CfP #Pollen20 – Grassroots activism in times of authoritarian neoliberalism: Pathways to radical ecologies and alternative futures

Session organizers: Elia Apostolopoulou (University of Cambridge and Harokopio University of Athens) and Jose A. Cortes-Vazquez (University of A Coruña)

Instructions for submitting contributions: Please send your abstract proposal (from 200 to 250 words) to Elia Apostolopoulou ( and Jose Cortes-Vazquez ( until the 10th of October 2019.

Session abstract : Since the 2008 financial crash, nature-society relationships across the globe have been profoundly transformed by the entrenchment of neoliberal policies in the form of fiscal austerity, deregulation, re-regulation and privatization of natural resources and formerly public property. From mining, fracking, waste disposal and land and green grabbing in rural locations, to shrinking access and loss of public green spaces, gentrification, urban regeneration, and infrastructure megaprojects in cities, natures within and beyond cities are being expropriated, privatized, commoditized, transformed and degraded with the aim to overcome recession and boost economic growth under both green and un-green pretexts (Apostolopoulou and Cortes-Vazquez, 2019; Apostolopoulou and Adams, 2015).

In many locations, these phenomena have only been made possible by an authoritarian turn in governmental policies that scapegoat migrants, welfare policies or minorities, instead of pointing at the inherent contradictions of capitalism. In other countries, the feelings of anger and dispossession that the social and environmental neoliberal agenda brought about is what, paradoxically, has prompted a surge of right-wing populist and authoritarian movements (Borras, 2019; Franquesa, 2019; McCarthy, 2019; Scoones et al., 2018).

However, there has also been space for progressive and radical responses. More and more places are becoming the locus of progressive and leftist resistance against the unequal distribution of the costs and benefits of neoliberal policies, and their increasing social, environmental and spatial injustices. The Environmental Justice Atlas, a collaborative map of social-environmental conflicts around the world, has so far (September 2019) documented 2.879 such cases (

Importantly, community struggles against the neoliberal restructuring of nature-society relationships increasingly move beyond resistance to capitalist natures and towards imagining, designing, and experimenting on the ground with alternatives to the current production of nature, offering spaces in which empowerment and politicization are possible (Temper et al., 2015), contesting dominant socio-ecological order (Martinez-Alier et al., 2016), and bringing forward alternative ways of living and being (Apostolopoulou and Cortes-Vazquez, 2019; Cortes-Vazquez and Apostolopoulou, 2019).

In this panel, we aim to explore what triggers environmental struggles to be turned into pathways to radically different futures, instead of feeding into the growing right-wing global tide. To address this overarching aim we ask two specific research questions:

Firstly, how do social-environmental struggles and movements relate to radical alternatives, transformations and grassroots innovations?

Secondly, what structural factors and local specificities contribute to the development, endurance, up-scaling, dissolution or cooption of such radical alternatives and innovations, in specific global-local constellations?

Our aim is to explore and compare processes of resistance and transformative change in both urban and rural settings, across the Global South and North. We focus on cases where radical alternatives to capitalist socionatures, transformations to sustainability and grassroots innovations – defined as sets of social relations and practices that are initiated by networks of people which are autonomous from state institutions and capital forces and aim to generate alternative, radical, democratic, bottom up, and novel socially-environmentally sustainable and futures-oriented solutions (see also Feola and Nunes, 2014; Escobar, 2015; Pelenc et al., 2019; Temper et al., 2018; Santos, 2016) – are a key aspect of community activism.

By uncovering broader patterns of resources, possibilities, limitations, narrative frames, spatial practices and pathways of up-scaling such practices and relations in different contexts, we hope to reveal the connections between environmental struggles (collective action, with specific spatial narratives and practices), emerging radical alternatives, transformations and grassroots innovations (exceeding the limits of the local, at least in their imaginaries) and broader structural factors, thus making an important contribution in debates over radical ecologies and future natures.


Apostolopoulou, E., Adams, W.M. 2015. Neoliberal Capitalism and Conservation in the Post‐crisis Era: The Dialectics of “Green” and “Un-green” Grabbing in Greece and the UK. Antipode 47, 15-35.

Apostolopoulou, E., Cortes-Vazquez, J. 2019. The Right to Nature: Social movements, environmental justice and neoliberal natures. London: Routledge.

Borras, S.M. 2019. Agrarian social movements: The absurdly difficult but not impossible agenda of defeating right‐wing populism and exploring a socialist future. Journal of Agrarian Change (available online).

Cortes-Vazquez, J., Apostolopoulou, E. 2019. Against neoliberal natures: Environmental movements, radical practice and “the right to nature”. Geoforum 98, 202–205.

Escobar, A. 2015. Degrowth, postdevelopment, and transitions: a preliminary conversation. Sustainability Science 10, 451-462.

Feola, G., Nunes, R. 2014. Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: The case of the Transition Movement. Global Environmental Change 24, 232-250.

Franquesa, J. 2019. The vanishing exception: republican and reactionary. Journal of Peasant Studies 45, 1-20.

Martinez-Alier, J., Temper, L., Del Bene, D., Scheidel, A. 2016. Is there a global environmental justice movement? Journal of Peasant Studies, 1–25.

McCarthy, J. 2019. Authoritarianism, Populism, and the Environment: Comparative Experiences, Insights, and Perspectives. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 109, 301–313

Pelenc, J., Wallenborn, G., Milanesi, J., Sébastien, L., Vastenaekels, J., Lajarthe, F., … & Frère, B. 2019. Alternative and resistance movements: The two faces of sustainability transformations? Ecological Economics 159, 373-378.

Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. 2016. Epistemologies of the South and the Future. From the European South: a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities 1, 17-29.

Scoones, I., Edelman, M., Borras Jr., S.M., Hall, R., Wolford, W., White, B. 2018. Emancipatory rural politics: confronting authoritarian populism, The specters of populism in rural Spain. Journal of Peasant Studies 46, 537-560.

Temper, L., del Bene, D., Martinez-Alier, J. 2015. Mapping the frontiers and front lines of global environmental justice: the EJAtlas. Journal of Political Ecology 22, 255–278.

Temper, L., Walter, M., Rodriguez, I., Kothari, A., Turhan, E. 2018. A perspective on radical transformations to sustainability: resistances, movements and alternatives. Sustainability Science 13, 747–764.

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