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Decolonizing political ecology: ontology, technology and 'critical' enchantment

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Schulz, K.A., 2017. Decolonizing political ecology: ontology, technology and “critical” enchantment. Journal of Political Ecology 24, 125–143.
Thematic Area
Development studies
Abstract Current debates about the Anthropocene have sparked renewed interest in the relationship between ecology, technology, and coloniality. How do humans relate to one another, to the living environment, and to their material or technological artifacts; and how are these relations structured by coloniality, defined not only as a material process of appropriation and subjugation, but also as an exclusionary hierarchy of knowing and being that still pervades contemporary life? While these questions have of course received attention in decolonial theory, they have also captured the interest of scholars who self-identify with the field of political ecology. However, it can be argued that political ecology still primarily adheres to research practices and paradigms that have been developed in the West, regardless of its diversity and dynamism as a field of research. It is therefore suggested that a rapprochement between decolonial theory and political ecology can open up new perspectives on current debates that are emerging around the concept of the Anthropocene. In particular, the article takes the recent interest in the ontological implications of the Anthropocene as a point of departure to bring the decolonial notion of 'border thinking' into a conversation with the so-called 'new materialism' in political ecology. While both approaches are not necessarily opposed to values grounded in rationality, they can be seen as attempts to rethink ontological divisions such as human/nature or subject/object based on 'enchanted' ways of knowing and being-in-the-world. Yet, although enchantment has the potential to counter inherently colonial practices of appropriation, commodification and objectification, it is argued that keeping a moderately critical distance to enchanted narratives is still recommended, not because of the alleged naïveté of such narratives, but rather because enchantments may also function as and through technologies of power. Key words: Anthropocene; political ecology; decoloniality; new materialism; border thinking; ontology; enchantment
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
This article was selected as it deals with ideas significant to coupled systems such as society/technology or society/ecology. It departs from a political ecology perspective where the relationships between humans and nature are considered to be entangled. However, the political ecology approach is considered to reify western modernism´s ideas about the dichotomy in the entanglement. The same tendencies is found in another theoretical framework, new materialism, that is also dealing with the entanglement between humns and non-humans. 

The author tries out if the dichotomies could be erased by using the concept of border thinking, fetched from decolonial theory. My reading of the article suggests that this could be valuable also in systems thinking, when setting the borders between system and its environment but also when thinking about relations between elements within the system.

The decolonial idea about borders, simplified, is that borders are fluent and that dichotomies could be replace by a thinking on oscillations between the two poles. As such this may be helpful for the thought process, but the article does not give concrete examples on how such oscillations could be analyzed.
Point of Strength
The point of strength is that the article points at an opportunity that might be applied in systems thinking. However, as it is not sufficiently concretized it is more of an encouragment to search further for how to deal with coupled systems and the system/environment borders.