Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction by Paul Robbins (Study Notes)

Ecology refers to the relationship between the human beings and their physical world or surroundings. Robbins inscribes about political ecology through an instance of East Africa. The ecology of East Africa is beautiful and on the same hand important. The flora and fauna (lions, hyenas, baboons etc.) gives the natives as well as the other people a sense of belonging and connectedness. There are isolated natural landscapes which are meant for the cycles of life, for instance scavengers rely on predators, predators rely on wildebeest and wildebeest rely on forage, which are far from human mankind. It is believed that human intervention leads an imbalance in these isolated natural landscapes. Population growth over a period of time had a major impact on the biodiversity of Africa in an extensive manner. Habitat loss and the decline of the wildlife had not only impacted East Africa but also certain other parts of the developed world. The crises in East Africa are more related to politics which include traces of economics as well.

Political Ecology Book by Paul Robbins

 CONTRADICTING APOLITICAL VIEWS                                                                   

There are strong apolitical views about the ecological condition of East Africa. It is said to hold fallacious beliefs about the wild life crises in East Africa. Firstly, It is said that there were people living with the wildlife, there removal from the wildlife scene have created violent acts. Secondly, that these places were not at all isolated. The migration of certain wild animals occurred within the broader political economy. Decisions were made to cut trees and funds were raised for the removal of native people from the first world environmentalists. There was a strong connection and a link between money, influence, power and control.                      

There is a difference between political and apolitical ecology, where one is follows very clear normative approach and other claims objectivity of disinterest. The field of political ecology is studies by various disciplines and sub disciplines such as anthropology, forestry, environment studies, development studies, environment sociology, history, geography. It has various links with other subjects such as politics, economics etc. There are various researchers who are working and advocating to bring a fundamental change in the management of nature and the rights of people.


There are various connotations to the term political ecology. It gets confused with political economy and often used as a synonym of political ecology. By the name it also refers to political institutions. Some might refer to changes to be brought in environment. On a whole political ecology refers to an alternative to apolitical ecology, which comprises of certain assumptions that hold valuable explanations. According to Cockburn and Ridgeway it is a useful way of describing the intentions of radical movements in the United States, in Western Europe and in other advanced industrial countries. Blaikie and Brookfield describes political ecology as a combination of the ecology and political economy. Together this encompasses the shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources, and also within classes and groups within society. It also helps us explain environmental change in terms of local and regional production choices within global political economic forces. According to Greenberg and Park, the definition of political ecology is as follows: a synthesis of political economy, with its linkage to the distribution of power with productive activity and ecological analysis, with its broader vision of bio-environmental relationships.


 The Two main apolitical approaches related to environment are “eco scarcity” and “modernization”.                                                                                                               

Eco scarcity and the limits to growth:  Human- environment interaction and environment related problems have been faced by human beings from long dated history for instance, In Europe in 1700’s human influence response was submitted and it clearly mentioned the cause of environmental degradation which was increasing human population. This problem arises when very few members of the global village acquire majority of resources, (for example United states).

DIFFUSION, VALUATION, MODERNIZATION: Researchers are of the view that an important aspect of environment degradation is adapting and implementing modern techniques of management, exploitation and conservation. There should be certain rules and guidelines kept in mind for global ecology such as 1) Western technology should be diffused, 2) Firms and individuals should be given autonomy to be connected to the larger markets so that they can have control over environmental resources. 3) For the conservation of biodiversity and wildlife, there should be institutionalization of value of environmental goods.

DEBATES AND CRITICISMS REGARDING APPROACHES: Employing modern techniques and technologies in the underdeveloped world raises a questionable debate, for instance during green revolution, technologies from The united states and Europe were distributed for the agrarian  production all over the world, it created more environmental problems such as exhausted the soil due to strong fertilizers and contaminated water.       

Also Read: Environmental Psychology

COMMON ASSUMPTIONS AND MODE OF EXPLANATION: It is opined by many researchers that environmental change and ecological conditions are the product of political ideology. It gave rise to three assumptions of the political ecologists, 1). According to them the distribution of costs and benefits amongst the actors are done unequally, 2). which reduces existing social and economic inequalities, 3). which holds political implications between the people who have less power with other people who have more power. Research helps to unveil different power groups that have differential power and produces social and environment outcomes. To answer such debates, Political ecologists follow mode of explanation which evaluates and balances decisions taken by regional policies. Political ecology is a vast field of research where the field is regarded as interdisciplinary transgressions, where researchers from various disciplines such as sociology, geography, political studies gathers repertoire to advance certain arguments or a certain kinds of text. The research is conducted to find causes rather than symptoms of the problem such as starvation, soil erosion, biodiversity decline, human health crises etc. On a whole political ecology is a broad field which attempts two things that is critically explaining what is wrong with the dominant environment conditions and simultaneously finding alternatives, adaptations and human actions to overcome the imbalance of environmental mismatch.


Political Ecology is viewed as a kind of argument, text, narrative which is completed and collaborated as a joint effort of many researchers to bring about a change in ecological struggle. There are certain modes via critical ideas of political ecology are expressed such as blogging, filming, writing, activists groups, surveying the lives of local people.

• The degradation and marginalized thesis: The overexploitation of natural resources involves state development intervention which increases poverty. Sustainable management communities tend to become unsustainable which results in the enclosure of other foreign institutions. Contradiction lies here, when modernist development put in efforts to improve production systems of local people but result in decrease in equity of resources.

• The Conservation and control thesis: Control of resources is considered an optimum way to keep a check on environment, to preserve and conserve it for our future generations. It has been stated that when the production process of the locals have been productive and liberal, it is characterized as unsustainable by state authorities and other officials.

• The environmental conflict and exclusion thesis: There have been increased conflicts between the several groups of gender class, caste, ethnicity etc. which rise because of the increased scarcities. There is a socialization of environment problems when groups have a control over collective resources.

• The environmental subjects and identity thesis: With the coming up of new institutions, there was an increased rise in different ideologies amongst people. There was an emergence of new kinds of people with their own understandings and  definitions of the world. New environmental actions, regimes and conditions have led to new kinds of people. It created new political actions and  movements, different groups from various backgrounds, ethnicity came together under one ecological condition.

• Political objects and actor thesis: Material physical objects such as refrigerators, climate , bacteria ,goats , lawns, grass etc. are intertwined with humans in such a way that it stays with them during human struggles. The interaction between non human materials and human beings interact and give rise to a special bond. There is a bond of power and influence with the interaction of the two .

Each of the above thesis tries to explain something different. Degradation and Marginalization refers to environmental system change, which includes subjectivity and leads to social identity change. In 1970’s and 1980’s there was an attempt to apply dependency theory in terms of linking the environment change to politics and economics. In 1990’s conservation and preservation efforts became apparent. There were emerging and diverse arguments which were somewhat linked to environment such as community collective action, role of human labor in environment change, risk taking human behavior, effects and causes of political corruption, relationship between knowledge and power.

Reference: Robbins P. Political Ecology : A Critical Introduction. 2nd ed. Chichester U.K: J. Wiley & Sons; 2012. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10506254. Accessed November 19 2023.

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