CfP POLLEN20 – Blurred Boundaries and their Political Ecologies: Parties, patronage and bureaucratic practice

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Session organizers

Please send abstracts of up to 250 words to Elsie Lewison, Rebecca McMillan and Zach Anderson at and by November 19, 2019.

Session description

Over the past decade, political ecology has seen increasingly nuanced theoretical and methodological engagements with the state. From the proliferation of work on neoliberal environments to theorizations of the state as a socio-environmental relation and more recent explorations of authoritarian and populist trends in environmental governance, political ecologists have responded enthusiastically to calls to de-fetishize the state and build on political geography’s attention to scale, territory, and power. More recently, we also find growing interest in anthropological approaches to the state, particularly in its everyday, bureaucratic forms.

Yet, although party politics and bureaucratic practices that “blur” the line between state and non-state actors appear frequently in ethnographic descriptions of natural resource management and socio-ecological struggles, they are rarely foregrounded in political ecological analysis. Attention to such dynamics is more common in work on violent environments, rentier states and regimes of dispossession. However, as Robbins highlighted almost two decades ago, bureaucratic transgressions often follow systems of “normalized rules” that structure everyday state practice and ecological relations. At the same time, neoliberal reforms that subcontract governance activities to community groups, the private sector, and unelected consultants and technical advisors have further blurred state-non-state and public-private boundaries in bureaucratic spaces (while generally being exempted from the label of ‘corruption’). Attention to everyday practices in these spaces is essential for political ecologists concerned with possibilities for more democratic, anti-capitalist, socio-natural relations because it is often through people’s mundane encounters with bureaucracy that the state becomes socially effective or ‘powerful’ and that political subjectivities are (re)produced or transformed.

In this paper session we are interested in exploring how (post)neoliberal environmental governance is disrupted, reproduced, and reworked through its articulation with the political logics of networked or clientelist relations and the blurring of public-private boundaries in spaces of bureaucratic practice. Key questions include:

  • How do pre-existing patron/client networks and forms of rule map onto or subvert neoliberal environmental governance reforms (e.g. commodification, marketization, privatization, decentralization)? And how are geometries of power along such lines as class, caste, race, ethnicity, and gender reshaped through this articulation?
  • How has the participatory turn in (post)neoliberal environmental governance reinforced or undermined patron-client relations? Has participation worked to uproot practices that may be seen as “corrupt” or to further entrench existing power imbalances within and beyond the state?
  • What forms of political subjectivity emerge at the intersection of neoliberalism and other logics of rule?
  • How are environmental governance practices understood (e.g. as public/private or illegitimate/legitimate/corrupt), by whom, and with what effects?
  • In what ways do efforts to eradicate corruption and patronage politics serve to underwrite or reproduce, or alternatively, disrupt or undermine the legitimacy of state and non-state actors? What do these efforts mean for democratic accountability?


Bear, L. & Mathur, N. (2015). Introduction: Remaking the Public Good: A New Anthropology of Bureaucracy. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, 33(1).

Corbridge, S., Williams, G., Srivastava, M., & Véron, R. (2005). Seeing the state: Governance and governmentality in India (Vol. 10). Cambridge University Press.

Gupta, A. (2012). Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India. Durham and London: Duke University Press

Gupta, A. (1995). Blurred boundaries: the discourse of corruption, the culture of politics, and the imagined state. American ethnologist22(2), 375-402.

Harris, L. M. (2017). Political ecologies of the state: Recent interventions and questions going forward. Political Geography58(May), 90-92.

Loftus, A. (2018). Political ecology II: Whither the state?. Progress in Human Geography, 0309132518803421.

Lund, C. (2006). Twilight Institutions: Public authority and local politics in Africa. Development and Change, 37(4), 685-705.

Muir, S. & Gupta, A. (2018). Rethinking the Anthropology of Corruption: An Introduction to Supplement 18. Current Anthropology, 59(suppl. 18), S4-S15.

Omeje, K. (Ed.). (2013). Extractive economies and conflicts in the global south: Multi-regional perspectives on rentier politics. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd..

Robbins, P. (2008). The state in political ecology: A postcard to political geography from the field. The SAGE handbook of political geography, 205-218.

Robbins, P. (2000). The rotten institution: corruption in natural resource management. Political Geography, 19(4), 423-443.

Robertson, M. (2015). Political ecology and the state. The Routledge handbook of political ecology, 457.

Watts, M. (2001). Petro-violence: community, extraction, and political ecology of a mythic commodity. Violent environments, 189-212.

Williams, A., & Le Billon, P. (Eds.). (2017). Corruption, natural resources and development: From resource curse to political ecology. Edward Elgar Publishing.

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s