When does discourse lose it’s value? An example from Political Ecology…

The Lorax — “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” Or, in other words, individual agents can ‘save the World.’ That is why my blog is called the Lorax. That is why I get up every morning. That is why I read as much as possible in any given day, and why I spend time listening to the oldest people I can find in remote mountain regions. That is why I attend as many lectures as possible, and engage with local and global learning/sustainability/science/thinking/action networks. I want to learn as much as I can, as fast as I can. Life is short. I AM IMPATIENT. This, it turns out, is a not a good trait for a pseudo(aka unconvinced) student of Political Ecology.

That is also why I came to Cambridge. I came to get, what I thought, would be a solid foundation in some of the more human (or at least Political…though Aristotle wouldn’t differentiate) aspects of social-ecological systems. Specifically, I want to dig deeper into political theory. To my surprise (and utter Dismay) it seems that theory has disconnected from application.

I find most things really interesting. I usually leave a lecture or conference over-stimulated and need to continue the discussion. After everyone having left one night, I once spent half an hour walking around Barcelona after a conference on Risk Management in the Mediterranean recording myself on my iPod (pretending it was a phone), just to spread the word.

So, why, at Cambridge, which is reputedly the Number One University in the world, have I left the majority of lectures, reading groups and dinner tables completely unsatisfied. To the extent that I quite literally wrung my hands in despair cursing academic heavens in futility after a lecture last week by Piers Blaikie who discussed whether or not Political Ecology (PE) should be useful. The main question was “Does PE have the coherence and vitality to transform itself, rather than remain a capacious vehicle for academic hitchhikers? He also asked what PE is doing wrong… EarthScan recently published a book by Blaikie and forced him to take “Political Ecology” out of the title…

I’ve been hesitant to blog publicly about this. As a Gates-Cambridge Scholar… we tend to fall into the ‘public eye.’ Just for the record, Gates Cambridge Scholarships are awarded on the following criteria: intellectual ability, leadership capacity… etc. AND “a person’s desire to use their knowledge to contribute to society throughout the world by providing service to their communities and applying their talents and knowledge to improve the lives of others.” So, I’m at my wits-end with Cambridge failing to provide a base for me to become a change agent! and the Gates Foundation (should a google search of my name bring up this blog post alongside my scholarship page) should know why I don’t think that Cambridge is providing me the knowledge that I so crave. Though, I have to say that the community of scholars has been supportive, stimulating and lovely—and without them, I would undoubtedly be in greater despair.

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2 Responses to When does discourse lose it’s value? An example from Political Ecology…

  1. Ryan Marsh says:

    Tell us, Jamila, what you thought of the Blaikie lecture. what did it tell you about political ecology and how PE helps us enact change (or, more likely, critique ineffective change), or not?
    Dig your blog by the way…
    marshinmadagascar.blogspot.com

    • jamilathelorax says:

      To be too blunt: Blaikie didn’t say much in this lecture that I found useful. He talked about the ‘Academy’ and proceeded to exclude non-academics from that. He said that “contention drives PE and moves in forwards.” Blaikie spoke about the problem of defining what PE is, and what it isn’t, and the problem of setting boundaries. I found this point funny because systems/resilience scientists spend a lot of time drawing boundaries. Setting system boundaries is probably the most difficult thing to do. Political ecologists then critique these boundaries, and they are usually right in doing so. But, I think the insights gained by diving into a system with set-boundaries outweigh the costs of staying at the margin. That was another common Blaikie phrase “A discourse on the border.”
      But! We are living in this system– in this world… so while it’s useful to critique (yes! of course it is severely messed up and unjust!), and to be critical. But, based on that critique, how do we act? How do we engage in research which will help us define more accurate system boundaries? I think PE can help us understand power, and agency, violence and humanity. I do believe that PE has more to offer. Let’s see how to bridge the gap and dive in? I’m sick of boundaries.
      Would be keen to hear what you think… a PE critique on ineffective change would be particularly welcome…?

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