Political Ecology

Political Ecology is a transdisciplinary approach to study how nature-society relations evolve over time and across space. Acknowledging the complex nature of nature-society relations, political ecology draws on a rich theoretical and methodological portfolio from human and social ecology, anthropology, history, political science, sociology, and human geography.

Our empirical entry points are material and discursive struggles over environmental resource access, management and control. These struggles and conflicts over the environment and its resources (such as agricultural land, water, wildlife, fisheries, mines, forests, trees, parks) are politically, economically, culturally, and socially mediated. Due to the social, cultural, and political economic embeddedness of such conflicts, assessments (scientific, policy-related) of the state of environment are not politically neutral. That is to say, there are no objective ecologies, but all ecologies are political.

We are thus interested in understanding what kind of ecologies are produced in these struggles and how they are represented through science, popular discourse, social movements, and policies. Moreover, we are interested in understanding how these ecologies and their representations lead to often uneven economic development across time and space.

Thematically, we study political ecologies of nature/forest/wildlife/biodiversity conservation, rural and agricultural development, rural livelihoods and economies, water and land tenure governance, and climate change. Geographically we work in Switzerland, New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia.

For BSc and MSc students we offer courses and excursions in qualitative methods, human geography, environmental geography, political ecology, water geography, urban geography, economic geography, social theory, global development and change.


[Caption: Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Credit: Alex Wunsch]


Our research projects in Political Ecology

  • Traditional Authorities in Namibia’s land governance: Seeking legitimacy in a context of 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. 


    2016 SNF Project : P1FRP1_168435

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


    2021 Working paper: Social meaning and material constraints of land scarcity in Northern Namibia. By Lena Bloemertz, Romie Nghitevelekwa, Brice Prudat, Laura Weidmann, Gregor Dobler, Olivier Graefe, Nikolaus J. Kuhn. Namibia University, Integrated Land Management Institute (ILMI) 

    Project members: 

    Laura Weidman

    Prof. Olivier Graefe




    Project area


  • Political Ecology of Wildlife Conservation in Namibia: Commercialization of Animals and Human-Animal Relationships.

    This research is focused on processes of neoliberalization of wildlife conservation including the commodification, commercialization and privatization of animals and human-wildlife relationships. Of particular interest is the production of encounter value and the consequences of its commercialization on the relationships between humans and wildlife. A comparison approach is taken in order to identify the differences of encounter value linked to the different territorialities of wildlife conservation like national parks, private game farms and communal conservancies. The objective is to understand how market logics of game viewing impact Namibia's wildlife and shape human-wildlife relationships, today and in the future.


    The project is conducted in cooperation with Prof. Dr. A. Schlottmann (University of Frankfurt) and the University of Namibia.


    Image credits: Olivier Graefe

    Prof. Olivier Graefe 


    olivier.graefe [at] unifr.ch


Our team members in Political Ecology

Visiting scholars