School of Geography, Geology and the Environment

Environmental Governance and Social Justice

How people encounter, understand, govern and value the environment is the central concern of this research theme. We examine the ways in which major contemporary challenges, such as environmental change, growing inequalities in resource rights and access, poverty, heightened mobilities and food and energy insecurities intersect with the environment and people’s everyday lives in diverse geographical spaces.  We are concerned with socio-cultural constructions of nature and the wider socio-economic, cultural and political contexts which help to shape environmental knowledges, rights and practices.  As such, we take a critical approach to key contemporary paradigms, for example around ecosystem services and the commodification of nature, climate/ environmental governance and change, in some cases drawing on political ecology as a wider conceptual frame.

Through our critical work in this research theme we are exploring the emergence of new forms of resistance and spaces of hope in struggles over environmental politics and social values. Environmental governance practices are a major focus of our work, as are their wider implications for social and environmental justice. Other work seeks to explore how natures and environments are represented in the mass media and how people materially and emotionally connect to nature. As geographers, we view environmental issues as inherently spatial, through attention to the different landscapes, places and resources, their histories, peoples and politics which together co-constitute contemporary environmentalisms. As a Critical and Creative group, we deploy and develop innovative methodological and interdisciplinary approaches to these issues, for example through work with digital and visual methods, arts and geohumanities work,as well as natural and physical sciences.

Recent and ongoing research addresses these environmental issues in diverse geographical spaces and through a range of theoretical and practical registers.  It includes the study of contemporary conservation politics and practices, and contested approaches to ‘resilience’ amongst both sedentary actors and mobile pastoralist groups. We examine the construction and enactment of environmental knowledges and values, with attention to everyday environmentalisms and to grassroots and transnational mobilisations, often in relation to environmental justice. Recent work explores the ethics, politics and practices associated with Payments for Ecosystem Services and the wider ecosystem services paradigm; retheorises the food/water/energy nexus and applies it in a range of contexts that bring together notions of global north and south; and includes ethnographies of environmental policy making in Kenya and Tanzania. We work with remote sensing colleagues to examine the potential and challenges of new RS/ satellite capabilities for resource governance and livelihoods. Our work on energy also examines its use in the performance of everyday living, and the challenges of transitions to non-or low carbon forms of energy. Recognising the historical influence of culture in shaping environmental values and policy, our work explores nature writing through participatory methods and uses film to identify the environmental challenges and priorities of marginalised communities.

Other ongoing work by members of this research theme focuses on the multiscalar dimensions of climate awareness and governance, attends to the emergence of new forms of resilience and adaptive practices and seeks to reframe these practices around broader questions of long-term survivability and hope. It also looks at the impact of global inequalities on environmental governance, examining a variety of attempts to either contest or deepen these often ‘naturalised’ differences. Venturing beyond the boundaries of physical space, our work also explores the mediascapes and cyberpolitics of conservation and digital environmental activism.

Our research asks

  • How can we understand the intersections between environmental/social justice and diverse constructions of ‘nature’? How can this inform new thinking on neoliberal natures?
  • How do everyday and virtual spaces shape environmental transitions, governance and activism? How does this affect our understandings of scale and place?

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