After the frog spoke: Kibwezi’s ancestral and exotic political ecologies

Authors: Mark Lawrence*, Bemidji State University
Topics: Africa, Cultural Ecology, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Kenya, political ecology, socionature
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The emancipatory aim of political ecology is troubled by persistent structuralist binaries. Privileging emphasis on environmental justice risks a dichotomy of passive Nature and active Society inimical to recognition of the importance of disequilibrium in socioecological dynamics. Likewise, favoring ‘moral economies’ of indigenous resource use presumes immoral/amoral globalizing resource economies although ‘good’ and ‘bad’ landscape associations aren’t empirically distinct. Against this backdrop, concepts such as hybridity and social construction challenge the stable category of ‘nature’ underlying much otherwise thoughtful work in political ecology. Likewise, the historical manifestations of what it means to be biophysically situated are mediated in ways that enable more careful examination of the volatile category of ‘culture’ as well. The central purpose of this presentation is to deploy insights from actor-network theory to begin analysis that connects local and global metabolic socioenvironmental processes by examining something of the tactical shifts in meaning of cultural mediations of landscape identity in part of Kenya’s Kibwezi Division. Local place-based narratives of environmental change and resilience therefore simultaneously evoke ostensibly ‘ancestral’ claims to land in opposition to increasing incursions of alternative global discourses of what resources are and are about, while also critiquing and modifying what ancestry and tradition purposefully can mean. In line with the original political ecology rejection of cultural and ecological systems as being equilibrial and adaptive wholes, Kibwezi’s cultural appropriations of nature operate across multiple spatial and temporal scales simultaneously, and with tactically changing contexts of internal contestations of meaning.

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