Why no change? Sustainable development, extractivism and the environment in Bolivia

Reblogged from the Open University

Today’s blog comes from Dr Jessica Hope, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at the University of Bristol and Chair of the Developing Areas Research Group (DARG) of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). Her research spans human geography, development studies and political ecology and addresses questions of socio-environmental change in response to climate change. Her current project, funded by an RGS Environment & Sustainability Grant, investigates reiterations of sustainable development in Bolivia, as promoted by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the upcoming Development Studies Association (#DSA2019) conference, Jessica will present on the early-career plenary panel. You can follow her on Twitter.

As an early career academic, it’s been a challenge to research sustainable development and the SDGs. The SDGs may be a new set of development goals but the concept of sustainable development is old….and already much critiqued. In my recent research on the early take-up and implementation of the SDGs in Bolivia, I have tried to use this as a starting point for my work. In terms of theory, this has meant asking what can help us think about sustainable development differently? And in terms of my empirical focus, this has meant questioning how the mainstreaming of the SDGs, as a global (and globalizing) response to climate change, effect more radical environmental agendas – those that have emerged since the mainstreaming of sustainable development in the 1980s (and sometimes in critique of the concept). Somewhat conversely, these efforts to think differently have actually helped me to better understand why things are staying the same and how, in Bolivia, powerful, extractivist development logics are being maintained and reworked.

Bolivia is an insightful case through which to investigate reiterations of sustainable development. With the election of President Evo Morales in 2005, himself an indigenous social movement leader, Bolivia was looked to as one of the most radical countries in Latin America’s move left. New development and environmental ideas and policies were enacted by the state, which have mostly promoted indigenous knowledges, rights and anti-colonial agendas. Particularly relevant to the environmental remit of the SDGs are those that re-conceptualised development as Vivir Bien/‘Good Living’ (replacing targets for economic growth with targets for social and environmental well-being), granted legal rights to nature and pledged significantly enhanced territorial rights to indigenous and campesino groups. Yet, since 2009, intensifying commitments to extractivism have come to dominate Bolivian politics and debates, as well override progressive agendas. In 2015, the Morales administration set out commitments for Bolivia to be the ‘energy heart of Latin America’ – expanding hydrocarbon infrastructure and exports to include fracking, hydropower megaprojects and solar farms. It is in the context of this contested politics that the SDGs are being implemented.

In terms of thinking differently, I have found assemblage theory useful to researching and analyzing the SDGs in Bolivia. Assemblage theory foregrounds the ways realities come into being through particular (and changing) relationships and connections between, for example, objects, places, institutions, discourses and policies. Drawing on how Deleuze and Guatarri’s theories of assemblage (agencement) have been used in social science, primarily by Tania Murray Li, I have used assemblage thinking to analyse how powerful common-senses are being made, maintained and reworked. In Bolivia, adopting this approach has firstly foregrounded how the take-up of the SDGs emerges in relation to existing development agendas, actors and networks. The SDGs are primarily being operationalized by the state, by international NGOs and by their national partners. Secondly, the goals were brought into existing initiatives, rather than causing a wholesale reappraisal of development work. Thirdly, I found that, crucially, the SDGs assemblage is disciplined – with NGOs, for example, being clear that their work could not address disputes between the state and civil society. This meant the contentious politics of extractivism is excluded from sustainable development projects and discourse.  A fourth finding about is that through its emergence, disciplining and holding together, progressive discourses are being “deployed to new ends”. The central government has aligned its commitments to the SDGs with their interpretations of Vivir Bien, which fall within the parameters of an extractive-led development model. So rather than providing support to those contesting extractive-led development, the SDGs are helping to consolidate its hegemony. This interpretation and deployment of Vivir Bien is contradictory to how Vivir Bien has been conceptualized and advocated by activists and scholars. In their critical reading, Vivir Bien/ Buen Vivir provides an alternative to sustainable development, as it decentres growth and instead moves toward a more holistic measure of wellbeing (including how communities live with and treat nature). In summary, assemblage thinking reveals that the SDGs are acting as a form of anti-politics – rendering neutral and technical the contested environment/development politics of Bolivia.

Finally, and in answer to my second question, I have used assemblage thinking to identify a counter-assemblage that is emerging and consolidating in relation to the exclusions outlined above. This means identifying the organisations, discourses, politics, landscapes and histories that are coming together in exclusion from mainstream development agendas in Bolivia and in opposition to extractivism. What I find exciting is that assemblage thinking enables the inclusion of material components too – trees, riverways, habitats, wildlife, canoes, speedboats and roads. Following the work of urban geographers, for example Ash Amin, this opens-up interesting lines of enquiry into the sociality and liveliness of particular territories, as place, and how they are generative of reworked and progressive environment/development politics. In this new work, I am researching the generative liveliness of the hybrid spaces that partly emerge from policies for conservation, territory, collectivity and extractivism. Despite calls for academics to make a pragmatic step to get behind the SDGs, the Bolivian case has made me question this step and, instead, I plan to examine the stifled, excluded, contentious and more transformative politics of the counter-assemblage.

Photo credit: Jessica Hope

Open letter to the President of Colombia denouncing threats and murder of social leaders // Carta abierta al Presidente de Colombia denunciando amenazas y asesinatos a lideres sociales

ENTITLE blog - a collaborative writing project on Political Ecology

In an open letter to the Colombian president, national and international academics denounce an escalation of threats, judicial persecution and assassinations of social leaders in the country and ask him to take to take bold actions and open a profound, transparent and world-facing investigation to stop this violence.

[Español] En una carta abierta al presidente colombiano, académicos nacionales e internacionales denuncian una escalada de amenazas, persecución judicial y asesinatos de líderes sociales en el país y le piden que tome acciones audaces y abra una investigación profunda, transparente y de cara al mundo paradetener esta violencia.

Protesta colombia One of dozens of protests carried out in July 2018 across cities in Colombia and worldwide against the killing of social leaders, under the banner #UnaVelaPorLaVida. In this one, a young activist has a sign that reads, “Life is Respected”. Photo: Vanexa Romero. Source: El Tiempo newspaper.

Bogota, D.C., Colombia, May 21…

View original post 5,665 more words

Job opportunity: Postdoctoral Fellow at the Indian School of Business

Position: Postdoctoral Fellow – “Institutional networks and self-organized adaptation: Tracing the democratic architectures of climate response”

Location: Indian School of Business, Hyderabad

Position Description:

We are recruiting a postdoctoral researcher to work on the project “Institutional networks and self-organized adaptation: Tracing the democratic architectures of climate response”, a multi-collaborator effort led by Harry Fischer (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Forrest Fleischman (University of Minnesota), Dil Khatri (South Asian Institute of Advanced Studies), and Ashwini Chhatre (Indian School of Business). The project aims to study how individuals, households, and communities access state support mechanisms to confront climate risk and change, and the political channels that enable (and often preclude) their success. We seek an early-career scholar with training in humanistic social sciences or interdisciplinary development studies. The ideal candidate would have experience conducting intensive qualitative fieldwork with a focus on rural livelihoods and the politics of government service delivery coupled with knowledge of the South Asian context and comfort working in Hindi. Some familiarity with quantitative methods would be desirable. The postdoctoral fellow would be expected to spend at least 12 months in the field in Northern India (Himachal Pradesh) and Nepal. We wish to involve the postdoctoral fellow as a collaborator in developing the larger project, while also giving them a significant role in defining the research that they wish to focus their attention on. 

For more information on the project, please see: https://www.slu.se/en/departments/urban-rural-development/research/rural-development/ongoing-research/institutional-networks/

Employment and Institutional Affiliations: 

The postdoctoral fellow will have the opportunity to work in collaboration with the larger research team led by Harry Fischer. However, their primary affiliation will be the Indian School of Business on their Hyderabad campus, where they will work under the direct supervision of Prof. Ashwini Chhatre. ISB is a leading management education institution in India, with an active portfolio of research on environment and development issues, including the Digital Identity Research Initiative and an active Forest Governance research program. ISB’s campus in Hyderabad provides state-of-the-art facilities for research and houses more than 150 faculty and researchers across disciplines. The postdoc will also maintain close contract with the Nepal research team led by Dil Khatri, based at the Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies

Appointment details: 

The position will start in September 2019. It is expected to last for two years, and we hope to offer one additional year of support, contingent upon performance and funding. Remuneration for this position is competitive, and the position also includes funding for international conferences (1 per year) and travel support for fieldwork.

The position is ideal for someone who wants to focus their attention on developing a new research project as part of an interdisciplinary research team, with generous support for intensive fieldwork. 

For further information, do not hesitate to contact:

Harry Fischer – harry.fischer@slu.se  or

Sangeetha Hariharan – Sangeetha_Hariharan@isb.edu

To apply:

We will begin reviewing applications on July 7 on a rolling basis until the position is filled. Please send the following to harry.fischer@slu.se: a 1-2 page cover letter describing your qualifications and potential interest in the position, your CV, and contact information for 3 references.

Job opportunity: Lecturer in Political Ecology

The School for Field Studies is looking for a lecturer in Political Ecology for the Peru program in the NE Peruvian Amazon for the 2019-2020 academic year. We’re looking for a PhD, but will also consider someone with a Masters and university-level teaching experience in areas related to political ecology, cultural anthropology, human geography, or related field. Teaching is in English and fluency in Spanish is a plus but not an absolute requirement. We hire internationally, so there is no Peruvian or US citizenship requirement.

More information can be found here

POLLEN newsletter: June

Dear POLLEN members and friends (with apologies for X-posting), 

Greetings and welcome to our monthly POLLEN update. We are happy to have received a number of interesting new publications and opportunities, and to once again welcome new nodes!  

Our teaching resources page is still expanding. If you have anything that you would like to add, please let us know!  

We would like to remind you of our drive to expand the POLLEN network, especially to include interested institutions from the Global South or any other under-represented regions. Please have a think about inviting institutions you work with who might benefit from being part of POLLEN. To aid this process, we have drafted an email that you can use if you would like to invite colleagues. We would like to thank Sabaheta Ramcilovik-Suominen for suggesting this great idea. We hope this draft email will encourage existing nodes to ask their global partners to start their own node: 

Dear…, 

In attempts to branch out across the globe, we would like to invite you to start an institutional or individual ‘node’ in our network – Political Ecology Network (POLLEN). 

POLLEN is a global network, consisting of a large variety of researchers, groups, projects, networks and other ‘nodes’ around the world, that work at the interface of political, economic and social factors with environmental and social justice issues and change. 

As the name suggests, the aim of POLLEN is to facilitate interaction and creativity through ‘cross-fertilization’ and to promote the important field of political ecology worldwide, among academics as well as others. Historically, the term ‘political ecology’ has not been confined only to an analytical approach and research program, but also to the theories and narratives that mobilize social and political movements with an ecological agenda. 

We, therefore, aim to function as a vehicle to promote, encourage and facilitate political ecological research with other academic fields and disciplines, as well as civil society. The members of POLLEN are both individuals and ‘nodes’. 

These nodes are really what POLLEN is all about: autonomous groups of researchers and practitioners working in and on different traditions. It is established mainly to coordinate between, but also to support, the various nodes in ensuring that political ecology messages, lessons and insights are shared, broadcasted and heard more widely. This is done mainly on our blog 

One of the main activities of POLLEN is to hold a biennial conference. For more information see our website. 

To start your own POLLEN node, please fill in your details on our open Google Sheet membership database, and email the POLLEN secretariat (currently hosted by the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University) at politicalecologynetwork@gmail.com to request that your node is added to the website. 

That’s it. We are not a listserve – but do ask for contributions once a month for our newsletter. 

This draft email can also be found on the POLLEN website.  

We hope everyone enjoys reading this month’s newsletter and we thank everyone who sent us contributions! A pdf version of this newsletter can be found here.

BLOG POSTS 

Doing Political Ecology Amid Disaster by Jared Margulies 

Travel policy reduces travel costs and CO2 emissions by Jens Friis Lund 

Why is vanilla so expensive? | The Economist with Benjamin Neimark 

From our friends at Entitle

Statement of the Encounter of Critical and Autonomous Geographies of Latin America // Pronunciamiento del Encuentro de Geografías Críticas y Autónomas de América Latina 

Environmentalism is not a metaphor by Remy Bargout 

PUBLICATIONS 

Clement, F., Harcourt, W.J., Joshi, D. and Sato, C., 2019. Feminist political ecologies of the commons and commoning. International Journal of the Commons13(1). Editorial to a Special Feature which can be found here: Feminist political ecologies of the commons and commoning 

Kolinjivadi, V., 2019. Avoiding dualisms in ecological economics: Towards a dialectically-informed understanding of co-produced socionatures. Ecological Economics163, pp.32-41. 

Lund, J.F., Amanzi, N., Baral, S., Basnyat, B., Chhetri, B., Eilenberg, M., Hansen, C., Lund, C., Mbeyale, G., Meilby, H. and Ngaga, Y., 2019. Towards Participatory Forestry: Policy Briefs-Copenhagen Centre for Development Research, University of Copenhagen. Policy Brief1(May). 

Neimark, Benjamin Address the roots of environmental crime Science  12 Apr 2019: Vol. 364, Issue 6436, pp. 139 https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6436/139.1 

Ramcilovic-Suominen, S., Lovric, M., Mustalahti, I. 2019. Mapping policy actor networks and their interests in the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement in Lao PDR. World Development 118: 128-148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.02.011 

Tănăsescu, M., 2019. Restorative ecological practice: The case of the European Bison in the Southern Carpathians, Romania. Geoforum

NEWS, CONFERENCES AND OPPORTUNITIES 

CFP SI: The species turn in South Asian identity politics 

The Canadian Society of Ecological Economics 12th Biennial Conference entitled “Engaging Economies of Change” took place from the 22-25 May, 2019 in Waterloo, Ontario. To view recorded keynotes, including a debate between degrowth and ecomodernism by Giorgios Kallis and Ted Norhaus, and other speakers raising issues on Indigenous sovereignty in Canada, feminist economics, radical care and commoning, and related themes, please visit this link at the David Suzuki Foundation: https://davidsuzuki.org/science-learning-centre-article/engaging-economies-of-change-canadian-society-for-ecological-economics-12th-biennial-conference-may-22-25-2019/?fbclid=IwAR0SQ43HKEDpmynAYVqY4So5QyAXeflc-nqjRGQzKljqF8bJuLveNJ8ezT4 

Reminder: The Political Ecology Society (PESO) announces the 2019 Eric Wolf Prize for the best article-length paper. The deadline for submission is July 15, 2019. 

The Future Pasts research project led from Bath Spa University (UK) is currently curating the exhibition Future Pasts: Landscape, Memory and Music in West Namibia at a Community Arts Venue in Swakopmund, Namibia (for info, see here). The project explores the cultural and conservation landscapes of west Namibia in connection with historical processes of colonialism and conquest. 

NEW NODES – Welcome to POLLEN! 

Best wishes, 

Marleen Schutter, Ben Neimark, John Childs, Simon Batterbury, Patrick Bigger, James Fraser, Giovanni Bettini, Katharine Howell 

POLLEN secretariat, Lancaster University 

politicalecologynetwork@gmail.com 

https://politicalecologynetwork.org

@PolEcoNet 

Draft/example email for inviting partners

We have drafted an email that you can use if you would like to invite colleagues to join POLLEN. We would like to thank Sabaheta Ramcilovik-Suominen for suggesting this great idea. We hope this draft email will encourage existing nodes to ask their global partners to start their own node: 

Dear…, 

In attempts to branch out across the globe, we would like to invite you to start an institutional or individual ‘node’ in our network – Political Ecology Network (POLLEN). 

POLLEN is a global network, consisting of a large variety of researchers, groups, projects, networks and other ‘nodes’ around the world, that work at the interface of political, economic and social factors with environmental and social justice issues and change. 

As the name suggests, the aim of POLLEN is to facilitate interaction and creativity through ‘cross-fertilization’ and to promote the important field of political ecology worldwide, among academics as well as others. Historically, the term ‘political ecology’ has not been confined only to an analytical approach and research program, but also to the theories and narratives that mobilize social and political movements with an ecological agenda. 

We, therefore, aim to function as a vehicle to promote, encourage and facilitate political ecological research with other academic fields and disciplines, as well as civil society. The members of POLLEN are both individuals and ‘nodes’. 

These nodes are really what POLLEN is all about: autonomous groups of researchers and practitioners working in and on different traditions. It is established mainly to coordinate between, but also to support, the various nodes in ensuring that political ecology messages, lessons and insights are shared, broadcasted and heard more widely. This is done mainly on our blog 

One of the main activities of POLLEN is to hold a biennial conference. For more information see our website. 

To start your own POLLEN node, please fill in your details on our open Google Sheet membership database, and email the POLLEN secretariat (currently hosted by the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University) at politicalecologynetwork@gmail.com to request that your node is added to the website. 

That’s it. We are not a listserve – but do ask for contributions once a month for our newsletter.