Summer School

Authoritarian Natures? PoliticalEcologies of Post-Truth, the State, and Resistance - 4 ECTS

The six-day (plus preparation) intensive PhD workshop Authoritarian Natures? Political Ecologies of Post-Truth, the State, and Resistance will be held from 29 June – 7 July 2020 in Wageningen, the Netherlands. The workshop gives motivated PhD candidates the chance to deepen their knowledge on political ecologies in an era of intensifying authoritarianism, populism, and post-truth politics, and to interact with the international team of cutting-edge scholars we have assembled to deliver the course.

Organisator Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS)

ma 29 juni 2020 tot di 7 juli 2020

Locatie Leeuwenborch, building number 201
Hollandseweg 1
6706 KN Wageningen


Registration page

The course covers two broad and interrelated thematic areas of interest in contemporary political ecology:

1. The links between authoritarian populism, political economy, and post-truth
Over the past decade, authoritarian leaders and populist politics have risen to prominence in a growing number of societies around the world. Included in the list are some of the most symbolic liberal democracies—the US, the UK, and India—where populist rhetoric helped propel authoritarian leaders to power, reflecting what Nancy Fraser calls the end of “progressive neoliberalism.” In Brazil, China, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, and Mongolia, authoritarian leaders head national governments, while populist politics are growing in Europe and elsewhere. Attending the rise of the 21st century “authoritarian populists” is the emergence of a “post-truth” world, in which well-worn questions of truth, knowledge, and power have come into stunningly sharp resolution, signalling a new era of anxiety and contestation over what counts as truth—especially concerning policies on environment and development—and who has the authority to decide. While these politics have particular histories and trajectories in each place, their common features include racialized nationalism and attacks on democratic institutions in the context of neoliberalism. These combined trends raise fundamental questions about how relationships between state power and market power are evolving in the global political economy, and what this means for the ongoing marginalization and oppression of groups who are defined as populism’s “others”. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for understanding the types of representations, practices, contestations, and mobilizations that this political moment triggers, and how to deal with them.

2. Political ecologies in an era of authoritarian populism and post-truth

How are authoritarianism, populism, and post-truth connected to environmental politics and governance? In some cases, the connections are all too clear: Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, gutting of environmental
regulations; Bolsonaro’s assault on indigenous peoples, forests, other-than-humans, and environmental laws; Xi’s enclosures in Xinjiang. But beyond these stark instances, how does the rise of authoritarian populism and post-truth affect how we see, understand, and deal with intertwined environmental, political, economic, and social issues? While resources and the environment are central to state power generally, how are these relationships changing? What are the underlying territorial and political-ecological tensions, inequalities,
representations and claims from which authoritarian and populist politics have emerged, and which they reproduce? In what ways is this current political-ecological formation new, for whom is it new, and (how) is it articulating new forms of politics and political mobilization? In short: What does it mean to do political ecology at both macro and micro scales in this political moment?

These two interrelated themes form the core of the 2020 Wageningen Political Ecology PhD summer school. The PhD course aims to provide PhD students with an advanced introduction to these two themes, their interconnections, and current academic perspectives on both. 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 authoritarian post-truth politics.

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. Moreover, on the Saturday, we will have a day-long excursion to visit the Oostvaardersplassen, a famous protected area in the Netherlands that was ‘rewilded’ from land reclaimed from the sea. This case exemplifies some of the issues we will address in the course, as battles over the truth about nature and how this should inform environmental management have raged ever since the start of the park. We will explore these battles though interaction with rangers, managers and academics who study the park.

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 ‘Authoritarian Natures? Political Ecologies of Post-Thruth, the State, and Resistance 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 in advance (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 between autoritarian populism, post-truth, the state, 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 for self-study (29-30 June 2020). The participants are expected to read the course materials and write a 3-4 page annotated bibliography or ‘reflection document’ on the readings and how these (potentially) relate to their own research. During the following days we will have lectures, group-work, a field trip and discussion (1-7 July).

    (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.