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The power problematic: exploring the uncertain terrains of political ecology and the resilience framework

Micah L Ingalls, Poverty-Environment Initiative, United Nations Development Programme; Human Dimensions Research Unit, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University
Richard C Stedman, Human Dimensions Research Unit, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08124-210106

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Abstract

Significant and growing concerns relating to global social and environmental conditions and processes have raised deep questions relating to the ability of traditional governance regimes to manage for the complexities of social-ecological systems. The resilience framework provides a more dynamic approach to system analysis and management, emphasizing nonlinearity, feedbacks, and multiscalar engagement along the social-ecological nexus. In recent years, however, a number of scholars and practitioners have noted various insufficiencies in the formulation of the resilience framework, including its lack of engagement with the dimensions of power within social-ecological systems, which blunt the analytical potential of resilience and run the risk of undermining resilience-based management objectives. In this analysis, we engage with this power problematic by drawing on key insights from the scholarly tradition of political ecology, suggesting that a more appreciative, thoroughgoing engagement between resilience scholarship and political ecology may allow not only a deeper treatment of power within the resilience framework but also address several important critiques of political ecology itself. We explore the shared intellectual spaces of these traditions and suggest some ways in which a critical engagement between resilience and political ecology on the subject of power better informs our understanding of socio-political dynamics within complex systems. In closing, we train the critical light backward on political ecology to suggest that an appreciative engagement with the resilience framework may assist by reasserting a more serious treatment of ecology within political ecological analyses and support the formulation of more elegant, politically tractable counternarratives to address global environmental crises.

Key words

political ecology; power; resilience; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087