Summer school

SMART Political Ecologies? On the Nature and Power of Environmental Technologies and their Implications for Just Futures - 4 ECTS

The Six-day intensive PhD workshop ‘SMART Political Ecologies? On the Nature and Power of Environmental Technologies and their Implications for Just Futures’ will be held from 27 June – 3 July 2019 in Wageningen, the Netherlands. The workshop gives motivated PhD candidates the chance to deepen their knowledge on how the field of political ecology is adapting to the contemporary era of multiplying, intensifying and proliferating environmental technologies. On the one hand, this refers to governmental technologies in the Foucauldian sense, where new techniques, politics and forms of governmental oversight, intervention and management are rapidly changing human-nature relations and access to and control over nonhuman natures. On the other hand, we have seen the rapid emergence of a host of new technologies in the material sense, driven by the Internet-of-Things, new SMART technologies, and social media platforms, among others. These technological developments and their integrated possibilities are further changing environmental governance and politics around the planet. Environmental studies and political ecology scholars have started to register these developments yet have only begun to investigate and understand their implications.

Organised by Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS)

Thu 27 June 2019 until Wed 3 July 2019

Venue Leeuwenborch, building number 201


Registration page

This year’s Wageningen Political Ecology course analyses and discusses the nature and power of these two meanings of environmental technologies: 1) how new technological and ‘SMART’ devices rapidly change ecological politics and governance; 2) how the context of our current environmental crisis leads to new forms of environmental technologies and governmentalities in a Foucauldian sense:

1. The rise and integration of new environmental technologies

Over the last decade, we have seen a rapid development of new, integrated and Internet based technologies, especially related to Internet-of-Things, new SMART technologies, and social media platforms. Together, these have drastically changed the ways humans interact with, see and understand, monitor and regulate and conserve the rest of nature. We need to better understand what these technologies do, how they are integrated, how they relate to, change and mediate different nonhuman natures, including animal and plant species, ecosystems and their interactions. A special point of attention here is how these technologies change the ways in which we understand environmental futures and emergences.

2. How these function within broader environmental technologies and governmentalities

These new environmental technologies change environmental governance, practices and research in ways that we are only starting to register, let alone comprehend. Environmental politics has been frequently analyzed in terms of how it functions as a form of governance not only over the “natural resources” in question but more broadly over the human populations and social landscapes in which these resources occur. Existing models to understand these governmental dimensions of environmental politics, grounded largely in poststructuralist notions of “governmentality,” have difficulty accounting for the ways in which new technologies are changing governance beyond the forms outlined by Foucault and others before these technologies entered the scene. We need to understand how the rise of algorithms and other new forms of surveillance and (big) data processing are transforming the ways in which both humans and nonhumans are monitored, and their conduct conducted in the present and into the future.

The PhD course aims to provide PhD candidates with an advanced introduction to these themes, their interconnections, and current academic perspectives on both and allows PhD candidates to interact with the international team of cutting-edge scholars engaged in research concerning these issues that we have assembled to deliver the course. The summer school makes an explicit effort to combine and clarify different (Foucauldian, post-Marxian, more-than-human, ANT, feminist, world-systems and other) perspectives so as to develop a broader understanding of contemporary theoretical currents in the field of political ecology and the prospects for just futures.

In the introductions and discussions, the theme and practice of ‘contestation’ will be central. We will delve into the contestations entailed in development and analysis of our interrelated themes and employ them productively to get a handle on different trends and traditions in political ecology. Special emphasis will be on identifying contestations between and among different theoretical traditions, empirical settings, material resources and political objectives that inform, or form the subject of, various political ecology studies. What consequences do different choices with regard to these ‘ingredients’ have for the types of political ecology presented in the literature and presentations? And how can we harness the contestations inherent within them to inform our own understanding and use of political ecology in research and action? One of the objectives of the course, then, is to answer the question of how to start thinking about political ecology in the era of ‘smart’ environmental technologies.

Besides looking for contestations in the literatures and presentations, we will also practice contestation. In small and large group discussions, we will aim to stimulate intellectual debate through various strands of argument and critique and problematize these from various angles. In this way, the course also explicitly incorporates development of academic debating skills.

Altogether, the workshop and these debates are also meant to support the second objective of the workshop, namely to contribute to a broader understanding of the meaning and nature of political ecology in the 21st century.

Target group and learning outcomes

The course ‘SMART Political Ecologies? On the Nature and Power of Environmental Technologies and their Implications for Just Futures’ is intended for PhD candidates across the social and environmental sciences, especially anthropology, geography, political science, sociology and development studies, with an interest in political ecology. In this course, we will move between close reading of texts, workshops, discussions, and field trips. Participants following this course will not only learn about contestations in relevant themes and new dynamics in political ecology, but will also become part of and interpret these contestations.

Participants in this course are expected to write a short statement (max. 1 page A4) to: i) introduce who they are in terms of disciplinary background and education ii); outline how they (intend to) engage with the theme of environmental technologies in political ecology; iii) outline questions or issues on these themes with which they would like to engage; and iv) offer expectations from the course. 

After successful completion of this course participants will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a thorough knowledge of new dynamics in the links between knowledge, power, technologies and the environment, and the intersections among these;
  • Critically reflect on different political ecology approaches to these themes and employ these in social science research;
  • Broadly understand some of the main contestations around these themes in relation to theoretical traditions, empirical emphases, political projects and material resources;
  • Formulate whether and how elements of these discussions and contestations could fit on and contribute to their own research projects;
  • Engage in active learning, critical thinking and academic debating, especially by positioning oneself in (relation to) academic contestations.

Assumed prior knowledge

MSc in social sciences: anthropology, geography, political science, sociology or development studies.

Session Times/ Outline of the Course in Hours

The first days of this course are reserved  self-study (24-26 June 2019). The students are expected to read the course-material and write a 3-4 page annotated bibliography or ‘reflection document’ on the readings and how these (potentially) relate to their own research. In the following days we will have lectures, group-work, a workshop and discussion (27 June – 3 July 2019).

Thursday 27 June Morning: Introduction technologies Prof. Bram Büscher
Afternoon: Governmentalities Prof. Esther Turnhout
Friday 28 June Morning: Dr. Robert Fletcher
Afternoon: Dr. Clemens Driessen
Saturday 29 June Morning: Prof. Mike Goodman
Afternoon: Open Discussion Prof. Bram Büscher and Dr. Robert Fletcher
Sunday 30 June FREE DAY (social activity in town)
Monday 1 July Morning: Prof. Jennifer Gabrys
Afternoon: SMART earth Prof. Karen Bakker
Tuesday 2 July WORKSHOP Students participate in workshop on this theme, with different scholars presenting
Wednesday 3 July Morning: Prof. Rutgerd Boelens
Afternoon: Open afternoon Prof. Bram Büscher and Dr. Robert Fletcher

    (A detailed programme including readings will be communicated later)

    Teaching methods

    The course offers combination of different educational activities:

    i)  Lectures to introduce and explain new dynamics and theoretical approaches

    ii) Self-study to further develop the understanding of the new dynamics and theoretical approaches discussed.

    iii) Assignments that address contestations regarding the new dynamics and theoretical approaches and apply these to the student’s own research

    iv) Plenary discussions of literature and assignments.

    v) Presentations by participants

    Course fee

    WASS, PE&RC and WIMEK/SENSE PhDs with TSP € 250
    Other PhDs, postdocs and academic staff € 500
    All others € 750

    NB: for some courses, PhD candidates from other WUR graduate schools with a TSP are also entitled to a reduced fee. Please consult your Education/PhD Programme Coordinator for more information

    Cancellation conditions:

    The participants can cancel their registration free of charge 1 month before the course starts. A cancellation fee of 100% applies if a participant cancels his/her registration less than 1 month prior to the start of the course.

    The organisers have the right to cancel the course no later than one month before the planned course start date in the case that the number of registrations does not reach the minimum.

    The participants will be notified of any changes at their e-mail addresses.