Can Social Theory Adequately Address Nature-Society Issues? Do political ecology and science studies in Geography incorporate ecological change?
Nightingale, Andrea J
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There has been an expansion of interest in nature-society issues within human geography spurred by the rich, sophisticated analyses of environment-development issues within the Third World. This latter work emerged out of the fusion of cultural ecology and the political economy of resource use, but scholars are increasingly turning towards post-structuralism to engage with the complex, mutual constitution of symbolic and material struggles over land and resources. Yet to some extent, these theoretical trends are moving nature-society geography away from engagement with physical ‘natural’ processes despite rhetoric to the contrary. In this paper I raise the question of whether current work in critical Geography on nature-society issues adequately tackles the ‘so-what’ issues of socio- natural change. Do political ecology and science studies—the two, broadly defined approaches currently favoured by most critical geographers—accomplish what is required theoretically and methodologically to engage with fundamental issues of social and environmental change? I suggest that when used in isolation both approaches are inadequate to point us in politically useful directions. Instead I argue for more engagement with ecological theory and ecological processes as they articulate with social processes in contingent, dynamic ways.