My research focuses on the politics of knowledge in conservation and development, on critiques of neoliberal natures and ‘green economy’ proposals, as well as on alternative (transformational) paradigms, social movements and processes related to degrowth, and decolonial approaches to social-ecological futures. More specifically, I focus on the social and environmental justice aspects of climate change and ecosystem service policies in ‘development’ contexts, such as carbon and biodiversity markets, payments for ecosystem services (PES), and green microfinance. Most of my research has focused on Central- and South America, using different strategies mostly inspired by processes of participatory action research. My theoretical approach is interdisciplinary and draws largely from the fields of political ecology, ecological economics, and critical geography.
Multifrictional Crops: The Social Lives of Cacao and Oil Palm in Times of Extinction and Hope.
AbstractFrom wild trees to world crop commodities, from forest destroyers to forest saviors: cacao and oil palm have a special place in histories of global socio-environmental connections. Responding to threats posed by the expansion of commodity agriculture to climate and biodiversity, policy-makers now seek solutions in these tree-crops themselves. They are deemed to be able to integrate multiple ecosystem services with commodity production to improve communities' livelihoods. This project engages with the analytical challenge of an improved understanding of the complex relationships between the material specificities of cacao and oil palm, and the human meanings and values that make them drivers of both extinction and hope. Through the innovative conceptual approach of multifrictional crops, this research follows cacao and oil palm from Congolese forests to Dutch and Belgian cities and ports. It looks at how various forms of environmental governance and knowledge, everyday practices, and multispecies relations come in tension to shape the social-ecological lives of these crops, and those of the people and landscapes who grow them. Comparing a nonnative to a native crop in the Congo Basin allows to explore the importance of cultural-environmental histories and of place-based knowledge to (agro)biodiversity. As such, it will critically broaden conceptions of sustainability and justice to ask how ethical human-nonhuman encounters can be built so as to produce just outcomes.
ePEStemology: Towards a consolidation of social and ecological integrity for conservation and development in Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).
AbstractOver the past 15 years, payments for ecosystem services (PES) have become a leading tool to advance both conservation and sustainable livelihood transitions by offering economic incentives to protect soils, water, sequester carbon, and protect biodiversity. While premised as a market-based transaction, PES design and implementation is shaped by diverging value frameworks predicated on the intersection between contextually-specific socio-cultural relations, historical asymmetric relations of power in the governance of land and resources, emergent ecological processes, and ongoing economic land-use drivers. This research project will be the first attempt to systematically compile all peer-reviewed literature on PES research, resulting in the "ePEStemology" database to identify plural epistemologies in assessing PES success or failure. It will complement this database with in-depth case studies in Québec (Canada) and Nicaragua (building on the long-term development cooperation of the Flemish host institution) as two differing agrarian contexts experimenting with PES for more than 10 years. Research will be grounded in a transformative paradigm prioritizing social and environmental justice by holding scholars, practitioners, and research participants accountable to how knowledge is co-generated. The project also aims to initiate a global consortium, building off the database to foster transdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration on existing conservation projects around the world.
- Promotor: Van Hecken Gert
Defying the 'Plantationocene': Exploring the ways a 'Green Economy' can lead to socio-ecological transformation.
AbstractIn response to growing concern on the detrimental impacts that modern society is having on the earth's life support systems, scholars have begun adopting the 'Anthropocene' concept referring to the geological epoch of humanity's physical imprint on the planet. In response, policy-makers have sought to transition to a 'green economy' in which environmental problems are addressed through economic growth based around technological improvements in material and energy efficiency and the internalization of environmental values through market-based solutions. However, social scientists have been quick to point out the historically uneven political and economic systems, along classed, racialized, and gendered lines, which shape how the Anthropocene gets reproduced in practice. By adopting the recent conceptualization of the 'Plantationocene', this research explores the way 'green economy' strategies, such as carbon and biodiversity offsetting and ecotourism, are still informed by the disciplining power of historical plantation logics, rooted in efficiency, calculability, predictability, and controllability. Through the use of multi-disciplinary methods and two case studies in Indonesia and India, this study aims to advance crucial insights on how plantation logics are reinforced or defied through these strategies in responding to dynamic and uncertain socio-ecological conditions. As such, this research lies at the heart of clarifying important debates within sustainability science. GENERAL - 1
When global threats meet localized practices: Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) vs. recognition and regeneration of ecosystem knowledge in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
AbstractPayments for Ecosystem Services (PES) has become a dominant paradigm in environmental and climate policies. The approach encourages land users to generate benefits of nature (ecosystem services) on their land through conditional payments from interested consumers (e.g. energy-intensive companies paying for forest conservation). Global climate finance instruments such as voluntary/compulsory carbon markets, the UN programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation (REDD+), and biodiversity offsetting mechanisms reflect PES' popularity among donors. While appealing, PES also elicits criticism. Practices often impose global neoliberal governance on territories, dispossess land users, retrench existing inequalities, spawn resource struggles and prioritize carbon outputs over biodiversity. Tensions between PES' win-win promises and 'green grabbing' concerns, combined with mounting evidence of ecosystem collapse, begs for critical attention to how global concerns entwine with localized knowledges. Comparing of PES sites in Nicaragua and Guatemala, we study how PES shapes and is shaped by contested understandings of place, power and difference (class, gender, racial/ethnic. This research breaks open bounded or abstracted understanding of both PES and local ecological knowledge, offers insights into how historical geographies condition and rework global policies, and makes visible the multi-scaled processes through which alternatives emerge and gain traction.
- Promotor: Van Hecken Gert