CfP POLLEN22: Political ecology in the courtroom – power and knowledge dynamics in legal processes to redress environmental injustices from contested natural resource governance

Panel Conveners: Cristina Espinosa (Assistant Professor) & Zabrina Welter (PhD Candidate)

From the Chair for Sustainability Governance, Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and Geography, University of Freiburg

Panel Description:

Throughout the world, new patterns of resource exploration, extraction and nature appropriation are rapidly emerging in the name of sustainable, low-carbon, and peaceful futures (Fairhead, Leach, & Scoones, 2012; Church & Crawford, 2018). Examples range from the exacerbated extraction of ‘transition minerals’ in the Global South that facilitate the shift towards low-carbon economies principally in the Global North (Jowitt, Mudd, & Thompson, 2020; Parra, Lewis, & Ali, 2021) to numerous international greening schemes for protecting biodiversity hotspots (Fairhead, Leach, & Scoones, 2012; Woods, 2019). At the same time, these trends have consolidated as a widespread government strategy for attaining sustainable development, particularly in Latin America (Arsel, Hogenboom, & Pellegrini, 2016). However, the rapid expansion of resource appropriation and extraction touches ground in sensitive environments populated by indigenous and other marginalized populations already affected by complex local settings (Sonter, Dade, Watson, & Valenta, 2020). As one can expect, these developments have dire environmental justice implications (Temper, del Bene, & Martinez-Alier, 2015). They bring along human rights violations, environmental damage, biodiversity loss, clashing imaginaries of the ‘good life’, and bitter conflicts with varying degrees of intensity and violence (Leifsen, Gustafsson, Guzmán-Gallegos, & Schilling-Vacaflor, 2017). Thus governance factors and socio-environmental conflicts will crucially shape development trajectories based on the appropriation of nature and the extraction of natural resources over the next decades (Jowitt et al., 2020).

In connection to the above described trends, excellent Political Ecology research has been conducted on themes such as resistance and contestation (e.g. Bebbington & Bury, 2013; Engels & Dietz, 2017), and participation in natural resource governance (Leifsen et al., 2017). While power has been a key analytical focus in these studies, the links between power, knowledge and expertise intertwined with socio-ecological conflicts and natural resource governance processes (e.g. Escobar, 1998; Forsyth, 2015, 2020; Nightingale, 2005) are less common though they seem to be slowly but steadily gaining academic attention (see e.g. Conde, 2014; Kirsch, 2014; Li, 2015; Sánchez Vázquez, 2019). Astonishingly, legal processes through which citizens, NGOs and governments seek redress for environmental injustices are relatively under-explored in this emerging line of inquiry and among Political Ecologists more broadly. Yet, legal processes constitute one of the most visible sites for political tensions involving contemporary socio-ecological conflicts and contested natural resource governance arrangements (Vela-Almeida & Torres, 2021). They are privileged sites where different actors seek redress for environmental injustices suffered by human and non-human subjects. For example, in the context of extractive projects, in countries like Ecuador, lawsuits are being brought forward for alleged violations of consultation rights and the rights of nature (Vela-Almeida & Torres, 2021). Similarly, in Alaska courtrooms are venues in which government decisions regarding zoning and environmental permitting are challenged by actors who invoke indigenous rights and non-human rights and wield multiple environmental knowledges (Panikkar, 2020; Tollefson & Panikkar, 2020). Likewise, environmental liability litigation is becoming a promising practice to remedy biodiversity loss (Phelps et al., 2021). Another interesting example can be seen in conflict-affected countries like Colombia, where environmental damages caused during the armed conflict, such as those related to illegal extractive activities, are expected to be remediated as part of transitional justice processes in the post-conflict context (Hulme, 2017; Gómez-Betancur, 2020; Ramírez Gutiérrez & Saavedra Eslava, 2020). All these legal processes require the articulation and recognition of caused environmental injustices, the assignment of responsibility, and the establishment of appropriate measures to redress harm. Thus, these processes withhold the opportunity of formal and public recognition of multiple knowledge systems, values and rights (Panikkar, 2020; Phelps et al., 2021).

In this panel, we seek to gain a deep and critical understanding of such power/knowledge dynamics in legal spheres and processes initiated to advance environmental justice objectives linked to contested natural resource governance. We invite contributions that examine and reflect about how established discourses and procedures for the production and verification of what counts as legitimate knowledge in the governance of natural resources are maintained, destabilized, or modified and thereby shape particular power relationships between governments, corporations and citizens with varying implications for environmental justice. Likewise, we would appreciate contributions that explore the implications that the privileging of particular knowledge systems and administrative rationalities within legal contexts has for citizen engagement in contested natural resource governance processes. Contributions to this panel can consider the following research questions:

· How are different types of knowledge and expertise adjudicated in legal processes initiated to advance environmental justice objectives in connection to contested natural resource projects or governance decisions?

· Which types of knowledge and expertise are rendered authoritative and which are rendered inappropriate in these legal contexts?

· Who represents and embodies this authoritative knowledge and expertise and who represents and embodies the subjugated knowledge and expertise?

· How do processes of racialization/gendering/class and intersecting social relations of power enter into the construction of and disqualification in categories of ‘expertise’ in legal processes?

· In which ways do marginalized actors negotiate and navigate expertise barriers and epistemic hierarchies in courtrooms?

· What knowledge politics emerge in courtrooms when court-cases revolt around non-anthropocentric rights, e.g. rights of nature?

Please send your abstract and additional information to and as follows:

Name, affiliation, presentation title (maximum 20 words), abstract (maximum 250 words), and 3 keywords

Submission deadline: December 10, 2021


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Bebbington, A., & Bury, J. (2013). Subterranean Struggles: New Dynamics of Mining, Oil, and Gas in Latin America: University of Texas Press.

Church, C., & Crawford, A. (2018). Green Conflict Minerals. International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Conde, M. (2014). Activism mobilising science. Ecological Economics, 105, 67-77.

Engels, B., & Dietz, K. (2017). Contested Extractivism, Society and the State Struggles over Mining and Land Development, Justice and Citizenship, SpringerLink. Bücher, Springer eBook Collection. Political Science and International Studies (pp. Online-Ressource (XV, 273 p. 272 illus, online resource)). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fairhead, J., Leach, M., & Scoones, I. (2012). Green grabbing: a new appropriation of nature?. Journal of peasant studies, 39(2), 237-261.

Gómez-Betancur, L. (2020). The rights of nature in the Colombian Amazon: examining challenges and opportunities in a transitional justice setting. UCLA J. Int’l L. Foreign Aff., 25, 41.

Hulme, K. (2017). Using a framework of human rights and transitional justice for post-conflict environmental protection and remediation.

Escobar, A. (1998). Whose knowledge, whose nature? Biodiversity, conservation, and the political ecology of social movements. Journal of Political Ecology, 5(1), 53-82.

Forsyth, T. (2015). Integrating science and politics in political ecology. In R. L. Bryant (Ed.), The international handbook of political ecology: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Forsyth, T. (2020). Who Shapes the Politics of Expertise? Co-Production and Authoritative Knowledge in Thailand’s Political Forests. Antipode, 52(4), 1039-1059. doi:

Jowitt, S. M., Mudd, G. M., & Thompson, J. F. H. (2020). Future availability of non-renewable metal resources and the influence of environmental, social, and governance conflicts on metal production. Communications Earth & Environment, 1(1), 13. doi:10.1038/s43247-020-0011-0

Kirsch, S. (2014). Mining capitalism: The relationship between corporations and their critics: Univ of California Press.

Leifsen, E., Gustafsson, M.-T., Guzmán-Gallegos, M. A., & Schilling-Vacaflor, A. (2017). New mechanisms of participation in extractive governance: between technologies of governance and resistance work. Third World Quarterly, 38(5), 1043-1057. doi:10.1080/01436597.2017.1302329

Li, F. (2015). Unearthing conflict: corporate mining, activism, and expertise in Peru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Nightingale, A. J. (2005). “The Experts Taught Us All We Know”: Professionalisation and Knowledge in Nepalese Community Forestry. Antipode, 37(3), 581-604. doi:

Panikkar, B. (2020). “Litigation Is Our Last Resort”: Addressing Uncertainty, Undone Science, and Bias in Court to Assert Indigenous Rights. Nature and Culture, 15(2), 173-198. doi:10.3167/nc.2020.150204

Parra, C., Lewis, B., & Ali, S. H. (2021). Mining, Materials, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 2030 and Beyond. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Phelps, J., Aravind, S., Cheyne, S., Dabrowski Pedrini, I., Fajrini, R., Jones, C. A., . . . Webb, E. L. (2021). Environmental liability litigation could remedy biodiversity loss. Conservation Letters, n/a(n/a), e12821. doi:

Ramírez Gutiérrez, C., & Saavedra Eslava, A. S. (2020). Protection of the Natural Environment under International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law: The Case of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Colombia. UCLA J. Int’l L. Foreign Aff., 25, 123.

Sánchez Vázquez, L. (2019). ¿Ciencia de resistencia? Monitoreos ambientales participativos en contextos de conflicto ambiental. Reflexiones desde una mirada decolonial. Revista de Paz y Conflictos, 12(2), 57-79. doi:10.30827/revpaz.v12i2.10399

Sonter, L. J., Dade, M. C., Watson, J. E. M., & Valenta, R. K. (2020). Renewable energy production will exacerbate mining threats to biodiversity. Nature Communications, 11(1), 4174. doi:10.1038/s41467-020-17928-5

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. doi:10.2458/v22i1.21108

Tollefson, J., & Panikkar, B. (2020). Contested extractivism: impact assessment, public engagement, and environmental knowledge production in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Journal of Political Ecology, 21(1), 1166-1188. doi:

Vela-Almeida, D., & Torres, N. (2021). Consultation in Ecuador: Institutional Fragility and Participation in National Extractive Policy. Latin American Perspectives, 48(3), 172-191. doi:10.1177/0094582X211008148

Woods, K. M. (2019). Green territoriality: Conservation as state territorialization in a resource frontier. Human Ecology, 47(2), 217-232.

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