Affirmative and engaged political ecology: practical applications and participatory development actions
Academic critique drives most political ecology scholarship. An engaged and affirmative political ecology, however, is practiced in scholarly, everyday and activist communities. Many academic political ecologists, including some founding figures like Piers Blaikie, take an interest in the ‘relevance’ of their work and wish to remain ‘engaged’ with the communities and policy actors that their research identifies as vital for positive social and environmental change. A biographical approach provides clues to what makes ‘affirmative’ scholarship important and viable. Research engagement, and particularly activism, is desirable but often deemed to be nonconformist by the research culture of Western research universities and organisations. I argue for a more affirmative political ecology, illustrated with examples from research work in an international development project in West Africa. The use of participatory research techniques can reveal injustices, but in this case it was less successful at redressing power imbalances. The more general conclusion is that strong engagement can be effective and satisfying. As environmental problems and injustices worsen, it is essential.