Workshop ‘Social Ecology meets Political Ecology’

We will host a workshop at the Frankfurt node at ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research on the above topic. In 3 sessions we will explore the topics ‘Researching social-ecological conflicts – Bringing non-human entities into the analysis’ and ‘Synergy or contrast? When political ecology theoretical claims meet practical transdisciplinary challenges in social-ecological research projects’.

The workshop takes place on June 28 14:00-17:30 CET and June 29 14:00-18:00 CET. Participants can register online under the following links:

Topic 1: Researching social-ecological conflicts – Bringing non-human entities into the analysis (Day 1 and 2)

Research on environmental conflicts analyses mainly conflicts between social actors such as conflicts about resource distribution and access. These analyses generally treat nature as an object of contestations or stressor in human-nature interactions. Few authors from different research fields already started to incorporate non-human entities in the analysis asking for their active role and effects in environmental conflicts. As non-human entities, we understand for example animals, plants, soil, rivers, geomorphological formations and things. Incorporating non-humans as agents in the analysis enables to show the entanglements of social actors and non-human entities, which is key for opening up new understandings of the emergence, development and (non-)solution of environmental conflicts. These interrelations can have the form of a network, assemblage, interactions or interdependencies. The interrelations between society and nature are the research topic of Social Ecology and therefore we propose the new term of social-ecological conflicts, whose analysis treats social actors and non-human entities in an integrated way in the conflict analysis. This may involve integration of multiple ways of researching non-hu-mans, ranging from inter- and transdisciplinary approaches combining socio-empirical research methods and natural science methods applied to non-human conflict parties. We want to take stock of the different approaches to non-humans in environmental conflicts to discuss a defini-tion of social-ecological conflicts, the role and effect of non-human entities in conflicts and suit-able methods for the analysis of non-human entities as agents in social-ecological processes. We furthermore seek to explore the potential of social-ecological conflict analysis for conflict trans-formation.

Topic 2: Synergy or contrast? When political ecology theoretical claims meet practical transdisciplinary challenges in social-ecological research projects (Day 2)

Addressing crises in societal relations to nature involves co-creation of knowledge among multiple disciplines and practitioners. Research in transdisciplinary mode involves collaboration with key stakeholders from problem framing to deriving conclusions. At the same time, crises in societal relations to nature are tied to power imbalances, for instance in shaping discourse on ‘sustainability problems’. Addressing these in a transdisciplinary setting involves a series of practical questions, starting from the distribution of funding among the research and practice partners involved in a transdisciplinary research project, especially when conducted in North-South collaborations. Political ecology offers an enriching conceptual framework for systematically illuminating power asymmetries and uneven distributions of environmental change causes and impacts. While critical analyses provide key insights on how power relations reproduce crises in societal relations to nature, solution-oriented conclusions are rarely drawn. Here linking a political ecology lens with those of applied research and of practitioners appears promising. Transdisciplinary research implies the ambition of developing specific solutions towards sustainable and just development by bringing together multiple forms of knowledge. However, a tension evolves around normativity. Researchers are themselves embedded in a web of power relations, and often witness sensitive situations. They thus have to constantly reflect on being both, analytical observers and participants in social transformation processes. Against this backdrop, the panel seeks to take stock of challenges evolving around seeming contradictions, e.g. when working with actors who are subject to criticism, and the thereby arising double roles of actors involved (research subject, partner, analytical observer, participant in transformation) within applied research processes. We furthermore seek to explore the ethics of linking political ecology and transdisciplinary research approaches, methodologically and theoretically. In short, the panel aims to elaborate synergies and contradictions of political ecology approaches in relation to transdisciplinary social-ecological research.

POLLEN20 Call for workshop participants – Challenges of critical knowledge production for a transformation: perspectives and experiences

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

Workshop organizers

If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please contact the organizers Judith Bopp ( and Jonas Hein (

Workshop description

Working at the interface of knowledge production requires critical reflection on how to engage or not to engage with powerful actors to bring issues of environmental injustice on political agendas. How to collaborate with political or governmental bodies, or whether at all, is a critical and legitimate question raised among political ecologists. First, existing power structures within governments and the strong influence of corporate actors create risks of co-optation. Second, as Tania Li (2007) raised in “The Will to Improve”, expert engagement has a long and troubled history.

The SDG agenda, the Paris Agreement and recently the Friday’s for Future movement demand radical structural transformations. Transformation is the “new buzzword” (Blythe et al., 2018) across disciplines and ideologies. Transdisciplinarity is considered a necessary ingredient of transformative action, which is appropriated in rather radical Degrowth, post development, and alternatives-to-development approaches, as well as in “domesticated” programs and approaches such as the SDG agenda (Escobar, 2015). The growing field of sustainability science, in particular, builds on the assumption that transdisciplinary approaches provide more legitimate “solution options” (Lang et al., 2012).

In the context of the current boom in transformative research, prefigurative politics, the spread of fake news and fake science, and increasingly vocal demands raised by Fridays for Future and others that governments should follow science to avoid the climate catastrophe, we argue that it is imperative to (re-)discuss the role of science in politics and to politicize transformative research.

This workshop invites scholars and practitioners (governmental and non-governmental) with experience with critical knowledge production to participate in an exchange on the theme of ‘knowing, politicising and doing transformation‘. The session aims at elaborating possibilities of transfer of knowledge and skills, and concrete communication strategies. As such, the workshop provides a transdisciplinary discussion and skill-sharing forum. A further goal is to jointly develop a perspectives paper or a policy brief based on the workshop discussions.

The three-hour workshop will be limited to 20-25 participants. In addition, we will connect through online videocall with a number of experts from Colombia, Germany, India, Indonesia and Kiribati. The workshop will be structured into three phases:

  1. In-depth skill and experiences sharing through round table discussion / 3-4 world cafés
  2. Condensation and contextualisation of shared skills in forum
  3. Documentation of shared experiences in groups and wrap-up


Blythe, J. et al. (2018). The dark side of transformation: Latent risks in contemporary sustainability discourse. Antipode50(5), 1206-1223.

Escobar, A. (2015). Degrowth, postdevelopment, and transitions: a preliminary conversation. Sustainability Science10(3), 451-462

Lang, D. J. et al. (2012). Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability science7(1), 25-43.

Li, T. M. (2007). The will to improve. Duke University Press.