CHANS researchers not keen on ‘political ecology questions’

In a recent article in Ecology and Society, hundreds of people who research ‘coupled human and natural systems’ (CHANS)  were asked, what research questions do they consider most important for the field? A two-stage process was used to identify the key questions, and Likert scale responses elicited. As Appendix 3 of the article shows, the two top questions  chosen were  ‘How do policies influence human-nature interactions?‘ and ‘How will human population patterns change with ongoing changes in availability of water?‘ A range of land and agriculture questions came top.

The research question ‘Can we generate political ecology/economy methods that incorporate history, assymetrical power, and access?‘ came very close to the bottom of the list and was not included in the ‘top 40’ (see Appendix 3). Not much else appeared in that list that had much bearing on historical patterns of greed or power in causing environmental problems.

Conclusion – CHANS research appears rather apolitical. The favoured questions are interesting, but not necessarily key to explaining the difficult world we now live in. Meanwhile, what we actually need to understand, and combat, is unequal expressions of power and the resulting effects on natural and social systems. Displacement, as well as ‘conservation’; land grabbing, as well as land cover; corporate and government greed, as well as ‘policies’.  In short, ‘accumulation by dispossession’ , gender, race  and power inequalities,  are somehow de-emphasized in CHANS, from this survey.

Rather a sad reflection on human-environment scholarship (my academic community since the late 1980s).

Maybe a replication of the study is needed? (or a reply)

Kramer, D. B., J. Hartter, A. E. Boag, M. Jain, K. Stevens, K. Ann Nicholas, W. J. McConnell, and J. Liu. 2017. Top 40 questions in coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) research. Ecology and Society 22(2):44.

2 thoughts on “CHANS researchers not keen on ‘political ecology questions’

  • Thanks for adding to the conversation! Dan Kramer is overseas, but responded, “The observation that CHANS researchers don’t care about political ecology might be fair, at least according to our results, but we provided plenty of caveats about the interpretation and representation of our results.”

    Jack Liu notes that in this fast-evolving research world, the perspective of political ecology researchers very likely may grow, especially thanks to discussions like this. CHANS, and particularly its evolution to the telecoupling framework (, is marked by change, very likely including the ways you cite. — Sue Nichols, Center for Systems Integration at Michigan State University


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s