27 September 2016

New Lancaster research group focusses on how people interact with the environment at a social, political and economic level

Environmental justice and the fair distribution of natural resources is a key theme of Lancaster University’s new Political Ecology group, one of only a handful of UK research groups focussed on this cross-cutting field.

“Political Ecology is an approach that took off in the 1970s,” explains Dr John Childs, a lecturer whose research interests cover the politics and geographies of resource extraction.

“Some people emphasise the role of political institutions or individuals, some emphasise the role of conflict, or of economics.  All these approaches have got at their heart the notion of social and environmental justice.  It isn’t just a critique of the way the environment is governed currently, but tries to shine a light on how it could be done better.”

His colleague, Dr Ben Neimark, whose expertise is bioprospecting, explains that Political Ecology “draws on a whole range of different disciplinary backgrounds: social scientists rubbing shoulders with anthropologists, environmental historians and economists. We are one of the first true clusters of political ecology in the UK.”

Professor Phil Barker, director of the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), said: “The social sciences and policy development are an increasingly critical area for the department and complement our strength in the natural sciences.”

Two recent professorial appointments will strengthen the existing group of researchers, whose

expertise covers bioprospecting; resource politics; smallholder natural resource management; the wild life trade; technology’s role in causing and solving environmental problems; the political impact of how we talk about climate change, migration and development; the governance of small scale fisheries; energy; and climate and the financial markets.

Professor Simon Batterbury will be joining Lancaster in January 2017 as one of the UK’s first Professor of Political Ecology. He is a world leader the subject with expertise in environment and development. He ran a sought after post graduate programme and a strong team of researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia. He has carried out fieldwork in Africa and Asia Pacific and edits the Journal of Political Ecology.

Environmental economist, Dr Camilla Toulmin has already joined the Environment Centre as a part- time Professor in Practice. She is combining her work at Lancaster with her role as a senior researcher at the International Institute of Environment and Development, where she was director until 2014. She has a particular expertise in dryland Africa and her current interests cover climate change, property rights, global governance and natural resources.

“Camilla and Simon have very strong international networks and a good understanding of policy areas and governance to help direct our natural and social science research to be more engaged and more useful,” said Professor Barker.

Lancaster University has already established itself as a leading player in the discipline. John Childs and Ben Neimark have been instrumental in setting up POLLEN, the Political Ecology Network, which emerged out of a two day conference held in Lancaster in September 2014.

POLLEN is a rapidly expanding sharing network, John explains, linking together political ecology researchers from all over the world, and bringing them together for a biannual conference at multiple locations across Europe.