Call for panellists POLLEN18 – Political Ecologies, Authoritarian Populism and Emancipatory Politics

POLLEN Biennial conference, 20-22 June 2018
Oslo and Akershus University College, Oslo, Norway
Organized by Amber Huff (Institute of Development Studies and STEPS Centre)

Deadline for expressions of interest – 5 December 2017

Call for panellists

Political ecologists have long emphasised the significance of understanding how dominant political-economic conditions articulate and manifest in rural spaces. In turn, this is central to grasping the contextual dynamics of socio-environmental change processes and associated contestations, conflicts and struggles. Contoured by the crises of ostensibly ‘progressive neoliberalism’ (Fraser 2017) – as well as its often contradictory nexus of elite cosmopolitanism, militarisation, and unequal globalisation (Rickford 2017) – the current political conjuncture has given rise to new forms and manifestations of ‘authoritarian populism’ (Hall 1979, 1985) with wide-reaching implications (e.g. Scoones et al. 2017). In short, these increasingly demand engagement and analysis by political ecologists.

Authoritarian populism is a term that describes a unique type of political conjuncture in which an exceptional form of the capitalist state has been able to construct around itself a degree of active popular consent (Hall 1979:15). Such conjunctures, resonant with appeals to romantic nationalism, ‘common sense’, and ‘the people’, are replete with imagery of imagined golden ages of prosperity and plenty. They are far from uniform but characterised by a number of often-overlapping themes and phenomena. These include highly contested national elections, especially when perceived to be only nominally democratic or ‘competitively authoritarian’ in nature (e.g. Levitsky and Way 2002); the rise in prominence of discourses of security, aggressive protectionism, and nationalism; xenophobia, cultural or ethnic chauvinisms, and animosity toward often-racialised ‘others’ (Rancière 2016); and allegations that ‘insecurities’ attributed to refugees, migrants, and other ‘newcomers’ have come to replace longstanding concerns about the dangers of growing poverty, inequality, and exploitative labour relations (Neocleous and Startin 2003). In short, this shifting of blame for the very real discontent and socioeconomic exclusion of urban and rural workers, agriculturalists, pastoralists, and other rural populations alongside the rhetorical condemnation of elite politics and corporate power often masks the deepening of extractive capitalism, environmental colonialism, and the militarization of everyday life, society, and nature in both the Global North and South.

Nonetheless, the crises and contradictions of the current conjuncture have also shaped the global terrain of struggle and are opening spaces for the emergence (or increased visibility) of both reactionary movements and emancipatory alliances, philosophies and praxes of intervention. Many of these articulate not just a politics of ‘taking back’ but of creating anew, applying both vernacular and academic theories (broadly defined) in the service of political action (e.g. Huff 2016; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2017). At stake, not least, are new contestations or positionings against hegemonic value systems and institutions implicated in expanding inequalities, deepening poverty, accelerating environmental devastation, and instigating diverse identity-based antagonisms.

Along these lines, the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) is focused on two major themes. The first is the emergence of authoritarian populism in diverse forms and spaces in order to address the overarching question of how rural landscapes and experiences shape and are being shaped by these wider politics and struggles. The second focus is on the social and political processes and practices in rural spaces that are generating alternatives to regressive, authoritarian politics.

The POLLEN biennial conference presents an opportune moment to explore how political ecologies, alongside a variety of approaches and methods from critical social science and radical practice, can help us to better understand and confront the emergence of contemporary manifestations of authoritarian populism, its consequences for life and landscape, and to engage with transformative and emancipatory politics and praxes arising or gaining new visibility in the context of the contemporary conjuncture. We invite expressions of interest for participants in a panel discussion that engages with the topics / questions covered below, or any other area related to these themes:

  • How can political ecologies and their central concepts, approaches and praxes inform our understanding of the current political conjuncture?
  • How is this conjuncture associated with shifting relationships (or blurring of boundaries) between the state and capital, between society and nature, between resistance and acquiescence?
  • What alternative politics and political-economic practices also emerge or become more visible at this political conjuncture? How do they articulate with, problematize or complement or transform non-capitalist notions of sustainability, society and justice associated with, for example (but not limited to), Degrowth, postcolonial / decolonial, labour, eco-Marxist, feminist, anarchist, indigenous, and environmental justice perspectives?
  • What constitutes ‘emancipation’ or ‘alternative’ rural politics in practice in settings that may simultaneously seem to have been left behind by globalised capitalism yet represent the new frontiers of resource enclosure, extraction and financialization? How are these notions contested?
  • How are new alliances being built between urban and rural movements and spaces, within and outside mainstream politics?
  • How do contestation, conflict and violence both close down and open up new spaces of struggle, theorisation and the development of new forms of resistance, mobilisation, and practices of imagining and creating emancipatory alternatives?

How to participate: We do not envision a standard paper session, but a stimulating panel aimed at generating insights, debate and discussion between panellists and audience members. Therefore, we do not ask for abstracts or papers, but a title and brief expression of interest (200 words maximum) that describes your proposed contribution / intervention / provocation and any empirical cases, events or conceptual issues that you aim to highlight. Please send expressions of interest, along with your name, email address and affiliation if applicable to Amber Huff ( by 5 December 2017. Upon acceptance, panellists will still have to register for the conference through the POLLEN website.

For background on the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative and a link to the initiative framing paper and other resources, see



Cavanagh, C. J., & Benjaminsen, T. A. (2017). Political ecology, variegated green economies, and the foreclosure of alternative sustainabilities. Journal of Political Ecology 24, 200-341.

Fraser, N. (2017). The end of progressive neoliberalism. Dissent Magazine.

Hall, S. (1979). The great moving right show. Marxism Today, 23(1), 14-20.

Hall, S. (1998). The great moving nowhere show. Marxism Today, 1(1), 9-14.

Huff, P. (2016). Organizing the APoCalypse: ethnographic reflections on an Anarchist People of Color COnvergence in New Orleans, Louisiana. In S. Springer, R. White, & M. L. De Souza (Eds.), The Practice of Freedom: Anarchism, Geography, and the Spirit of Revolt (pp. 85-108). London: Rowman & Littlefield International.

Levitsky, S., & Way, L. (2002). The rise of competitive authoritarianism. Journal of democracy,      13(2), 51-65.

Neocleous, M., & Startin, N. (2003). ‘Protest’ and Fail to Survive: Le Pen and the Great Moving Right Show. Politics, 23(3), 145-155.

Rancière, J. (2016). The populism that is not to be found. In A. Badiou, P. Bourdieu, J. Butler, G. Didi-Huberman, S. Khiari, & J. Rancière (Eds.), What is a people (pp. 101-105). New York: Columbia University Press.

Rickford, R. (2017). A Time of Monsters: Corporate Liberalism and The Rise of Trumpism. Black Perspectives. Retrieved from

Scoones, I., Edelman, M., Borras Jr, S. M., Hall, R., Wolford, W., & White, B. (2017). Emancipatory rural politics: confronting authoritarian populism. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 1-20.


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