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Political-industrial ecology: An introduction

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
October 2017

Despite the shared focus on nature-society relations, until recently, industrial ecology and political ecology have not substantively engaged each other. This is curious given that both fields study resource flows and their transformation. As Liverman et al. (2003, p. 273) lamented in a review on global change research, despite obvious synergies, “Relatively few geographers have been involved in the study of industrial ecology.”

But geographers and political ecologists are starting to engage in new and exciting ways. This has been sparked by the potential of leveraging theoretical and methodological strengths of each field to more deeply explore how ecological, political, and socio-economic process shape the relationships between a product, commodity, or material process, its primary inputs and outputs, and the relevant social and ecological implications. This led Newell and Cousins (2015) to propose the creation of a new subfield, political-industrial ecology, to enable the cross-fertilization of ideas, epistemologies, and approaches between political and industrial ecology.

This editorial provides the opportunity to introduce a working definition, rationale, and process for this emerging subfield:
Political-Industrial Ecology (PIE) represents a confluence between two thought traditions: political ecology and industrial ecology. PIE focuses on the ways in which resource (e.g. material and energy) flows and stocks shape (and are shaped by) environmental, socio-economic, and political processes and patterns over time and space. As part of a broader rebalancing of nature-society relations, PIE is committed to situating resource extraction, transformation, and consumption within their social and political economic context. This also includes a commitment to altering, reducing, or transforming these stocks and flows – as guided by principles of equity and justice. PIE embraces epistemological and methodology pluralism, which often (but not necessarily) entails scholars working collaboratively on particular projects. The friction between the varied epistemologies of political ecology and industrial ecology is highly useful as it yields unexpected and transformative understandings and approaches. This useful friction is made apparent by a dialectic and quasi-fusion between the respective qualitative and quantitative methodologies found in both fields, including modeling of resource flow and form, spatial analysis, historical materialism, ethnography, and more.

Jennifer Baka
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Energy, Flows, Industrial Ecology, Material, Political Ecology
Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation
Newell, Joshua P., Joshua J. Cousins and Jennifer Baka. (2017) “Political-industrial ecology: An introduction.” EDITORIAL Geoforum 85:319-323.