The Un-founding of A Contemporary Political Ecology: An Introduction

For the first four months of 2010 I spent a great deal of time trying to elucidate, as a member of the pos-post-modernist era (an era so ill-defined we haven’t gotten around to naming it yet), what a political ecology means. Beyond just defining this broad term, I had tasked myself with building it particularly in the context of social problems such as crime, abuse, poverty and homelessness. The ecological enters from my faith based belief that the formula for human happiness includes an inextricable coupling of the natural and artificial worlds.

We can start by defining Political Ecology by exclusion: it is not social geography, or social psychology with an ecological bent, or economic history, or social philosophy, or traditional knowledge. Nor is it any more just a criticism of classical or new political economy. Certainly informed by Marx, and even more so by Engles Dialectics of Nature, it is still well outside of this capital-centered theoretical perspective. Broadly, political ecology refers to the unequal sharing of the ecological costs and benefits of development, which are often but not always interrelated with their economic counterparts. A classic example is the coal miner who toils and may even die young, but lives in the midst of the ecological disaster of the coal mine, makes scarcely enough to keep himself and his family warm through the winter, whilst those who enjoy his labours may live in a picturesque country winter-chalet. In this way I personally claim to see a train of thought extending back especially to the French writer Emile Zola in the novel Germinal.

Zola's classic work on the situation of French coal miners in the 19th century - informed by his own anthropological participant research.

To try and construct this political ecology I had done my best to decipher Foucault, Heidegger and Derrida. Perhaps with time and hefty revisiting I’ll be able to incorporate their works. I’ve also read neo-Marxists and reactions to them, Matt Hern (contemporary Vancouver-based writer on urbanity), popular geographers Paul Robbins and David Montgommery and a smattering of articles dating back to the advent of the term in the 1950’s and a few select papers from the recently (1994) formed Journal of Political Ecology. I have been through the fallacies of drawing direct analogies with ecology – such as niche analysis, the organismal approach, and systems analysis that all have histories that generally date as far back as the scientific theories from which they drew their analogies. I have also attempted to classify the structuring of the built environment as a product of labor, which is really more a project directly within the classical perspectives of Marx and Durkheim. What I have settled on goes back to my attempts to understand the philosophies of Heidegger, Foucault and Derrida: A post-structuralist, phenomenological, emotive and existential account of what I know as opposed to that which I purport to know or understand.

Here I owe a huge debt of gratitude to professor Joseph Moore, of Vancouver Island University, who painstakingly guided my while I went down all these paths and did his best to provide me with the direction to formulate my own novel approach without interfering or simply imprinting his own conceptions.

While trying desperately to contribute to the ephemeral Academy of thought I have instead found myself more aptly positioned to add to the un-academic body of knowledge. It suits my current academic experience – or general lack thereof – and fits with my personal experiences in which legend, hearsay, journalism and literature have formed my understanding of the social world far more than academic theory and formal research publications.

I have focused on the only place I can pretend to know – Yellowknife, NT – with some other places I have drifted through in an attempt to build meaningful comparisons. Over the next few months I will publish on this forum the revised analyses of this, my hometown, and brief comparisons including Resistencia, the capital of the northern Argentine province of El Chaco and other Canadian towns. My data will be primarily personal experiences, with deductions and inferences therefrom.

The city of Resistencia on the río Paraná.

I am especially thankful to author Matt Hern for his perspective and the idea that while the academic cannon may have its usefulness, for those of us who hope to effectuate positive change in the world around us, the more accessible and honest prose of the storyteller is a much handier tool. So in the end I do not claim to have done anything except lain bare what I claim to know and have experienced. Speculations as to how to build this project are smattered throughout, but they can be taken more as musings than philosophical justification.

I hope that those of us who are often frustrated by what we see around them will gain some peace by pulling them apart – and putting them back together again. In the end I aim to gain and share insights into how to make positive changes within our communities by identifying the problems, their root causes, and the best means to their solutions.

“Ex nihlio omne ens qua ens.”

-Existential Poverb (“out of nothing every being becomes being”)

Leo Strauss, Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism


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