ArticlePDF Available


Given a history in political ecology of challenging hegemonic “scientific” narratives concerning environmental problems, the current political moment presents a potent conundrum: how to (continue to) critically engage with narratives of environmental change while confronting the “populist” promotion of “alternative facts.” We ask how political ecologists might situate themselves vis-à-vis the presently growing power of contemporary authoritarian forms, highlighting how the latter operates through sociopolitical domains and beyond-human natures. We argue for a clear and conscious strategy of speaking power to post-truth, to enable two things. The first is to come to terms with an internal paradox of addressing those seeking to obfuscate or deny environmental degradation and social injustice, while retaining political ecology’s own historical critique of the privileged role of Western science and expert knowledge in determining dominant forms of environmental governance. This involves understanding post-truth, and its twin pillars of alternative facts and fake news, as operating politically by those regimes looking to shore up power, rather than as embodying a coherent mode of ontological reasoning regarding the nature of reality. Second, we differentiate post-truth from analyses affirming diversity in both knowledge and reality (i.e., epistemology and ontology, respectively) regarding the drivers of environmental change. This enables a critical confrontation of contemporary authoritarianism and still allows for a relevant and accessible political ecology that engages with marginalized populations likely to suffer most from the proliferation of post-truth politics.
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
Annals of the American Association of Geographers
ISSN: 2469-4452 (Print) 2469-4460 (Online) Journal homepage:
Speaking Power to “Post-Truth”: Critical Political
Ecology and the New Authoritarianism
Benjamin Neimark, John Childs, Andrea J. Nightingale, Connor Joseph
Cavanagh, Sian Sullivan, Tor A. Benjaminsen, Simon Batterbury, Stasja Koot
& Wendy Harcourt
To cite this article: Benjamin Neimark, John Childs, Andrea J. Nightingale, Connor Joseph
Cavanagh, Sian Sullivan, Tor A. Benjaminsen, Simon Batterbury, Stasja Koot & Wendy
Harcourt (2019) Speaking Power to “Post-Truth”: Critical Political Ecology and the New
Authoritarianism, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 109:2, 613-623, DOI:
To link to this article:
Published online: 06 Feb 2019.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 574
View Crossmark data
Speaking Power to Post-Truth: Critical Political
Ecology and the New Authoritarianism
Benjamin Neimark,
John Childs,
Andrea J. Nightingale,
Connor Joseph Cavanagh,
Sian Sullivan,
Tor A. Benjaminsen,
Simon Batterbury,
Stasja Koot,
Wendy Harcourt
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University
Department of Geography, University of Oslo
Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Research Centre for Environmental Humanities, Bath Spa University
School of Geography, University of Melbourne
Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Development, Wageningen University
International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University
Given a history in political ecology of challenging hegemonic scientificnarratives concerning
environmental problems, the current political moment presents a potent conundrum: how to (continue to)
critically engage with narratives of environmental change while confronting the populistpromotion of
alternative facts.We ask how political ecologists might situate themselves vis-
a-vis the presently growing
power of contemporary authoritarian forms, highlighting how the latter operates through sociopolitical
domains and beyond-human natures. We argue for a clear and conscious strategy of speaking power to
post-truth, to enable two things. The first is to come to terms with an internal paradox of addressing those
seeking to obfuscate or deny environmental degradation and social injustice, while retaining political
ecologys own historical critique of the privileged role of Western science and expert knowledge in
determining dominant forms of environmental governance. This involves understanding post-truth, and its
twin pillars of alternative facts and fake news, as operating politically by those regimes looking to shore up
power, rather than as embodying a coherent mode of ontological reasoning regarding the nature of reality.
Second, we differentiate post-truth from analyses affirming diversity in both knowledge and reality (i.e.,
epistemology and ontology, respectively) regarding the drivers of environmental change. This enables a
critical confrontation of contemporary authoritarianism and still allows for a relevant and accessible political
ecology that engages with marginalized populations likely to suffer most from the proliferation of post-truth
politics. Key Words: authoritarianism, environmental policy, political ecology, post-truth, science.
Dada una historia en ecolog
ıtica que reta las narrativas hegem
onicas cient
ıficasen lo que concierne a
los problemas ambientales, el momento pol
ıtico actual pone de presente un enigma portentoso: c
(seguir) involucr
andose cr
ıticamente con narrativas del cambio ambiental al tiempo que se confronta la
on populistade los hechos alternativos. Nos preguntamos c
omo podr
ıan situarse los ec
ıticos en relaci
on con el creciente poder que registran las formas autoritarias contempor
aneas, destacando
Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 109(2) 2019, pp. 613623 #2019 by American Association of Geographers
Initial submission, December 2017; revised submission, May 2018; final acceptance, July 2018
Published by Taylor & Francis, LLC.
el modo como opera el segundo a trav
es de los dominios sociopol
ıticos y las naturalezas que est
an m
as all
de lo humano. Inquirimos por una estrategia clara y consciente del poder de la palabra ante la pos-verdad,
para habilitar dos cosas. La primera es llegar a un acuerdo con una paradoja interna de hablarle a quienes
buscan ofuscar o negar la degradaci
on ambiental y la injusticia social, en tanto se retiene la propia historia
ıtica de la ecolog
ıtica sobre el papel privilegiado de la ciencia occidental y el conocimiento experto
para determinar las formas dominantes de la gobernanza ambiental. Esto implica entender la pos-verdad y sus
pilares gemelos de hechos alternativos y noticias falsas, como si estuviesen siendo operados pol
ıticamente por
aquellos reg
ımenes que buscan respaldar el poder m
as que personificar un modo coherente de razonamiento
ogico en relaci
on con la naturaleza de la realidad. Segundo, diferenciamos la pos-verdad de los an
que afirman la diversidad tanto en conocimiento como en la realidad (i.e., epistemolog
ıa y ontolog
respectivamente) en relaci
on con los controladores del cambio ambiental. Esto permite una confrontaci
ıtica del autoritarismo contempor
aneo y deja campo todav
ıa para una ecolog
ıtica relevante y
accesible que se comprometa con las poblaciones marginales, m
as propensas a sufrir los efectos de la
on de pol
ıticas pos-verdad. Palabras clave: autoritarismo, ciencia, ecolog
ıa pol
ıtica, pol
ıtica ambiental,
Post-truth is the latest manifestation of a long,
troubled history in the relation between truth,
politics, and power. Indeed, it is hardly a reve-
lation that politicians selectively choose (or con-
struct) their facts to serve particular ends. Yet, the
current political moment has also managed to pro-
voke a heightened level of anxiety about the nature
of truth in science and politics that has emerged as
particularly disruptive (Dillon et al. 2019). This anx-
iety has ushered in new language with terms such as
alternative facts and fake news becoming part of an
everyday vocabulary.
For geographers, and in par-
ticular political ecologists, post-truth presents a
familiar yet intensified challenge. Post-truth pro-
vokes questions for scholars critical of scientific
institutions and their knowledge-making practices
that shape environmental policy, given that these
same institutions are now under attack from populist
authoritarian discourse and policies.
A paradox thereby emerges between working with,
while also problematizing, the production of know-
ledge associated with positivist scienceaparadox
that demands both reflection and action from critical
political ecologists and activists alike (Robbins 2015).
How can political ecologists mount an effective chal-
lenge against the propagation of alternative facts in
service of populist authoritarian agendas, while also
embracing multiple knowledges and realities associ-
ated with cultural and linguistic diversity (de la
Cadena 2010; Burman 2017)? How can we defend
this stance against charges that our dismay with post-
truth politics stems from an elite, liberal chagrin at
the fact that the wrong kinds of people are suddenly
claiming authority and having their say?(Mair 2017,
3). Finally, how can political ecologists, many of
whom have long insisted on the need to analyze the
politics of knowledge production within science, work
with science to show that the form of critical engage-
ment we advocate and practice is different from that
propounded by the authoritarian right?
Both political ecology and post-truth politics take
issue with certain hegemonic types of truth making.
It is political ecology, however, that concerns itself
with the epistemological violence effected through the
coloniality of reality that subjugates cultural, and espe-
cially indigenous, diversity in relation to ecological
knowledges and praxis (Burman 2017; Sullivan 2017).
Our main contribution in response to this is to affirm
the necessity of speaking power to post-truth
(Collingridge and Reeve 1986): by amplifying an
inclusive, effective, and publicly accessible political
ecology that both refracts populist (re)framings of
socioenvironmental concernsat times mobilizing
and allying with positivist science to do so (King
2010; Brannstrom and Vadjunec 2013)and organizes
to contest mechanisms of authoritarian power.
This strategy, first, situates political ecology as a
useful bridge to a diversity of approaches that probe
the co-constitutive relationship between environmen-
tal politics and scientific truth making (Jasanoff
2006). It recognizes and welcomes the conceptual
convergence between, for example, political ecology,
science and technology studies (STS), and anthropol-
ogy (Rocheleau 2008; Goldman, Nadasdy, and Turner
2011; Dillon et al. 2019). Combining perspectives
across these approaches means accepting that knowl-
edges do not necessarily become authoritative because
they more accurately portray the truth.Rather, they
614 Neimark et al.
become paradigmatic as the truth in part through
their generation and endorsement in politically
empowered networks as the best means of uncovering
the truth (cf. Kuhn 1970; Foucault 1980;Guthman
and Mansfield 2013). Foregrounding (once again)
these relationships between political power and truth
claims makes it possible to clarify mechanisms of
knowledge production and exclusion and thereby to
clarify possibilities for contestation (Hulme 2010).
Second, as well as having an established history of
critically analyzing environmental truth making, pol-
itical ecologists are experienced and motivated in
acting and collaborating beyond the academy, to
speak power to post-truth through new knowledge
coalitions and action. Coalitions beyond the acad-
emy are about creating an accessible political ecol-
ogy that can empower a politically engaged and
informed resistance to current post-truth narratives.
We argue that political ecology and cognate disci-
plines can combine with reflexive scientific know-
ledge production to offer collective responses within
this eco-political moment. This sort of critical polit-
ical ecology (Forsyth 2003) contributes to broader
public discourse and builds on recent attempts to
decolonize knowledge production inside and outside
the academy not by creating a geographic and aca-
demic silo, but rather to be united against a reduc-
tive and regressive post-truth debate.
In what follows, we provide a brief genealogy of
political ecology in relation to post-truth. We pro-
ceed by offering three interrelated areas for interven-
tion that, taken together, may articulate a political
ecology counternarrative to truth making while
remaining critical of authoritarian attacks on know-
ledge production. We insist throughout that it is
possible to retain our critical stance toward scientific
knowledge production through careful positioning of
it within the circuits of its own production. When
this same critical approach is applied to alternative
facts, we can show that these are not new ways of
knowing but rather new mechanisms of deploying
power within an erstwhile and reductive ontology
that colonizes other ways of knowing.
Political Ecology beyond Post-truth
Political ecology has long been concerned with
authoritarian forms of power and politics in relation
to environmental knowledges, policies, and infra-
structures, as well as to understandings of the
materiality of nature itself.
At its core, early polit-
ical ecology analyzed historically and spatially situ-
ated (and differentiated) powers to access and
control natural resources, originally seen through
class and later through other forms of social differ-
ence such as gender, ethnicity, age, and, sexuality.
Political ecology thereby brought into focus how
the environment is an arena of contested entitle-
ments, a theatre of which conflicts or claims over
property, assets, labor, and politics of recognition
play themselves out(Peluso and Watts 2001, 25;
Rocheleau, Thomas-Slayter, and Wangari 1996). A
second related dimension of political ecology soon
emerged that involved a more poststructuralist
understanding of the politics of environmental
knowledge production and its material-discursive
interplay with environmental governance (Escobar
1995; Peet and Watts 1996; Stott and Sullivan
2000). Reflecting the influence of Foucault, a key
emphasis has been on the institutional and other
societal structures through which environments and
environmental truths are defined, known, and there-
fore controlled and managed (Peet and Watts 1996;
Robertson 2006; Burke and Heynen 2014).
A series of early empirical studies showed how
local ecological problems have origins in trans-scalar
political and economic contexts, rather than merely
the allegedly maladaptive behaviors of local land
users (Watts 1983; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).
Environmental processes were presented by apolitical
(and Malthusian) ecological analyses as caused by
small-scale producers, while research in political
ecology demonstrated how these problems were
incorrectly explained, or largely exaggerated, thereby
challenging received wisdom on environmental deg-
radation (Fairhead and Leach 1996). An outcome of
these local(ized) studies was that there were different
ways of knowing and managing environments which
were frequently bypassed by mainstream environ-
mental policies. For Forsyth (2003; see also
Benjaminsen, Aune, and Sidib
e2010), this also
meant linking political economy and epistemologies
of environmental change to empirically challenge
dominating environmental policies.
Although certainly critical, such challenges to
dominant narratives and theories areas the expli-
citly antiauthoritarian The Open Society and its
Enemies (Popper 1971) observedsimply an integral
feature of good (social) scientific inquiry. A certain
degree of skepticism toward knowledge claims and
Speaking Power to Post-truth615
findings is part of conventional scientific practice.
As such, political ecologys relationship to environ-
mental science has over the years been complex.
Playing the trickster,political ecology both
engages and borrows methodology from mainstream
science regarding land use change, hazards, and
environmental health, only to undermine them,
demonstrating power-laden implications in any such
foundational account of human/environmental
relationships(Robbins 2015, 93).
Recently, political ecology has been shaped more
explicitly by postcolonial, subaltern, feminist, and
queer critiques, opening up new avenues to counter
universalizing dimensionsof knowledge production
associated with Western science and modernity (e.g.,
Nightingale 2006; Burman 2017;Sullivan2017).
Political ecologists have also found fertile ground in
debates emanating from assemblage theorists in actor
network theory (ANT) within STS, emphasizing how
environmental phenomena and governance are medi-
ated by technology and materiality (Bennett 2010)
and the roles of beyond-human actants in socio-
techno-natural assemblages (Castree and Braun 2001;
Kosek 2006; Goldman, Nadasdy, and Turner 2011).
Equipped with these new epistemological and
ontological tools, political ecology has the ability
both to distinguish itself vis-
a-vis power, especially
in its contemporary authoritarian forms and to push
similar work to explore how forms of power operate
through sociopolitical domains and nonhuman
natures. Therefore, in echoing contemporary calls to
scrutinize alternative facts, political ecologys atten-
tion to power-laden scientific claims is well equipped
to examine differing environmental representations
to expose the multiple ways in which power operates
to produce, maintain, and privilege particular
truthsabout the environment.
The openness and fluidity of poststructuralist
approaches to knowledge production, however, lend
themselves both to a seeming overcomplexification
of socioecological circumstances and to cooptation
by far right agendas. The latter have knowingly bor-
rowed tactics and strategies used by left-leaning acti-
vists and scholars to highlight the politics of
knowledge production, to push for the acceptance of
alternative facts and to relativize the views of scien-
tists and right-wing ideologues (Nagel 2017). Thus,
the awkward conceptual resemblance between alter-
native facts and academic debates about the politics
of knowledge production is not mere coincidence.
Yet, there are crucial distinctions to be drawn
between critical approaches of scientific practice and
the tactics now adopted by the alt-right. A critical
approach to the environmental sciences underscores
the ways in which power constitutes, moves within,
and reproduces sociomaterial relations to shape which
knowledges, social relations, and practices (and corre-
sponding ecologies) are hegemonic. For example,
although not always accomplished, many political
ecologists attempt to challenge dominant environ-
mental narratives and recognize multiple non-Western
knowledge perspectives to analyze the production of
uneven environmental outcomes for diverse individu-
als and populations (Burman 2017). Such groups and
individuals are stratified by differences and inequalities
ofinter aliaclass, ethnicity, and gender and are
commonly those most vulnerable to socioecological
shocks or stressors. Difference and inequality in turn
shapes and are shaped by environmental change proc-
esses themselves (Nightingale 2006). Moreover, by
observing everyday and mundane forms of authoritar-
ian power and governmental control, critical political
ecologists have sought to take account of how know-
ledge and governance of resources are actively resisted
and have been a focal point for empowerment of
marginalized groups through both individual and col-
lective agency (Li 2007;Wolford2010).
Future political engagement by political ecologists
and others therefore requires a sharpened focus on
knowledge production and who holds the power to
define truth (Gramsci 1971; Foucault 1980).
ontological politics probes the values, relations, and
practices through which some forms of knowledge
(epistemologies) come to be accepted as more true
than others. One way forward could be to carefully
distinguish between the ontological and epistemo-
logical politics of asserting that there are many ways
of knowing, measuring, and relating to or being in
differentworlds (ontology). If we accept the
notion of multiple ontologies (that what the world is
can be different across communities of knowing),
political ecologists have much to say about the socio-
material relations through which different ontologies
arise and are sustained. There is an accompanying
epistemological politics of asserting the truth about
how one ostensibly should know or live in a single
world. This latter stance largely rejects the notion of
multiple ontologies and rather probe how asserting a
single epistemology (how we can know the world) is
inextricably bound up in claims to authority.
616 Neimark et al.
One role for political ecologists is to illuminate
how the privileging of alternative facts exacerbates
tensions between different ontologies and thereby
claims space for competing knowledge claims. Some
take the position that feminist political ecologists'
engagement with power and privileged forms of envir-
onmental knowledge construction could help guide us
to navigate the paradox of post-truth politics, while
some others prefer seeing power through the lens of
structuralism and/or post-structuralism. Nevertheless,
we thereby advocate that political ecology, in all its
forms, be made more relevant, accessible, and engag-
ing to (newly) marginalized populations while we
work to bridge the binary of science and activism
closely with social movements toward new liberation
ecologies(Peet and Watts 1996) and alternative sus-
tainablilities (Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2017).
Speaking Power to Post-truth
A constructive and critical political ecology, then,
is about meeting power with power, mobilizing not
only the discourses and social networks of critical
scholarship, which at times can be just as universal-
izing in their own right, but also publicly informed
elements, such as collective action and activism, or
what we define throughout as to speak power to
post-truth. Taken together, we argue that we can
effectively counter the purveyors of post-truth and
their inventive uses of environmental messages. This
requires not only exposing the workings of power in
the generation of alternative facts but also in consol-
idating an alternative edifice of knowledge produc-
tion, policies, institutions, and relationships that can
counter authoritarian politics with new social (and
socionatural) relations. This is not only about build-
ing a better, more nuanced version of science via
the practice of politicalecological research but also
about harnessing more-than-scientific resources in
ways that seek to change rather than merely describe
the world (Castree, Chatterton, and Heynen 2010).
We call for a sensitivity to the power of both
ontological and epistemological politics through
which environmental issues are defined and known,
and that thereby shape conflicts (Blaser 2013;
Escobar 2016). We put forward three pathways
expose, teach and learn, and engageto show what
an effective politicalecological critique in the post-
truth moment might look. Our aim is to inspire a
response that counters post-truth, to think about
how to engage with the public that form enduring
resistance networks to authoritarian power. We cau-
tion, however, that this should not be read as a sin-
gular prescriptive solution; rather, we advocate for
multiple emerging pathways to counter and resist the
onslaught of authoritarian post-truth narratives.
The power of political ecology is that it cuts
through post-truth to expose it. Political ecology is
not alone in this, as there have been many other
fruitful attempts to deconstruct science debates in
Political ecology, however, has been at the
forefront of calling out the role of powerful authori-
tarian states, individuals, and corporations who link
post-truth discourse to policy and take shortcuts
with democratic rights, especially with territorially
based and indigenous communities, but also with
global planetary health (Batterbury 2016).
Alternative factsare often central to such efforts.
This perhaps involves political ecologys role as the
trickster,both mimicking and calling out hege-
monic science and political discourse (Robbins
2015), but more its willing to use this science to
critically think about how truth claims emerge and
can be judged.
For example, the framing of climate change brings
powerful actors, institutions, and capital together in
shaping the political economy of oil (Bridge and Le
Billon 2017). This kind of culturally, historically,
and politically contextual analysis shows that alter-
native facts on climate change emerge from within
the same relations and logics that perpetuate current
capitalist projects, rather than existing as an alterna-
tive to a capitalist worldview. This needs to be dis-
tinguished from the kinds of alternative ontologies
that sit outside of capitalist structuring, such as those
that may be practiced by indigenous peoples
(Valdivia 2009; Sundberg 2010; Theriault 2017;
Anthias 2018). Exposing unsubstantiated alt. facts
will not suffice, though. The role of political ecolo-
gists is to expose power, profit making, and threats
to the environment and social justice (Martinez-
Alier et al. 2016; Nightingale 2017). This is
reflected in the work of environmental justice organ-
izations and other nongovernmental organizations,
like the EJOLT project (see
ject) and Accion Ecol
ogica in Quito, Ecuador, which
brave personal risks to expose environmental
Speaking Power to Post-truth617
injustices and make essential links between scholars
and environmental justice activist networks.
Power that coalesces through exposure is not singu-
lar but can take many forms. Examples include the
Environmental Justice Atlas, or the growing Political
Ecology Network initiative (see https://politicalecolo-, which links academic output to
social media and political journalism (see http://www. Another
way to expose is through collaborative attempts, such
as the ENTITLE writing collective, which main-
streams critical environmental scholarship through
less-known public and activist stories. It aims to link
policymakers, scientific researchers, and activists,
through engagement in movements and institutions
(see Meanwhile, the network
of academics and nonprofits working under the
Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI;
see are on the front lines
exposing authoritarianism threats to progressive U.S.
federal environmental and energy policy, and to the
scientific research infrastructuremeant to
investigate, inform, and enforce them(Dillon
et al. 2019).
These efforts are a small sampling of the initia-
tives taken by political ecologists to link across com-
munities of knowledge. A question that emerges in
these efforts is this: Whose voices are privileged and
whose are marginalized, even within collaborative
projects? It is arguably more important than ever, in
an era of post-truth, to use the counternarratives
and explanations generated by political ecology offer
much by way of evaluating environmental post-
truthsasserted in domains of populist authoritar-
ian politics.
Teach and Learn
Going beyond exposure, political ecology teaching
and learning can expand the impact of our critique of
alternative facts. Geographers are learning fast that
effective communication can challenge authoritar-
ianism through deliberately networking, publishing,
increased social media presence, and, moreover,
mobilizing this effectively to students and the
broader public. For example, political ecologists have
been at the forefront of recent attempts at
decolonizinghow ecology and the Anthropocene
(Schulz 2017) are delivered in the classroom and
approached by the institutions that structure them
(e.g., Fletcher 2017; Meek and Lloro-Bidart 2017;
Meyerhoff and Thompsett 2017; Osborne 2017).
These efforts serve to decenter some forms of science
as hegemonic ways of knowing, at the same time
providing students with the critical skills to place all
ways of knowing within the power relations that per-
petuate them.
Feminist political ecologists have been at the fore-
front of the coproduction of knowledge with people
outside academia and how values and facts that
drive outside involvement combine in everyday pol-
itics. Harcourt and colleagues, for example, have
overseen a movement to engage feminist political
ecology with grassroots organizations worldwide that
brought forward insights into how smaller scale,
localized resistances to hegemonic economic and
political relations can succeed (Harcourt and Nelson
2015). The recently formed WEGO (Well-being,
Ecology, Gender and Community) network will col-
lect together knowledge of local communitiesown
understandings of strategies to build resilient and
equitable futures. This work highlights the coproduc-
tion of knowledge to help community and network
activists better understand the institutional, eco-
nomic, and political contexts that serve to support or
inhibit their efforts. Scholars engaging in these practi-
ces also gain experiential and in-depth understanding
of alternative ontologies and visions for a better
world. These efforts have shown the importance of
scholarship in not only exposing but also learning
from community efforts at challenging hegemonic
relations of power.
Other efforts at coproduction of knowledge
through teaching and learning include the ENTITLE
collectives political ecology syllabus (see http://www. and also POLLENs online teach-
ing resources (
itical-ecology-syllabi/) that produces scholarship
through community building and stimulating dialogue
among diverse communities(Harcourt and Nelson
2015), albeit ones that are most likely to use Web-
based resources for learning. Political ecologists can
learn from recent decolonizing efforts that call for
new forms of epistemic disobedience”—political and
epistemological delinking of ones colonial past
(Mignolo 2011,4;HawthorneandMech
e2016). A
good example of this learning in practice through dis-
obedience is the historical problematizing of neo-
liberal or market conservation that has displaced local
practices and knowledges (e.g., Igoe, Sullivan, and
618 Neimark et al.
Brockington 2010). The key, however, is to not only
bring to light meaningful political ecology research
but to integrate this learning, both within the acad-
emy (Sundberg 2014) and through broader networks
of resistance (Dillon et al. 2019).
Some political ecologists have taken the notion of
learning to another level by trying to translate it dir-
ectly into policy arenas. For example, Ojha, Paudel,
and Dipak (2013) experimented with policy labs in
the forestry sector (earlier called Ban Chautari but
now used beyond the forestry sector to deal with cli-
mate and water issues) to generate critical thinking
about environmental governance questions for which
conventional expertise is inadequate. Policy labs
bring together political actors and sectoral specialists
(i.e., hydrologists, agricultural officers, and forestry
officers) to tackle environmental governance prob-
lems. Using Chatham House rules, policy labs are
designed to create safe spaces of ignorance, encour-
aging people to ask questions rather than providing
answers. A core concern is to show how different
sectors are linked together, the histories surrounding
how and why that is the case, and where their agen-
das are conflicting. This helps to place the issues at
stake within a wider contextual frame and can offer
opportunities for everyone involved to learn and
generate new critical ideas about action.
A renewed focus on rights infuses geographical
work, faced with threats that are existential and real
and geographicalfrom border policing to reneging
on international treaties and agreements (Sundberg
2010). Social scientists have a particular duty to call
out the broader publics’—from civil society groups
and individuals to those marginal or invisiblerights
to participation (Neimark and Vermeylen 2017). For
instance, the Political Ecology for Civil Society
open access publication by the ENTITLE group is an
excellent example of bridging the gap between activ-
ist groups and critical social science (ENTITLE
Fellows 2016). Also relevant is the Emancipatory
Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) work on authoritar-
ian populism that looks to provoke debate and
action among scholars, activists, practitioners, and
policymakers on how exclusionary politics are deep-
ening inequalities,through issues of growth, climate
disruptions, and social division and focused on gen-
erating alternatives to regressive, authoritarian
politics (Scoones et al. 2017). There are even more
overt political campaigns that require new alliances
and coalitions (de Vrieze 2017) around antifracking,
food sovereignty movements, and pollution cleanup
(Hudgins and Poole 2014; Cambell and Veteto
2015; DAlisa et al. 2017).
Yet, new opportunities beyond academia have also
opened up. These are particularly in settings less
examined by political ecologists but nonetheless at the
heart of current political dynamics around post-truth.
They include rural white working-class communities
who are generally (mis)represented as conservative,
xenophobic, and reactionary(Van Sant and
Bosworth 2017) but that many times also share expe-
riences of marginality and forms of local knowledge
with some of the subjects conventionally focused on
in political ecology studies (McCarthy 2002).
Although political ecology is effective in highlighting
political activism and social movements, if anything,
it has been historically less successful at delivering its
research results in ways that are easily mobilized to
diverse political coalitions. It is these diverse political
coalitions where we argue that political ecology
research if delivered to nonacademic settings can gain
traction in countering post-truth narratives.
Public outreach beyond academia is therefore
vital. Political ecologys Public Political Ecology Lab
(PPEL) is one important public outreach project (see It narrates the need for prac-
tical and political engagement through academic
work, providing training on research methods (par-
ticipatory action research) and pragmatic media and
communication skills to activist-minded students
and the wider public. It also provides an online
forum to make vital connections between commu-
nity organizations and graduate students for direct
impact. Similarly, the rapidly growing Political
Ecology Network is now reaching beyond Europe to
facilitate exchanges with a number of nodescon-
sisting of non-Western institutions, academics, and
civil society organizations. As Martinez-Alier et al.
(2014) showed, there is a reverse movementof
concepts and ideas coming from environmental just-
ice organizations to academic political ecology,
thereby, favor[ing] cooperation between activist and
academics because they do not compete for the same
turf(49). This demonstrates the potential for scien-
tists, political ecologists, and activists to form essen-
tial alliances to counter post-truth discourse and new
forms of authoritarianism.
Speaking Power to Post-truth619
If anything, political ecologists are responding to
contemporary authoritarianism, drawing attention not
only to injustice but also to social and political resist-
ance through collective action around the world. To
be effective, though, we need to move beyond just
illustrating obvious tensions that exist within our
own practice and praxis. We must question truth
based on empirically based natural and social science
through multiple perspectives, also explicitly amplify-
ing an inclusive, effective, and publicly accessible pol-
itical ecology that speaks power to post-truth.
Crucially, we must continue to explore links between
knowledge and authority, in our own scholarship and
in other very relevant cognate studies and also with
and as we evaluate knowledge claims emanating from
different communities globally.
If anything, our collective response to this post-
truth moment is to call out the dominant hegemonic
discourses that accompany alternative facts through
exposure of the links between power and knowledge
and through seeding new counterinitiatives. As
those on the political far right successfully adopt
poststructuralist ideas and techniques and methods
of grassroots activism to maintain authoritarianism,
political ecologists need once again to reappropriate
these methods of public engagement and civil
action. This is a long and difficult project and by no
means do we pose a single solution here. Yet, our
collective goal is to add tactics and analysis, making
our scholarship more relevant, accessible, and engag-
ing to populations most likely to suffer from the pro-
liferation of post-truth politics, notably around the
denial of climate change and its impacts.
This article represents work conducted as part of
the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN). We
thank Rob Fletcher and Bram B
uscher for help with
earlier drafts of this article. Special thanks to James
McCarthy, Jennifer Cassidento, and three anonym-
ous reviewers from the Annals of the American
Association of Geographers for suggestions.
Benjamin Neimark
John Childs
Sian Sullivan
Tor A. Benjaminsen
Stasja Koot
1. Since being used by the U.S. presidents special
counsel to defend demonstrably false statements by
the White House Press Office, the term alternative
facts has been invoked widely in the media to
question the relationship between science and truth.
Similarly, President Donald Trump makes personal
and repeated dismissals of major international media
and research outlets as fake news.
2. Although used somewhat interchangeably, we
recognize that hegemony and dominant forms of
science, and knowledge, are not necessarily always
the same (see Guha 1997).
3. Critical political ecology is an open-ended and
empirically based approach that combines
deconstruction with a realist belief in science as a
means to achieve a more accurate description and
understanding of environmental realities. This is not
the only attempt to do this. In fact, there is a long
history of previous work in critical realismto
integrate sociopolitical values with positivism (see
Bhaskar [1975] 1997) and also to some degree in
sustainability science (see Clark et al. 2016).
4. We do not provide a review of political ecology but
rather a snapshot of some examples of its breadth; for
fuller reviews, see Robbins (2011), Bryant (2015),
and Perreault et al. (2015).
5. Albeit a key theme in earlier political ecology, our
hope is that given the particular political climate of
post-truth, more studies today can reemphasize the
importance of the emergence of facts simultaneously
with values and structure.
6. From this perspective, truth making is more about
establishing an effective hegemony (understood as the
articulation of different interests around a common
cause) than trying to champion a particular
constellation of facts.
7. Although STS does include debates around positivist
science and many, particularly those geographers and
others adopting the language of assemblage, claim
that their frameworks do explain the entanglement of
facts simultaneously with values and structures, it is
critical political ecology that has been more willing
to adopt positivist science as a tool to counter
dominant scientific claims.
Anthias, P. 2018.Limits to decolonization: Indigeneity, terri-
tory, and hydrocarbon politics in the Bolivian Chaco.
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
620 Neimark et al.
Batterbury, S. P. J. 2016. Ecolog
ıa pol
ıtica: Relevancia,
activismo y posibilidades de cambio [Political ecology:
Relevance, activism and possibilities for change].
ıa Pol
ıtica 50:4554.
Benjaminsen, T. A., J. B. Aune, and D. Sidib
e. 2010.A
critical political ecology of cotton and soil fertility in
Mali. Geoforum 41 (4):64756.
Bennett, J. 2010.Vibrant matter: The political life of things.
Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Bhaskar, R. A. [1975] 1997.A realist theory of science.
London: Verso.
Blaikie, P., and H. Brookfield. 1987.Land degradation and
society. London and New York: Routledge.
Blaser, M. 2013. Notes towards a political ontology of
environmentalconflicts. In Contested ecologies:
Dialogues in the South on nature and knowledge, ed. L.
Green, 1327. Cape Town, South Africa: Human
Sciences Research Council Press.
Brannstrom, C., and J. M. Vadjunec. 2013. Notes for
avoiding a missed opportunity in sustainability sci-
ence: Integrating land change science and political
ecology. In Land change science, political ecology, and
sustainability synergies and divergences, ed. C.
Brannstrom and M. Vadjunec, 123. Abingdon, UK:
Bridge, G., and P. Le Billon. 2017.Oil. Oxford, UK:
Bryant, R. L., ed. 2015. The international handbook of polit-
ical ecology. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
Burke, B. J., and N. Heynen. 2014. Transforming partici-
patory science into socioecological praxis: Valuing
marginalized environmental knowledges in the face of
the neoliberalization of nature and science.
Environment and Society 5 (1):727.
Burman, A. 2017. The political ontology of climate
change: Moral meteorology, climate justice, and the
coloniality of reality in the Bolivian Andes. Journal of
Political Ecology 24 (1):92138.
Campbell, B. C., and J. R. Veteto. 2015. Free seeds and
food sovereignty: Anthropology and grassroots agro-
biodiversity conservation strategies in the U.S. South.
Journal of Political Ecology 22 (1):44565.
Castree, N., and B. Braun. 2001.Social nature theory, prac-
tice, and politics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Castree, N., P. A. Chatterton, and N. Heynen, eds. 2010.
The point is to change it: Geographies of hope and sur-
vival in an age of crisis. Oxford, UK: Wiley.
Cavanagh, C., and T. A. Benjaminsen. 2017. Political
ecology, variegated green economies, and the fore-
closure of alternative sustainabilities. Journal of
Political Ecology 24 (1):200216.
Clark, W. C., T. P. Tomich, M. Van Noordwijk, D.
Guston, D. Catacutan, N. M. Dickson, and E.
McNie. 2016. Boundary work for sustainable develop-
ment: Natural resource management at the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR). Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences 113 (17):461522.
Collingridge, D., and C. Reeve. 1986.Science speaks to
power: The role of experts in policy making. New York:
St. Martins.
DAlisa, G., A. R. Germani, P. M. Falcone, and P.
Morone. 2017. Political ecology of health in the land
of fires: A hotspot of environmental crimes in the
south of Italy. Journal of Political Ecology 24:5986.
de la Cadena, M. 2010. Indigenous cosmopolitics in the
Andes: Conceptual reflections beyond politics.
Cultural Anthropology 25 (2):33470.
de Vrieze, J. 2017.Science warsveteran has a new mis-
sion. Science 358 (6360):159.
Dillon, L., R. Lave, B. Mansfield, S. Wylie, N. Shapiro,
A. S. Chan, and M. Murphy. 2019. Situating data in
a Trumpian era: The environmental data and govern-
ance initiative. Annals of the American Association of
Geographers. doi:10.1080/24694452.2018.1511410
ENTITLE Fellows. 2016. Political ecology for civil soci-
ety. Accessed January 15, 2016. http://www.politicale-
Escobar, A. 1995. Imagining a post-development era. In
Power of development, ed. J. Crush, 21127. New
York: Routledge.
———.2016. Thinking-feeling with the earth: Territorial
struggles and the ontological dimension of the episte-
mologies of the South. AIBR, Revista de Antropolog
Iberoamericana 11 (1):1132.
Fairhead, J., and M. Leach. 1996.Misreading the African
landscape: Society and ecology in a forestsavanna
mosaic. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fletcher, R. 2017. Connection with nature is an oxy-
moron: A political ecology of nature-deficit disorder.
The Journal of Environmental Education 48 (4):22633.
Forsyth, T. J. 2003.Critical political ecology: The politics of
environmental science. London and New York:
Foucault, M. 1980.Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and
other writings, 19721977, ed. C. Gordon. London:
Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Goldman, M. J., P. Nadasdy, and M. D. Turner, eds.
2011.Knowing nature: Conversations at the intersection
of political ecology and science studies. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Gramsci, A. 1971.Selections from the prison notebooks of
Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Q. Hoare and G. N.
Smith. New York: International.
Guha, R. 1997.Dominance without hegemony: History and
power in colonial India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Guthman, J., and B. Mansfield. 2013. The implications of
environmental epigenetics: A new direction for geo-
graphic inquiry on health, space, and naturesociety
relations. Progress in Human Geography 37
Harcourt, W., and L. L. Nelson, eds. 2015.Practicing fem-
inist political ecologies: Moving beyond the green econo-
my.London: Zed.
Harding, S. 2008.Sciences from below: Feminisms, postcolo-
nialities, and modernities. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press.
Hawthorne, C., and B. Mech
e. 2016. Making room for
black feminist praxis in geography. Society and Space.
Accessed January 15, 2017. http://societyandspace.
Speaking Power to Post-truth621
Hudgins, A., and A. Poole. 2014. Framing fracking:
Private property, common resources, and regimes of
governance. Journal of Political Ecology 21 (1):30319.
Hulme, M. 2010. Problems with making and governing
global kinds of knowledge. Global Environmental
Change 20 (4):55864.
Igoe, J., S. Sullivan, and D. Brockington. 2010.
Problematizing neoliberal biodiversity conservation:
Displaced and disobedient knowledge. Current
Conservation 3 (3):47.
Jasanoff, S. 2006. Just evidence: The limits of science in
the legal process. The Journal of Law, Medicine &
Ethics: A Journal of the American Society of Law,
Medicine & Ethics 34 (2):32841.
King, B. 2010. Political ecologies of health. Progress in
Human Geography 34 (1):3855.
Kosek, J. 2006.Understories: The political life of forests in
northern New Mexico. Durham, NC: Duke University
Kuhn, T. S. 1970.The structure of scientific revolutions. 2nd
ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mair, J. 2017. Post-truth anthropology. Anthropology
Today 33 (3):34.
Martinez-Alier, J., I. Anguelovski, P. Bond, D. Del Bene,
and F. Demaria. 2014. Between activism and science:
Grassroots concepts for sustainability coined by envir-
onmental justice organizations. Journal of Political
Ecology 21 (1):2060.
Martinez-Alier, J., L. Temper, D. Del Bene, and A.
Scheidel. 2016. Is there a global environmental just-
ice movement? The Journal of Peasant Studies 43
McCarthy, J. 2002. First world political ecology: Lessons
from the wise use movement. Environment and
Planning A 34 (7):12811302.
Meek, D., and T. Lloro-Bidart. 2017. Introduction:
Synthesizing a political ecology of education. The
Journal of Environmental Education 48 (4):21325.
Meyerhoff, E., and F. Thompsett. 2017. Decolonizing
study: Free universities in more-than-humanist
accompliceships with Indigenous movements. The
Journal of Environmental Education 48 (4):23447.
Mignolo, W. 2011.The darker side of Western modernity:
Global futures, decolonial options. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press.
Li, T. M. 2007.The will to improve: Governmentality, devel-
opment, and the practice of politics. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press.
Nagel, A. 2017.Kill all normies: Online culture wars from
4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the alt-right.
Winchester, UK: Zero Books.
Neimark, B. D., and S. Vermeylen. 2017. A human right
to science?: Precarious labor and basic rights in sci-
ence and bioprospecting. Annals of the American
Association of Geographers 107 (1):16782.
Nightingale, A. 2006. The nature of gender: Work, gen-
der, and environment. Environment and Planning D:
Society and Space 24 (2):16585.
———.2017. Power and politics in climate change adap-
tation efforts: Struggles over authority and
recognition in the context of political instability.
Geoforum 84:1120.
Ojha, H. R., N. S. Paudel, and B. K. Dipak. 2013. Can
policy learning be catalyzed? Ban Chautari experi-
ment in Nepals forestry sector. Journal of Forest and
Livelihood 10 (1):127.
Osborne, T. 2017. Public political ecology: A community
of praxis for earth stewardship. Journal of Political
Ecology 24 (1):84360.
Peet, R., and M. Watts. 1996.Liberation ecologies:
Environment, development, social movements. London
and New York: Routledge.
Peluso, N. L., and M. Watts, eds. 2001.Violent environ-
ments. New York: Cornell University Press.
Perreault, T., G. Bridge, and J. McCarthy, eds. 2015.The
Routledge handbook of political ecology. London and
New York: Routledge.
Popper, K. R. 1971.The open society and its enemies.
London and New York: Routledge.
Robbins, P. 2011.Political ecology: A critical introduction.
Oxford, UK: Wiley.
———.2015. The trickster science. In The Routledge
handbook of political ecology, ed. T. Perreault, G.
Bridge, and J. McCarthy, 89101. London and New
York: Routledge.
Robertson, M. M. 2006. The nature that capital can see:
Science, state, and market in the commodification of
ecosystem services. Environment and Planning D:
Society and Space 24 (3):36787.
Rocheleau, D. E. 2008. Political ecology in the key of pol-
icy: From chains of explanation to webs of relation.
Geoforum 39 (2):71627.
Rocheleau, D., B. Thomas-Slayter, and E. Wangari. 1996.
Gender and environment: A feminist political ecol-
ogy perspective. In Feminist political ecology: Global
issues and local experiences, ed. D. Rocheleau, B.
Thomas-Slayter, and E. Wangari, 326. New York:
Schulz, K. A. 2017. Decolonizing political ecology:
Ontology, technology and criticalenchantment.
Journal of Political Ecology 24 (1):12543.
Scoones, I., M. Edelman, S. M. Borras, Jr., R. Hall, W.
Wolford, and B. White. 2017. Emancipatory rural
politics: Confronting authoritarian populism. The
Journal of Peasant Studies 45 (1):120.
Stott, P., and S. Sullivan. 2000.Political ecology: Science,
myth and power. London: Edward Arnold.
Sullivan, S. 2017. Whats ontology got to do with it? On
nature and knowledge in a political ecology of the
green economy.Journal of Political Ecology 24
Sundberg, J. 2010. Diabolic caminos in the desert and cat
fights on the R
ıo: A posthumanist political ecology of
boundary enforcement in the United StatesMexico.
Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101
———.2014. Decolonizing posthumanist geographies.
Cultural Geographies 21 (1):3347.
Theriault, N. 2017. A forest of dreams: Ontological multi-
plicity and the fantasies of environmental govern-
ment in the Philippines. Political Geography 58
622 Neimark et al.
Valdivia, G. 2009. Indigenous bodies, indigenous minds?
Towards an understanding of indigeneity in the
Ecuadorian Amazon. Gender, Place & Culture 16
Van Sant, L., and K. Bosworth. 2017. Intervention
Race, rurality, and radical geography in the U.S.
Antipode Online. Accessed September 1, 2017. https://
Watts, M. 1983.Silent violence. Berkeley: University of
California Press.
Wolford, W. 2010.This land is ours now: Social mobilization
and the meanings of land in Brazil. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press.
BENJAMIN NEIMARK is Senior Lecturer of Human
Geography in the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster
University. Library Avenue, Lancaster University, Lancaster
LA1 4YQ, UK. E-mail:
research interests include the political ecology and political
economy of bio- and green economy interventions, uneven
development, and labor and global commodity chains in
Madagascar and Africa.
JOHN CHILDS is in the Lancaster Environment Centre,
Lancaster University, Library Avenue, Lancaster University,
Lancaster LA1 4YQ, UK. E-mail:
His research interests include the political ecology of
resource extraction in the Global South, particularly focused
on mining and its various forms, geographies, and effects.
Development in the Global South at the Swedish
University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and in 2019 will
move to the Department of Geography at the University of
Oslo. E-mail:
research interests include the naturesociety nexus; feminist
theorizations of emotion and subjectivity in relation to
development, transformation, collective action, and the
commons; political violence and climate change; and pub-
lic authority, collective action, and state formation.
Research Fellow in the Department of International
Environment and Development Studies (Noragric),
Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 1433 As, Norway.
E-mail: His research and pub-
lications explore the political ecology of conservation and
development interventions, with a focus on land and
resource tenure conflicts and the institutional evolution
of laws, regulations, and policies for governing both eco-
systems and rural populations.
SIAN SULLIVAN is Professor of Environment and
Culture at Bath Spa University, Newton Park, Bath BA2
9BN, UK, and Associate of Gobabeb Research and
Training Centre, Namibia. E-mail:
Her research interests include cultural landscapes, political
ecology, and the financialization of nature.
TOR A. BENJAMINSEN is a Professor in the
Department of International Environment and
Development Studies, Faculty of Landscape and Society,
Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 1432 As, Norway.
E-mail: He works on issues of environ-
mental change and conservation, pastoralism, land rights,
resistance, and justice in Mali and Tanzania, as well as in
Arctic Norway.
SIMON BATTERBURY is a Professor of Political
Ecology at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster
University, Library Avenue, Lancaster University, Lancaster
LA1 4YQ, UK. E-mail:
also Principal Fellow in the School of Geography at the
University of Melbourne. His research interests include the
political ecology of natural resources in West Africa
and Oceania.
STASJA KOOT is an Assistant Professor in the
Department of Sociology and Anthropology of
Development at Wageningen University, Wageningen,
6700 EW Wageningen, The Netherlands. E-mail: His research interests are predomin-
antly in Southern Africa, including nature conservation,
tourism, wildlife crime, capitalism, indigenous people,
land, and philanthropy.
WENDY HARCOURT is Professor of Gender, Diversity
& Sustainable Development, Westerdijk Professor at the
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus
University, Rotterdam, ISS, 2518 AX The Hague, The
Netherlands. E-mail: Her research inter-
ests include feminist political ecology, feminist theory,
and postdevelopment.
Speaking Power to Post-truth623
... In our current post-truth period that is riddled with a dizzying barrage of (deep)fake, alternative and concealed environmental information (MacDonald, 2016), we are reminded that carefully evaluating the construction and implications of environmental knowledge claims and received wisdoms "by us and to us" is as important as ever (Dillon et al., 2019). The term post-truth is used here to signal that, in an increasing number of meaningful decision-making contexts, the importance of knowledge veracity has been eclipsed by the strategic use of information (or lack thereof) to appeal to sympathetic beliefs, values and politics (McIntire, 2018;Fujimura and Holmes, 2019;Neimark et al., 2019). As Buscher (2020) notes, political polarization has led to conditions where "my reality" is regularly at odds with "your reality" as different versions of the truth compete to gain "traction or generate commercial success." ...
... This essay embraces these truth tensions and follows Neimark et al. (2019) who argue that to counter post-truth politics, political ecologists should strive to expose the "workings of power in the generation of alternative facts" (617). (See also Kempner, 2020.) ...
... In this paper I have described five interrelated knowledge modalities of concern that begin to illustrate how post-truth politics unfold. This delineation of knowledges confronts post-truthism by exposing-as Neimark et al. (2019) suggest-the "workings of power in the generation of alternative facts" (617). Accordingly, I argue that these knowledge types contribute to the production of disingenuous natures and pose serious challenges for progressive environmental governance. ...
In this paper I examine our current post-truth politics and use the concept ‘disingenuous natures’ to describe the intersecting knowledge constructs, management practices and material conditions that enable authoritative knowledge of human-environment interactions to take hold and persist. These conditions are disingenuous because they are both artifactual and generative of social-ecological reifications, knowledge distortions and information deficiencies, yet retain a position of authority and legitimacy in decision-making contexts. I argue that researchers seeking to confront our current post-truth wave lack a clear framework for describing the process through which post-truthism unfolds and disingenuous natures are produced. I describe five interrelated ‘knowledge modalities of concern’ that illuminate key elements of this process. I argue for continued engagement with these knowledge types by critical scholars of the environment because they pose serious challenges for progressive environmental governance.
... It is often the pseudo-emancipatory narrative that provides the opportunity for authoritarian populist discourses to prosper (Lubarda 2018). Hence, a way to understand emancipation under authoritarian and populist rule stems from an analytical engagement with its contradictions (Neimark et al., 2019). ...
... This side of pandemic knowledge politics has been underpinned by efforts to reduce uncertainties and expand the field of the knowable, even though it is increasingly accepted that more information does not necessarily reduce uncertainty (van der Steen et al., 2016). On the other hand, we have the approach based on post-truth politics, which includes elements of economic nationalism, anti-institutional rhetoric, social polarization (e.g., between pro-and anti-pandemic measures) (Neimark et al., 2019), and even different levels and forms of denialism (Altinörs 2020). ...
Full-text available
Authoritarian and populist regimes have used the coronavirus pandemic as another excuse to further push back on democracy. Through the lens of boundary-making, we discuss power processes in pandemic politics of three countries whose governments and power constellations rely on authoritarian and/or populist politics (Hungary, Nicaragua, and Guatemala). Our aim is to envision the conceptual and practical possibilities for breaking up the unhealthy love relationship amid pandemic politics, authoritarianism, and populism, and for ultimately dismantling all three. On the basis of secondary data, personal communications, and our lived experiences, we analyze pandemic politics in authoritarian and populist contexts, exploring their ambiguous and co-constitutive effects through three apparent contradictions. First, we discuss control, or the ways in which the framing of the pandemic by authoritarian and populist regimes as an emergency, a quasi-war situation, or an excuse for political opportunism entails an attempt to justify command-and-control policies upon public behavior, intimate daily life, and subject classification. However, these control measures also bring about contestation through self-quarantine calls, accountability-driven demands of epidemiological data, and/or counter-narratives. Second, we engage with the contradiction of knowledge, by pointing out how authoritarian knowledge politics regarding the pandemic are based on over-centralized decision-making processes, manipulation of epidemiological data, and the silencing of unauthorized voices. Simultaneously, these measures are challenged and resisted by counter-knowledge alternatives on pandemic data and the struggles for subaltern forms of knowledge that could make relevant contributions to public health. Third, we discuss the contradiction of subjectivation processes. Authoritarian regimes make extraordinary efforts to draw a line between those bodies and subjects that deserve state protection and those that do not. In this situation, multiple forms of exclusion intersect and are reinforced based on ethnic, political, national, and gender differences. The manipulation of emotions is crucial in these divisions, often creating “worthy” and “unworthy” subjects. This highlights interconnectedness among vulnerabilities and emphasizes how care and solidarity are important elements in defying authoritarian populism. Finally, we conclude by proposing strategies that would allow political ecology to support prospects of emancipation for social justice, desperately needed in a pandemic-prone foreseeable future.
... Scholarly engagements with environmental knowledge range widely from exploring how we understand and frame the global environmental crisis (Shrivastava et al., 2020) to challenging scientific paradigms and techno-economic reason. Embedded within this work are case-study descriptions of the challenges emerging from sincere debates about knowledge and expertise as well as those that dissect instances of intentional obfuscation (Neimark et al., 2019;Schmitt and Li, 2019). As Proctor (2008) notes, we seem to "know a lot about knowledge." ...
... Michaels (2008) reveals the nefarious tactics of industry leaders, hired scientists and lobbyists to cast doubt on various health and environmental problems. Several strategies are employed by these groups, most notably scrutinizing and amplifying instances of scientific uncertainty, suppressing efforts to conduct research or report findings, discrediting scientists and scientific communities, and disputing research findings in order to generate disagreement and uncertainty within the scientific literature (Kuehn, 2004;Dillon et al., 2019;Neimark et al., 2019). These efforts to obscure, suppress, discount and dispute scientific findings produce a perceived deficit of knowledge certainty within key industry, government and civil society communities (Michaels and Monforton, 2005), in some cases rendering the issue of concern simply ungovernable (Hesse, 2021). ...
There is growing scholarly engagement with the role of uncertainty in questions of environmental decision-making. Yet ignorance, while prevalent in the STS literature, has received less attention in geography and cognate disciplines. In our introduction to this special collection, we review the literature on ignorance and uncertainty to make two contributions. First, we engage each concept to demonstrate that, in general, ignorance is a ‘lack of knowledge’ (or the appearance of lack of knowledge) while uncertainty is a ‘lack of knowledge clarity’ (or the appearance of lack of knowledge clarity). Second, we argue that while it is useful for theory building to distinguish between the two concepts, it is helpful also to view them as interrelated and processual. We demonstrate this relationality and the different forms it takes by introducing a process-based typology: ignorance and uncertainty as outcome; ignorance and uncertainty as resource; and ignorance and uncertainty as obstacle. The six papers in the collection offer a diverse set of engagements with ignorance and uncertainty including grounded case-studies and theoretical interventions focused on environmental decision-making.
... Indeed, some of the most important challenges to democracy today are precisely about science and knowledge-unfolding in how authoritarian leaders and their illiberal allies challenge basic facts and truth telling (Neimark et al. 2019;Steinberg et al. 2018;Swyngedouw 2019). The Enlightenment ideals of experts in and beyond the academy, they suggest, have silenced and stigmatized their "alternative facts," which in turn justifies their refusal to participate in the democratic processes of knowledge production and transparency. ...
Full-text available
Authoritarianism has emerged as a prominent theme in popular and academic discussions of politics since the 2016 US presidential election and the coinciding expansion of authoritarian rhetoric and ideals across Europe, Asia, and beyond. Until recently, however, academic geographers have not focused squarely on the concept of authoritarianism. Its longstanding absence from the field is noteworthy as geographers have made extensive contributions to theorizing structural inequalities, injustice, and other expressions of oppressive or illiberal power relations and their diverse spatialities. Identifying this void, Spatializing Authoritarianism builds upon recent research to show that even when conceptualized as a set of practices rather than as a simple territorial label, authoritarianism has a spatiality: both drawing from and producing political space and scale in many often surprising ways. This volume advances the argument that authoritarianism must be investigated by accounting for the many scales at which it is produced, enacted, and imagined. Including a diverse array of theoretical perspectives and empirical cases drawn from the Global South and North, this collection illustrates the analytical power of attending to authoritarianism’s diverse scalar and spatial expressions, and how intimately connected it is with identity narratives, built landscapes, borders, legal systems, markets, and other territorial and extraterritorial expressions of power.
... Thus, it is hardly coincidental that many of the new authoritarians have sought to undermine or withdraw from global institutions focused on climate change mitigation, at the precise moment of a growing political tension between environmental protection and economic business-as-usual. The dissolution of restrictions on agriculture and mining have gone hand-in-hand with a denial of the scientific truth of environmental degradation, and widespread attacks on agencies producing spatial data on deforestation and defaunation (Neimark et al., 2019). By undermining protections at all levels, new authoritarian regimes thus act to sustain a capitalist economy that demands continuous growth in order to remain stable . ...
Full-text available
Increasingly heated debates concerning species extinction, climate change and global socioeconomic inequality reflect an urgent need to transform biodiversity governance. A central question in these debates is whether fundamental transformation can be achieved within mainstream institutional and societal structures. Chapter 12 argues that it cannot. Indeed, mainstream neoprotectionist and natural capital governance paradigms that do not sufficiently address structural issues, including an increase of authoritarian politics, might even set us back. The way out, the chapter contends, is to combine radical reformism with a vision for structural transformation that directly challenges neoliberal political economy and its newfound turn to authoritarianism. Convivial conservation is a recent paradigm that promises just this. The chapter reviews convivial conservation as a vision, politics and set of governance mechanisms that move biodiversity governance beyond market mechanisms and protected areas. It further introduces the concept of “biodiversity impact chains” as one potential way to operationalize its transformative potential.
... Dillon et al. (158) identify a paradox of academics working against authoritarian populists in their defense of data of which they are also critical. Similarly, political ecologists trained to critique the role of western expertise in environmental conservation are also called to refute deniers of environmental degradation (159). These authors argue for a role for academics to expose powerful authoritarian states, individuals, and corporations by teaching in accessible forums and engaging through policy arenas and policy labs. ...
This review engages with literature on authoritarian populism, focusing specifically on its relationship to the environment. We analyze hybrid combinations of authoritarianism and populism to explore three themes from the literature: environmental governance, social and political representations of nature, and resistance. In the environmental governance section, we analyze how governments have increasingly resorted to populist politics to expand extractivism; certain commodities with national security implications have become key commodities to be protected; and borders, frontiers, and zones of inclusion/exclusion have become flash points. In the social and political representations of nature section, we analyze settler colonialism and sacrifice zones as organizing principles for relations with the environment. In our final section on resistance, we review literature highlighting pushback to authoritarian populism from peasant, indigenous, and worker movements. Variants of populism and authoritarianism are likely to persist amid increasing competition over resources as components of responses to environmental and climate crisis.
... This is not to substitute pseudoscientific claims for the evidentiary basis of science, but to strengthen the democratic scrutiny that is essential to both sound science and its application in policymaking (Airoldi and Vecchi, 2021). Indeed, the "alternative facts" of the "post-truth" moment seek to shoreup incumbent interests against inconvenient truths (Neimark et al., 2019) rather than affirming a diversity of inherently partial yet contextually-relevant knowledges (Haraway, 1988;Mitchell, 2009). Epistemic diversity might also be recognized at micro-, meso-, and macroscales: from individual cognitive and experiential differences at the micro end (see Section 3); to the diversity of knowledges pertaining to differently situated and intersecting ethnic, gender, class, professional, and other identities (Crenshaw, 1991); and the knowledge amassed by powerful organizations and institutions of government at the macro end, all of which play a role in how we cope with outbreaks such as COVID-19. ...
Full-text available
As COVID-19 emerged as a phenomenon of the total environment, and despite the intertwined and complex relationships that make humanity an organic part of the Bio- and Geospheres, the majority of our responses to it have been corrective in character, with few or no consideration for unintended consequences which bring about further vulnerability to unanticipated global events. Tackling COVID-19 entails a systemic and precautionary approach to human-nature relations, which we frame as regaining diversity in the Geo-, Bio-, and Anthropospheres. Its implementation requires nothing short of an overhaul in the way we interact with and build knowledge from natural and social environments. Hence, we discuss the urgency of shifting from current to precautionary approaches to COVID-19 and look, through the lens of diversity, at the anticipated benefits in four systems crucially affecting and affected by the pandemic: health, land, knowledge and innovation. Our reflections offer a glimpse of the sort of changes needed, from pursuing planetary health and creating more harmonious forms of land use to providing a multi-level platform for other ways of knowing/understanding and turning innovation into a source of global public goods. These exemplary initiatives introduce and solidify systemic thinking in policymaking and move priorities from reaction-based strategies to precautionary frameworks.
... For clarity, we disclose that two of us share one previous co-authorship (Neimark et al. 2019) but the three of us have not all met in person. Our co-authored paper in Society and Natural Resources arose because in research stretching back over 30 years in different CBNRM-shaped contexts in Namibia we had all witnessed departures from promises and pronouncements of the success of ecotourism and trophy hunting, two pillars of the Namibian CBNRM programme. ...
Full-text available
We respond to two rejoinders to our review article “Science for Success,” which proposed fuller contextualization of epistemological approach, researcher position and interests in conservation research. This way readers—including reviewers and journal editors—can better understand and interpret findings. We suggest this contextualization is particularly important when conservation and development professionals undertake research about programs they are involved in, as this can potentially create a conflict of interest. Both rejoinders follow an extended process of complaint about our article that included academic and legal threats, and ad hominem attacks, with little engagement with the points made about researcher positionality. We consider this to be a form of discursive violence” deployed to silence unfavorable perspectives, confirming our argument that positionality in conservation (research) begs self-reflection and transparent disclosure.
Based on theories in political ecology, this paper develops the notion of cumulative vulnerability in order to highlight the underpinning social and structural drivers. This notion allows us to challenge the causal, sectoral and disciplinary approach that dominate academic studies on the concept of vulnerability. We use the cases of Grand Lahou and Abidjan, in order to illustrate this approach.
Full-text available
The Trump administration’s antienvironmental policies and its proclivity to dismiss evidence-based claims creates challenges for environmental politics in a warming world. This article offers the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) as a case study of one way to respond to this political moment. EDGI was started by a small group of Science and Technology Studies and environmental justice researchers and activists in the United States and Canada immediately after the November 2016 elections. Since then, EDGI has engaged in four primary activities: archiving Web pages and online scientific data from federal environmental agencies; monitoring changes to these agencies’ Web sites; interviewing career staff at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a means of tracking changes within those agencies; and analyzing shifts in environmental policy. Through these projects and practices, EDGI members developed the concept of environmental data justice. Environmental data justice is deeply informed by feminist approaches to the politics of knowledge, especially in relation to critical data and archival studies. In this article we establish the theoretical basis for environmental data justice and demonstrate how EDGI enacts this framework in practice. Key Words: critical data studies, environmental data justice, feminist science studies, the politics of knowledge, social practice.
Full-text available
Political ecology is a powerful framework for analyzing the underlying causes of environmental change, yet underutilized for guiding an ethical response to the Anthropocene. In this article, I introduce Public Political Ecology as an approach for practicing engaged scholarship in this moment of ecological crisis. A political, ethical and educational project, public political ecology is influenced by Antonio Gramsci's work on the philosophy of praxis. It therefore operates from the understanding that ideas are a material force capable of transforming society in revolutionary ways, and through a community of praxis within which academics can play important roles by engaging more actively with broader publics. Innovations from public geographies such as participatory action research and mapping, service learning, and social media offer important methodologies and tools for this approach. Public political ecology, then, is a means by which political ecologists can serve as earth stewards and thus finally make good on the field's emancipatory claims. Keywords: Political ecology, engaged scholarship, earth stewardship, public geography, praxis
Penelope Anthias’s Limits to Decolonization addresses one of the most important issues in contemporary indigenous politics: struggles for territory. Based on the experience of thirty-six Guaraní communities in the Bolivian Chaco, Anthias reveals how two decades of indigenous mapping and land titling have failed to reverse a historical trajectory of indigenous dispossession in the Bolivian lowlands. Through an ethnographic account of the “limits” the Guaraní have encountered over the course of their territorial claim—from state boundaries to landowner opposition to hydrocarbon development—Anthias raises critical questions about the role of maps and land titles in indigenous struggles for self-determination. Anthias argues that these unresolved territorial claims are shaping the contours of an era of “post-neoliberal” politics in Bolivia. Limits to Decolonization reveals the surprising ways in which indigenous peoples are reframing their territorial projects in the context of this hydrocarbon state and drawing on their experiences of the limits of state recognition. The tensions of Bolivia’s “process of change” are revealed, as Limits to Decolonization rethinks current debates on cultural rights, resource politics, and Latin American leftist states. In sum, Anthias reveals the creative and pragmatic ways in which indigenous peoples contest and work within the limits of postcolonial rule in pursuit of their own visions of territorial autonomy.
The International Handbook features chapters by leading scholars from around the world in a unique collection exploring the multi-disciplinary field of political ecology. This landmark volume canvasses key developments, topics, issues, debates and concepts showcasing how political ecologists today address pressing social and environmental concerns. Introductory chapters provide an overview of political ecology and the Handbook. Remaining chapters examine five broad themes: issues and approaches; governance and power; knowledge and discourse; method and scale; connections and transformations. Across diverse topics and perspectives, these chapters amount to a wide-ranging survey of current research, making the International Handbook an indispensable reference for scholars and students in political ecology.