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Political Ecology

Political ecology investigates topics at the intersection of physical-material and social processes. As such, research in this field focuses on causes, consequences and political negotiations of global environmental change, as well as environmental conflicts at the local level.
Within the framework of political ecology, Freiburg's geography department focuses on a variety of topics, including development-related issues as well as conflicts over resource exploitation and questions of sustainable urban development. From the standpoint of political ecology, two perspectives are central to the study of these themes: firstly, environmental politics and conflicts are understood as expressions of social negotiation processes and power relations. Such a perspective draws attention to issues of social participation in resource allocation and the inclusion or exclusion of different social groups in environmental decision-making. Secondly, environmental planning, policies and conflicts are interpreted as the interplay of processes that take place across multiple scales, thus expressing concrete manifestations of Global Change processes.

Research Interests related to Political Ecology

  • Geographies of resettlement in the context of multi-scale global environmental change and degradation processes – a case study of coastal resettlement in the Volta River Delta in Ghana
    Project Manager
    Fünfgeld H, Neu F (Team)
    Start/End of Project
    01.08.2020 until 31.03.2025
    During the last five decades, state-led resettlement has accompanied many construction projects of dams – especially in the Global South – and has been framed as a side effect that needs to be accepted in order to foster development (see Rogers/Wilmsen 2019). However, resettlement is nowadays increasingly taking place in response to extreme weather events that become more frequent and intense, also due to climate change (see e.g. Arnall 2014). On a global level, low-lying coastal regions which often have a high population density and are threatened by flooding and coastal erosion due to global sea level rise are particularly vulnerable. For instance, in some areas of the Volta River Delta in southeast Ghana, the coastline has been shifted inland by up to three kilometers, an incremental process that was triggered by a combination of rising sea levels and sediments of the Volta River being retained by the Akosombo Dam. As a result, entire villages literally were swallowed by the erosion processes of the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, from 2017 onwards, state institutions set up a resettlement village for several hundreds of affected households on a piece of reclaimed land in the lagoon of Keta, east of the mouth of the Volta River. Unsatisfyingly, resettlement so far has been scientifically examined mostly in the context of dam projects and not so much against the background of climate change. In addition, those studies often aimed at optimizing the resettlement process without questioning resettlement and the logics behind in the first place. Thence, Rogers and Wilmsen (2019) called for a critical geography of resettlement, i.e. studies in the field of geography that critically and profoundly examine resettlement projects. The research project will make a contribution to this new field of research and therefore analyzes the Ghanaian example described above as part of a case study. Abstracted from the case study, it deals with geographies of resettlement in the context of multi-scale processes of environmental change and degradation, which are examined from the standpoint of political ecology. The corresponding analytical framework is based on theories of power (e.g. Foucault), violence (e.g. Watts, Nixon) and justice (e.g. Rawls, Sen). The research project focuses on three key elements within the resettlement processes: actors, power and interests. Buildung on this, three research questions are pursued: 1) How did different actors use their respective power to shape the resettlement process in a way that serves their own or others’ interests? 2) How was resettlement legitimized and by whom? 3) Which social, political and economic effects on resettled people can be identified and to what extent can they be linked to certain resettlement practices applied? As part of the research project, several phases of field research are be necessary to collect primary data in the Volta River Delta. The methodological toolbox used during these stages contains qualitative and ethnographic research methods of geography.
    Contact Person
    Friedrich Neu
    Phone: +49(0)761 203-54233
    - Kurzstipendium für Doktorand*innen des Deutschen Akademischen Austauschdienstes (DAAD) zur Finanzierung der Feldforschung 2020 (nicht in Anspruch genommen wegen Reisebeschränkungen nach Ghana aufgrund von Covid-19), - Promotionsstipendium des Evangelischen Studienwerks Villigst, finanziert aus Mitteln des Bundesministeriums für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF), inkl. Förderung von Feldforschung (01.08.2020 bis voraussichtlich 31.03.2025)