geographical entities [that] support and to an extent reflect
each other. This historical construction, underpinning an earlier extension of EuroAmerican power and continuing via postwar development (Escobar, 1995), only now
seems to be unravelling in the BRIC era (Sidaway, 2012).
In the evolution of education, most notably through universities, Kenyan writer
Ngugi wa Thiongo (1995: 439) notes that there was a basic assumption that the English
tradition and the emergence of the modern west is the central root of our consciousness
and cultural heritage. Africa [thereby] becomes an extension of the west (see also
Mkandawire, 2005). This shaping role persists today, for instance with the privileging of
western academe in determining objects of study or even who studies (Bok, 2003), and
seen in the movement of students from across the world especially to Anglo-American
sites of learning, in the sanctioning of what counts as important research, and in
the continued pre-eminence of western scholars often employed at Anglo-American
universities (Marginson, 2006).
But such hegemony is being contested. Whether it be the spread of nonwestern
research (e.g. evinced in the rise of universities from these areas in global league
tables), or the growth of South-South education exchanges, there is growing evidence
that the Anglo-American university has reached its global high tide (Marginson,
2006). It is against this backdrop that we argue for the elaboration of other political
ecologies.2
Bringing the other in
There are two key aspects here. The first brings to the fore authorship facilitating a more
differentiated gaze while the second relates to the prospect of more elaborate understandings of political ecology based on alternate perspectives connected to less noticed
contexts. While there is no taken-for-granted link between other scholars and new

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stories, there is nonetheless the possibility that reorientation might lead to new issues,
theories or methodologies being explored.
To advance this agenda is to promote research by other political ecologists under
publishing arrangements in which they have a controlling stake. Few extant collections
privilege non-Anglo-American perspectives in English at least in this way (but see Lye
et al., 2003). Instead, Anglo-Americans tend to predominate for example, Blaikie and
Brookfield (1987), Peet and Watts (1996; 2004), Stott and Sullivan (2000), Zimmerer
and Bassett (2003), Biersack and Greenberg (2006), Goodman et al. (2008) and Peet
et al. (2011) with work such as Rocheleau et al. (1996) and Moore et al. (2003)
arguably partial exceptions. The point is not to gainsay important contributions but
to underscore that they are mainly or exclusively Anglo-American achievements. As
Batterbury (2004) observes:
It is regretful when some of the recent synthesis volumes in the field choose to anchor
themselves firmly to North American (or sometimes also to British) authors, implicitly denying
the vital role of scholars in Australasia, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden,
France, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Thailand, Kenya, South Africa and many other countries. And
while political ecology is largely a child of the West it is not tied to it exclusively. An
international history of the field has yet to be written.

While we do not write such a history here, we argue that it is time to acknowledge
alternative scholarly contributions to political ecology.
Perceiving weakness in the Anglo-American citadel
That Anglo-American assumptions or personnel underpin much work in political
ecology even today is a lamentable situation in a field that has a worldwide agenda: this
paper (like others in the special themed section) was borne out of our own debates on
precisely this issue. The view that gained ground was that political ecology remains
constrained because it has typically failed to reach out beyond Anglo-American
academe in a systematic and equitable manner. As a result, the field has reflected a less
complex picture of the scholarly community than it should, which at a time of global
shifts seems to adhere to an outdated vision of which topics are studied and what
audiences are targeted (Minca, 2000; Sidaway, 2000b; Garcia-Ramon, 2003; Power
et al., 2006).
The point is to recognize that perceptions of political ecology inevitably reflect who
is doing the perceiving and where these observers are doing the perceiving from. Thus
when viewed from within the citadel of an Anglo-American dominated political ecology,
satisfaction levels often seem to be high for the sorts of reasons noted. Yet when
perceptions are based on what observers who come from outside this citadel see then a
different picture may emerge one in which a relatively privileged group of insiders are
seen to set many parameters.
To understand this situation is to acknowledge the historical trajectory of the field;
to recognize how it has always been selective in its choices of how to be radical. Thus,
and while notably shaped by neo-Marxism and poststructuralism, it has often failed to
engage reflexively enough with postcolonialism not drawing enough practical insight
from such inquiry (cf. Ntarangwi, 2010). Indeed, and even where addressed, the
message of postcolonialism is one mainly seen to involve the appropriate object of a
researchers gaze (Wainwright, 2005) rather than one that might challenge who does the
gazing and why (but see below on Escobar).

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37

Postcolonial theory does have its biases and omissions. To some extent, what and
who questions are still influenced by Euro-centred dynamics (Chen, 2010). There is
somewhat of a regional bias toward certain former European colonies in Africa, South/
Southeast Asia and the Middle East. In contrast, East Asia has been relatively marginalized (Buckley, 2000; Young, 2005; McLeod, 2007). Meanwhile, leading postcolonial
scholars such as Homi Bhabha, Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak have been integral to
Anglo-American knowledge production at top US universities hence complexly
subject to the disciplining processes of these centres.
Not surprisingly then fresh calls to decolonize the field are being made. Thus,
Taiwanese scholar Kuan-Hsing Chen (2010) promotes an inter-referencing East Asian
scholarship that does not look to old imperial centres. Such alternative perspectives are
laudable insofar as they do not create new knowledge hegemonies. What is needed then
is a rethink of what Rajan (1997) calls the international division of intellectual labour
such that a broadening of academia reflects more representative views of the world
(KASER, 2001; Garcia-Ramon, 2003; Alimonda, 2006; Escobar, 2008; Ojo, 2010).
Such thinking is often passed over by many political ecologists in Anglo-America in
particular, as few seek to relate it to the concerns of political ecology with an eye to
fundamentally and reflexively transforming the field. Arturo Escobar, a Colombian
educated at the postgraduate level in the US where he still works, stands out as a notable
if complicated exception here. A prolific anthropologist, his work to push political
ecology in alternative directions via poststructural analysis (e.g. Escobar, 1995; 1999;
2006) has notably involved ethnographic research coproduced with Afro-Colombian
colleagues and is designed to collectively develop knowledge that bridges academe and
activism: a quest for a politics of difference based on relational ontologies (Escobar,
2008; 2010).
This work is impressive. Yet it does not directly counter, but rather remains complexly embedded (as is Escobar) within a US knowledge production context. To modify
Escobar (2008: xii), there is a scholarship of compromise inevitably at play as a result of
being subject to the maddening pace of the neoliberal academy in the United States.
Certainly, an alternative scholarly agenda for example, numerous publications written
or translated into Spanish and other languages, research cooperation with Latin American activists and scholars, visiting fellowships around the world can be seen in one
sense as an important counterweight to academic disciplining in Anglo-America. Still,
such complex career identities only partly offset a scholarship of compromise.
Escobars case highlights in diverse ways and with respect to a diverse group of
scholars several critical issues, just a few of which we note here. First, there are often
hybrid careers and intellectual qualities to many scholars reflective of historical legacies
as well as unequal power relations that condition them. Yet the other becomes manifest
in political ecology differently, amounting to a typology of sorts that we can only briefly
and very partially explore here. One case involves individuals who hail from other
countries but who are trained at and employed in Anglo-American universities where
they may seek to challenge Anglo-American assumptions through cultivation of a
differentiated gaze. While critique here may be powerful due to insider knowledge, such
intimacy often comes at a price inasmuch as these scholars capacity to challenge is
constrained in complicated ways by their employment situation. Constraints here reflect
the need to be embedded in a self-referential Anglo-American academy, manifested
through the quest for career advancement, intellectual debts and obligations, as well as
collegiality and social networks, for example. A second case concerns those who are
trained at Anglo-American institutions but take up employment elsewhere. Here, too,

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a differentiated gaze may emerge, perhaps shaped in part by different career and cultural
expectations and experiences than those prevailing in the Anglo-American citadel. That
gaze can simply be a reflection of living and working in other academic cultures, but it
might also reflect a collision of norms and practices, as an individual reconciles their
training and employment experiences. Either way, new ideas or perceptions about
political ecology might be the result. In comparison, a third case relates to the other
within that is, political ecologists born or raised in Anglo-America who are often of
ethnic minority heritage. Here, a politics of difference may find expression in a
differentiated gaze that undoubtedly reflects its own personal trajectories and meanings
(Nez-Mchiri, 2009). Certainly, comparable constraints to those noted for the first case
are likely to be factor in an individuals career even as there may be countervailing
factors that might aid in the articulation of alternative perspectives (e.g. affirmative
action discourses and policies, and diaspora membership). A final, fourth case concerns
political ecologists who are neither trained nor working in Anglo-American academe.
Though they might be influenced to a greater or lesser degree by Anglo-American
scholarship, they may nonetheless cultivate a differentiated gaze via different theoretical and/or empirical traditions for instance suggestive of pathways that are not
reducible to the ones just noted. Research by East Asian and Latin American political
ecologists is illustrative here (see below).
Even such a partial typology points to the rich and differentiated processes at stake
here while inviting further reflection and elaboration (for instance, as to patterns and
processes of othering that are completely unconnected to Anglo-American academe).
It has certainly helped all of us involved in this special section to reflect on our own
intellectual journeys. The younger scholars amongst us have diverse national origins
(Chile, South Africa, Nigeria, South Korea, Pakistan), a common interest in political
ecology and share a common migration for doctoral studies through the AngloAmerican university the Department of Geography at Kings College London, where
the idea for a project on other political ecologies germinated through conversations
that included one of our Anglo-American supervisors, Raymond Bryant. Today, two of
us have returned home, one has joint affiliation with a UK and home institution, and
two remain at Kings College London, underscoring just some of the complex (and
dynamic) positioning scarcely noted in the literature. At the same time, our own
project has shown that power relations are invariably at play that must be constantly
negotiated (e.g. supervisor/supervised, junior/senior, non/Anglo-American, male/
female). Such dynamics are perhaps inevitable, but never immutable, we have
learned.
Second, and partly as a result of such complex scholarly positioning, a process that
emphasizes the contributions of other political ecologists does not imply that such
scholars speak in unison, as heterogeneous work in Latin American political ecology
illustrates (e.g. Baquedano, 2002; Alimonda, 2006; Palacio Casteeda, 2010). Nor need
such scholars proffer perspectives dramatically different from Anglo-American counterparts (who themselves reflect diverse concerns and perspectives), as research by the
likes of Patnaik (2006), Mullins (2007), or Rasul (2007) demonstrate. Indeed, an
assumption that other political ecologists will automatically produce work that is different from Anglo-American counterparts manifests new forms of censorship and
discrimination.
Third, language barriers can hinder the intelligibility of contributions from some
political ecologists seeking to register a difference on the international stage of the
English-speaking world (Ives, 2010), while recognizing that not all scholars solicit such

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exposure (Fall & Rosire, 2008). Here, de facto exclusion goes hand in hand with the
challenges (and costs) of translations barriers perhaps most evident in the context of
an East Asian political ecology largely unknown in Anglo-America (e.g. Lee 2003;
Moon, 2006a; Akimichi & Ichikawa, 2008; Ichikawa et al., 2010). True, the AngloAmerican-based Journal of Political Ecology accepts papers in Spanish and French, but so
far at least non-English papers have been relatively rare. Conversely, some work from
Anglo-American academe is translated into other languages, thereby underscoring what
research is perceived to be important (that Escobar is frequently translated is intriguing
and partly reflects his complex career identities noted above). Yet for many non-AngloAmerican political ecologists, this state of affairs is hardly satisfactory: as Garcia-Ramon
(2003: 2) observes, language not only reflects the external world, it also embodies it. It
is much more than a communicative tool for exchanging ideas, it also represents a way
of thinking and a framework for expressing our own experiences and realities. Thus,
the rise of English-language journals within an increasingly global university and
research system (in which much high impact work is published) is scarcely international in the sense of encouraging an intellectually or linguistically level playing field on
which scholars from diverse cultures and language groups might interact (Gutierrez &
Lpez-Nieva, 2001; Paasi, 2005).
Engaging with political ecology suffused with such power relations can thus be a
difficult process. Yet why has Anglo-American political ecology so far been relatively
immune to postcolonial critiques, at least in English? Many other fields shaped by
unequal power relations such as those linked to area studies have witnessed relatively
greater reorientation and reassessment (Miyoshi & Harootunian, 2002; Chen, 2010). Two
possible reasons spring to mind. First, there is the timing of political ecologys relatively
recent ascendancy in western academe (in the 1980s) compared with that of better
established area studies in the era of decolonization (from the 1950s). Second, the radical
bases of political ecology, premised as it was on structural and poststructural ideas critical
of mainstream thinking, might have inoculated the field from searching scrutiny.
What are the key features of a political ecology often dominated by Anglo-American
assumptions and personnel? First, as already noted, the very definition of the field has
been shaped by a succession of Anglo-Americans: whether in the form of landmark
articles or textbooks, these writers have moulded how the field has widely come to be
understood. This influence encompasses such things as appropriate theoretical, methodological or empirical choices, professional standards in research and prestigious
publication outlets. Second, political ecology has taken shape notably in the context of
the annual meetings of the American and (to a lesser extent) British geography and
anthropology associations. For instance, the sessions of the Cultural and Political
Ecology Speciality Group (CAPE) within the Association of American Geographers,
which have produced new ways of seeing political ecology (mostly) in a context of
Anglo-American knowledge production and expectations. The creation and reproduction of the field here has thus simultaneously been about the often subtle disciplining of
those who call themselves political ecologists. Third, most key and so-called international academic journals and publishing houses are located in the US or UK, providing
some in-built advantage for well-connected writers in those countries. It is not surprising, therefore, that academic gatekeepers are still disproportionately resident in AngloAmerica as a cursory scan of editorial or international advisory boards would reveal.
Finally, that the international language of so much existing scholarship is English clearly
favours native English speakers together with others typically educated/working in
Anglo-American academe (e.g. Mukherji, 2006; Njeru, 2006; Hung, 2007; Escobar,

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2008), underscoring thereby how ambiguity and hybridity can shape the role of the
other in the field. As a result, there is a group of well-connected, mutually supportive
Anglo-American based scholars with their hands on the levers of knowledge production
in much of political ecology.
Such international hegemony has certainly not prevented other scholars from teaching and researching political ecology beyond the Anglo-American citadel. Indeed, in
selected contexts such as France (see below) and Latin America (e.g. Bedoya & Martinez, 1999; Alimonda, 2002; 2011; Baquedano, 2002; Leff, 2006; Gudynas, 2010),
robustly autonomous scholarly traditions are in place. Yet all too frequently intellectual
pursuits have been conducted in scholarly settings in which there is not a critical mass
of political ecologists, albeit a situation that might be changing in selected regions and
countries.3 To overcome possible isolation, some scholars may thus feel obliged to attend
Anglo-American conferences to remain connected to the latest trends and/or invite
prominent Anglo-American political ecologists to their universities (Harootunian &
Miyoshi, 2002). For their research to receive an international audience, they typically
must publish in English, thereby making them regularly beholden to Anglo-American
gatekeepers (perhaps less so for those writing in Spanish journals such as Ecologa Poltica
that reach out to an international readership). On the margin of this English-language
political ecology community, it is not surprising that their impact factor tends to be
lower than big name Anglo-American counterparts.
It is France that has the best developed alternative political ecology community,
one that is deeply embedded in the concerns of that country and its green politics, via
writer-practitioners such as Andr Gorz (1987) and Alain Lipietz (Shull, 1999), which
revolve around possible trajectories and components of life after capitalism (Chartier
& Delage, 2010) in a manner not much pursued in Anglo-American academe (Whiteside, 2002; Walker 2006; Seijo, 2011). Given these different historical paths, there
has been relatively little crossover between French and Anglo-American political
ecology, although a series of theme issues of cologie & Politique suggest some overlap
(e.g. Blanc et al., 2011; Rodary, 2011), while affinities to some Spanish scholarship can
be discerned (e.g. Martnez-Alier, 2002; Martnez-Alier et al., 2010). The role of
English as an international language, though, has undoubtedly limited the influence
of French political ecology when compared with its Anglo-American counterpart, for
example across much of Europe where the latter community is often a referent (e.g.
Graner, 1997; Krings, 1999; Gssling, 2003; Bohl & Fnfgeld, 2007; Otero et al., 2009;
Paniagua et al., 2012).
Other storytellers, stories and audiences
What might an alternative political ecology project based on new relations and norms
among scholars look like? These being early days (in the English-speaking world) for
such an ambitious endeavour, this paper can only scratch at the surface of the kinds
of issues and thinking that might emerge to underlie such a project. First, there is
need for antihegemonic critique. Research can call attention to the complex AngloAmerican assumptions and practices that underlie much of political ecology today
even as such work explores why this state of affairs is inappropriate in relation to an
array of other contributions or perspectives. Such critique might pinpoint distortions
in the development of the field for reasons already noted.4 In aggregate, these reflect
power relations that many political ecologists in Anglo-American academe are happy
to talk about with regard to the objects of their research, but usually less so when it

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41

relates to practices in their own scholarly community (let alone how they see change
here occurring).
Second, research can fruitfully proffer alternative embodiments of political ecology as a
means by which to sketch alternative visions. This embodiment is clearly literal in that
non-Anglo-Americans define and produce their own work (a selection of which are
cited in this paper). This is not a simple matter as much postcolonial work on the tricky
task of giving voice to difference more generally notes (e.g. Spivak, 1995). Ironically, as
suggested above, while these insights are not unknown among Anglo-American political ecologists, they have not usually been assimilated to the everyday practices of the
research field that they dominate. Put differently, what would putting the last first look
like within a reoriented political ecology scholarly community? Indeed, how is the last
even to be defined given the many complexities that surround the other in political
ecology?
Third, political ecology research could feature in new publishing outlets such as
electronic blogs, journals, and the like, as well as smaller and lesser known publishers
of books and journals often overlooked by many Anglo-American political ecologists (in
Southeast or East Asia, for example, see Seki Y, 2001; Odani, 2009; Seki K, 2009),
especially when it comes to their best work. Once again, this is not a trivial matter
because the status quo reflects a clear privileging of international (but typically UK/USbased) outlets that serve particular distinction-making concerns. Yet this distortion may
cast into the shadow diverse publishers that may thereby be deprived of quality research
sent first to usually better resourced Anglo-American counterparts, perhaps only later
republished with them, seemingly unless a concerted countervailing effort is made
such as the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLASCO) political ecology series
edited by Hctor Alimonda (2002; 2006; 2011).
Fourth, there is a need to cater to and interest new audiences. It is hardly surprising
that much research in Anglo-American academe is often inaccessible and unaffordable
for many would-be readers in many countries that various political ecologists do write
about, notably but not exclusively in the South. Of course there can be a lack of
connection or different expectations between what some Anglo-American political
ecologists write about and what can be usefully deployed in the settings analyzed. The
point is not that all scholarship need have a clear and immediate practical local benefit
but that there needs to be more regular and systematic connections between research
outputs and contexts if only because of the more diverse composition of the research
community involved as well as perhaps different expectations about what political
ecology is for (e.g. Alimonda, 2006; Moon, 2006a; Acosta, 2009; Gudynas, 2010;
Romanova, 2010). In this regard, Escobars (e.g. 2008; 2010) work on territory, politics, and sustainability points in one fruitful direction via the coproduction of knowledge with locally-based writer-activists (in Nigeria, see Ojo & Oluwafemi, 2004; Ojo,
2012).
Finally, if perhaps more ambiguously, there is the possibility of new stories as other
political ecologists assume a more prominent role than before. While this cannot be
assumed, narratives from other places may indeed lead in different directions as what is
to be studied and how studies occur are shaped by increasingly varied cultural and
intellectual traditions (Contreras, 1998; Alimonda, 2006). Topics may include nonwestern social constructions of the other that, for example, link Japan and China with their
Asian neighbours (Suzuki, 2007; Kim, 2012). Whatever the outcome, the need for other
political ecologies as noted earlier does not simply revolve around the need for new
stories (Mullins, 2004; Delang, 2005; Obi, 2005) as much as implicate a range of issues

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which in differing ways reflect the construction of a particular sort of political ecology
based on distinctive cultural practices (driven in the UK, for example, by research
assessment exercises, see Castree, 2006) as well as complex power relations concerning
who is on the inside and who is on the outside of the Anglo-American citadel.
In this regard, perhaps the key contribution of other political ecologies would be to
provincialize the hitherto universal knowledge production system that seems to be at
the core of the Anglo-American project (Robinson, 2003) to render thereby unnatural
any sweeping intellectual reach and claims, and to ensure that, as with all other cultural
narratives and scholarly traditions, political ecology sits in place (Escobar, 2001; Leff,
2006).
Conclusion
Our aim has been to identify selected key issues surrounding knowledge production,
Anglo-American predominance, and multifaceted constructions of the other in political ecology with an eye to reassessment and reorientation in the field. This endeavour
is not about decrying the intellectual quality of prior or current work but whether
research needs to account for the other much more, even as it needs to be better
attuned to the multifaceted nature of that other in political ecology. We suggested that
one key element is to acknowledge and hear voices originating from beyond the
Anglo-American citadel (while being mindful too of sometimes complex career trajectories).
Who those voices are and how such writing will unfold are open questions. While
the contours of this venture thus remain unclear, what is likely is that it will be marked
by great heterogeneity of scholarly traditions, political expectations, and cultural perspectives. These intellectual traditions and demands will be shaped (in subtle and not so
subtle ways) by multifaceted constructions of the other (only some of which are
featured in this paper). Thus, as individual political ecologists pursue their own career
paths, they may bump up against pre-existing but shifting norms and expectations
framed in an Anglo-American idiom, which itself confronts new challenges linked to
internal (e.g. multicultural tendencies) and external (notably geopolitical changes in the
BRIC era) forces that are connected in complicated ways.
Many political ecologists are still liable to be labelled and categorized at international conferences and in international English-language publication systems via such
things as foreign status, articulation in academic English, or culturally-specific
demands for what constitutes research rigour and excellence, as well as implicit
expectations that they will conduct research on their home country or region, rather
than on Anglo-America in a reversed gaze (Ntarangwi, 2010; see also Agarwal &
Narain, 1991).
None of this is likely to deter committed scholars from carving their own spaces in
political ecology and in the process helping to reshape the field. We reiterate that such
a process does not necessarily entail new research agendas, theories or methodologies
based on the potentially suffocating expectation of difference, but something much
more important and elemental: to present research by other political ecologists that is
inspired by their own interests. Those interests may lead to conducting that research at
home or elsewhere; on topics or themes already assessed by Anglo-American political
ecologists or new ones; and using homegrown or differently inspired theories to frame
empirical work. In short, the process would be propelled by a differentiated gaze for a
political ecology sorely in need of further differentiation itself.

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Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers, as well as Shanti Nair, Melissa Moreano,
Francisco Molina Camacho and the SJTG editorial board for their very helpful comments.

Endnotes
1

In this paper Anglo-America refers to the US, UK, Ireland, (English-speaking) Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with Anglo-American denoting individuals who are residents/citizens
of these places. In contrast, non-Anglo-American countries refers to the rest of the world.
Clearly some individuals crisscross such boundaries for education or employment reasons
pointing to contingency in such designations.
2 Two clarifications of our use of other are in order here. First, and while other clearly refers
to people from or resident in countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East (as
per postcolonial theory), we extend its remit, notably to also encompass Europe (excluding
the UK/Ireland). We do so because, when seen from the specific vantage-point of AngloAmerican political ecology, the positionality of (non-UK/Ireland) European scholars bears
some resemblance to that of many researchers from the South, especially when poorer
central and eastern European countries are included. Hence, for example, language issues as
well as different academic cultures and expectations often exist (even in western Europe)
that may serve to render marginal some European scholars in Anglo-American political
ecology. Second, we also use other to denote those individuals born or raised in AngloAmerica of ethnic minority heritage (the other within). As such, we deploy other in the
sense of both language/geography (e.g. nonanglophone, non-Anglo-America resident) and
perceived ethnicity (e.g. ethnic minority Anglo-Americans and most residents of the South).
Such a multifaceted understanding of the other enables us to acknowledge that complex
dynamics shape personal and career identities in political ecology, as evinced by our partial
typology of the other set out below.
3 Three regional scholarly communities in which critical mass can be observed are noted here by
way of example. Thus, it can be seen in the case of Latin America where a common language
(Spanish) is helping to surmount possible isolation of scholars in their individual countries via
core work (e.g. Leff & Boeira, 2002; Alimonda, 2006) and scholars such as Alimonda, Escobar,
Leff and Martnez-Alier. East Asia is witnessing rapid growth with political ecology translated
as zhngzh-shengti-xu in Chinese, jeong-chi-seng-te-hak in Korean, and seiji-(teki)-seitai-gaku or
poritikaru-eh-koroj in Japanese. In Japan, there is a rural and developing country focus (e.g.
Ikeya, 2006; Shimada, 1998; 1999; 2007; Sato, 2002; 2008) with scholars usually based in
geography or anthropology. The growing field in South Korea (e.g. KASER, 2001; Moon,
2006a; Eom, 2008) mostly involves Korea-oriented progressive researcher-activists (Choi,
2001; Kwon, 2001; Lee, 2001; 2003; Moon, 2001; 2006b; Cho, 2006). Soonhong Moon is a
noteworthy pioneer here. Some Anglo-American texts are translated for instance, Robbins
(2004) was published in Korean in 2009. In South Asia, with its longstanding historical
connections to the English-speaking world, an array of scholars and commentators including
Ramachandra Guha, Madhav Gadgil, Anil Agarwal, Sunita Narain, Vandana Siva and
Arundhati Roy have spoken to a broadly political ecology agenda, with Guha (1989; Guha &
Martnez-Alier, 1997) being the most closely associated with that label.
4 This process may be assisted by wider changes in an increasingly global university market with
the growing wealth and power of non-Anglo-American institutions. At the same time, such
anti-hegemonic critique needs to account for complexities surrounding the role of the other in
political ecology that we could only hint at above. We noted for instance the case of the other
within which might lead to more complex renderings of political ecology in Anglo-America.
Critique is further complicated by questions of class and gender that feature both inside and outside
Anglo-American political ecology but are scarcely examined. For example, what might a
Gramscian sensibility look like if directed not so much at the core concerns within political

44

Soyeun Kim et al.

ecology (Ekers et al., 2009: 290; emphasis added) as at the membership of that scholarly
community itself?
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