Political Ecology

Environmental change is of great and wide spread concern – it comprises issues from the ozone hole and global warming to the loss of biodiversity and the water crisis. National politics and many international organisations are seeking solutions, also revealing how society’s perceptions and definitions of nature is evolving according to different constraints and interests.

Social and political ecology seeks to understand the nature – society relations by putting ecological and resource management problems in the context of social change and the political economy of production, distribution and consumption. One research focus is analysing how environmental problems are intertwined with global, national and local distributional disparities in connection with social and power relations. The other domain of research is concentrating on theoretical approaches trying to grasp our relationship to the physical, non-human world.


Conceptions' struggles for access to water between local governments and international NGOs in Benin

Relying on political ecology and Bourdieu’s theories, this project analyses the power relations that appear between international NGOs and local governments during the implementation of water projects due to different conceptions and interests in the water field and the impact of these relations on waterscapes. This thesis relies on a comparative study of four water projects in rural Benin.

SNF Project : P0FRP1_155427

Contact: morgane.anziani-vente(at)unifr.ch

Morality and the development of national parks: Social and political negotiations in Abel Tasman national park (New Zealand).

The focus of this research project is to identify and understand the distinctive moral discourses embedded within the social and political negotiations that surround the development of conservation projects in the Abel Tasman national park. Building on Boltanski’s and Thèvenot’s orders of worth, this thesis aims to understand how moralities become politicized in conservation projects, and how these moralities shape the spaces and places being produced and re-produced in this park.

SNF Project - 152785

Contact: timothy.tait-jamieson(at)unifr.ch

Traditional Authorities in Namibia’s land governance. Seeking legitimacy among legal and practical transformations

This project establishes social and political implications of the Communal land reform policies in north-central Namibia. At the present, the Traditional Authorities are likely to be the most affected by the political negotiations of land. As the land governance field experiences a thorough turnover through the reshuffling of roles and connected rights and duties, they are required to re-stabilise their power position, not least with regards to land control.

This context offers insight into the creation of new forms of legitimising practices and discourse, drawing on theories of Bourdieu, Turner, and Foucault. This thesis aims to establish a cross-scale image of interrelations between the national land reform narratives and socio-political dynamics on a local level. This research is conducted by Laura Weidmann.

Contact: laura.weidmann(at)unifr.ch

2016 SNF Project : P1FRP1_168435

2012-2016 SNF Project : FN 140433 Communal land reform in Namibia - Implications of Individualisation of land tenure

Affective political ecologies: Producing environmental volunteers through affective work

With the opening of environmental governance to the private and third sectors, the division of environmental work is undergoing profound changes. Alongside the growing implication of private companies and NGOs in the conception, financing and management of environmental projects, recent research has shed light on an unprecedented involvement of unskilled volunteer participants in domains of environmental management which until recently solely resided in the hand of trained naturalists.

This project explores the circulation and adoption of this new division of environmental labour and the role of affect in the production of volunteer subjectivities and of consent to this neoliberal reordering. Marion Ernwein was awarded a postdoctoral scholarship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) to conduct this research as a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford (Sept. 2016-Febr. 2018).

Contact: Marion.Ernwein(at)unifr.ch


  • Ernwein, M. & Fall, J.J. (2015) “Communicating invasion: Understanding social anxieties around mobile species”. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, vol. 97, n° 2, pp. 155-167.

Unit of Geography - Chemin du Musée 4 - 1700 Fribourg - Tel +41 26 / 300 90 10 - Fax +41 26 / 300 9746
nicole.equey [at] unifr.ch - Swiss University