Political Ecology: Platform Chicago is an active working group of faculty, graduate students, artists, and activists, and a platform of academic research, field practice, and debate on political ecology and environmental humanities, supported by the Institute for the Humanities of the University of Illinois at Chicago since the beginning the 2015-2016 Academic Year. The working group has been initiated and chaired by faculty members Ömür Harmanşah (Department of Art History), Molly Doane (Department of Anthropology) and Ralph Cintron (English and the Latino and Latin American Studies).
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 Ecology: Platform Chicago is a cross-disciplinary platform for faculty, students, artists and activists 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 Platform 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 Platform 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 since Fall 2015. With the funding provided by the Institute for the Humanities, and other academic units, the Platform organizes events at UIC campus in multiple formats including symposia, workshops, lectures, and the like.
In December 2016, Political Ecology: Platform Chicago received a major research grant from the Humanities Without Walls Consortium, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project is entitled “Political Ecology as Practice: A Regional Approach to the Anthropocene” and will result in an exhibition planned to open at Gallery 400 in Spring 2019.