CHANS researchers not keen on ‘political ecology questions’

In a recent article in Ecology and Society, hundreds of people who research ‘coupled human and natural systems’ (CHANS)  were asked, what research questions do they consider most important for the field? A two-stage process was used to identify the key questions, and Likert scale responses elicited. As Appendix 3 of the article shows, the two top questions  chosen were  ‘How do policies influence human-nature interactions?‘ and ‘How will human population patterns change with ongoing changes in availability of water?‘ A range of land and agriculture questions came top.

The research question ‘Can we generate political ecology/economy methods that incorporate history, assymetrical power, and access?‘ came very close to the bottom of the list and was not included in the ‘top 40’ (see Appendix 3). Not much else appeared in that list that had much bearing on historical patterns of greed or power in causing environmental problems.

Conclusion – CHANS research appears rather apolitical. The favoured questions are interesting, but not necessarily key to explaining the difficult world we now live in. Meanwhile, what we actually need to understand, and combat, is unequal expressions of power and the resulting effects on natural and social systems. Displacement, as well as ‘conservation’; land grabbing, as well as land cover; corporate and government greed, as well as ‘policies’.  In short, ‘accumulation by dispossession’ , gender, race  and power inequalities,  are somehow de-emphasized in CHANS, from this survey.

Rather a sad reflection on human-environment scholarship (my academic community since the late 1980s).

Maybe a replication of the study is needed? (or a reply)

Kramer, D. B., J. Hartter, A. E. Boag, M. Jain, K. Stevens, K. Ann Nicholas, W. J. McConnell, and J. Liu. 2017. Top 40 questions in coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) research. Ecology and Society 22(2):44. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-09429-220244