This is a working group and platform of debate on political ecology at the Institute for the Humanities of the University of Illinois at Chicago for the 2015-2016 Academic Year, initiated and chaired by faculty members Ömür Harmanşah (Department of Art History) and Molly Doane (Department of Anthropology).
Bruno Latour famously opens the introduction to his Politics of Nature (2004: 1), with a radical statement: “What is to be done with political ecology? Nothing. What is to be done? Political ecology!” Political ecology is a rapidly growing field of research and political platform concerning the place-based struggles of local communities across the world in coming to terms with development projects and the effects of globalization. However well intentioned they may be, development projects often challenge the local communities’ rights to local resources such as water, land, clean air, ecological biodiversity and cultural heritage. Political ecology offers a platform for public debate for academics to reconnect with communities and activists globally, to ground their work in such engagements with place-based or environmental struggles for sustainability and basic human rights.
Take, for example, the construction of a major hydro-electric dam on a river in the Middle East or East Asia. A large scale dam project typically dislocates local communities or take away their agricultural and pastoral land, alter agricultural practices, cause regional and local climatic fluctuations, influence the regime of water resources, alter plant life and indigenous animal communities, and lead to the destruction of archaeological sites. It is therefore essential to engage such a complex phenomenon through a rigorous collaboration of natural scientists, cultural heritage specialists, development studies experts, archaeologists, anthropologists, artists, political scientists, and human rights activists.
Political Ecologies Working Group is a cross-disciplinary platform for faculty and students who are interested in engaging with questions that relate to social movements, the environment, biodiversity, ecological activism, human rights, cultural heritage, environmental justice, and public humanities. It responds to the desire of UIC faculty and students for engagement and collaboration with local communities in the global contexts of development. The Working Group aims to build for a greater UIC-based Research Initiative that will open to debate the role of the academic world in the invariably politically charged arenas of cultural discourse concerning life, sustainability, environment, the diverse meanings of natural resources and cultural heritage in different territories, and the ethics of fieldwork in the 21st century.
The Working Group meets monthly for critical discussion of specific readings, or for workshops and panel discussions around the work of invited speakers from within and outside campus throughout the AY 2015-2016. With the funding provided by the Institute for the Humanities, at least one world-reknown speaker will be brought to campus on political ecology. This newly formed academic community will also plan for a larger academic conference on the topic to take place in the following academic year (2016-2017).