In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Political Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Defining Political Ecology
  • Revising Political Ecology
  • Debating Methods and Approaches
  • Establishing the Field
  • Resource Access and Control
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Land-Change Dynamics
  • Resource-Related Violence
  • Continuing the Agrarian Tradition
  • Urban Environments
  • Gender Analysis
  • Water Resources
  • Historical Political Ecology
  • First World Political Ecology
  • Mining and Energy Resource Geographies
  • Marine, Coastal, and Lacustrine Resources

Geography Political Ecology
Christian Brannstrom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0002


Political ecology emerged in the 1980s within the field of geography from cultural ecology and development studies traditions. Initially phrased by Piers Blaikie, an expert in rural development and resource governance, as the multiscale analysis of environmental degradation from a political economy perspective, political ecology rejected neo-Malthusian explanations of human impacts on the environment. Instead, the subfield understands environmental change as a result of power relations, which cause highly variable access to resources. Debate exists on whether political ecologists created a theory of human–environment interactions or whether they established a research framework. Moreover, scholars have debated whether political ecology is sufficiently “political” or “ecological.” In the late 1990s and early 2000s, political ecology fragmented into several subareas that have since developed into vigorous research areas. Political ecologists share affinity with several groups of scholars, including anthropologists who self-identify as political ecologists, economic geographers interested in resources and commodities, political geographers interested in environmental politics, and scholars specializing in cultural ecology and environmental justice.

General Overviews

Geographers have published a number of texts introducing political ecology to undergraduate readers and early graduate students. For undergraduate students, Robbins, et al. 2010 is appropriate for courses taught in geography on resources and environment. Especially noteworthy in this textbook is the combination of theoretical and conceptual topics with a case-study approach that applies the theoretical and conceptual to topics such as tuna and French fries. Neumann 2005, a concise introduction to political ecology, is similarly aimed at undergraduates. For graduate students, Robbins 2012 presents an excellent synthesis of the field.

  • Neumann, Roderick P. Making Political Ecology. London: Hodder Arnold, 2005.

    Concise treatment of political ecology as a new subfield of human geography. Argues for a broad understanding of political ecology and as a philosophical foundation for the critical realist. Outlines the origins of the subfield and argues for a need for historical approaches, for attention to both state and civil society, and for ecological analyses in political ecology.

  • Robbins, Paul. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. 2d ed. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

    Textbook aimed at graduate students seeking to understand the origins, theoretical underpinnings, and recent directions of political ecology. Revised edition acknowledges the increasing diversity of approaches taken in political ecology.

  • Robbins, Paul, John Hintz, and Sarah A. Moore. Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    Textbook suited to undergraduates. Concise and insightful discussion of important theoretical concepts and frameworks complemented by their application to a case-study approach targeting a range of commodities and issues.

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