The University of Arizona

Possible moral ecologies, the function of everyday curation, and the experience of regions

Kirsten Valentine Cadieux


Investigating the political ecologies of everyday engagements with environments—including material as well as policy and ideological interactions—requires consideration of the moral economy at play, as well as the political economy and social ecology. A.V. Chayanov (1966/1925), E.P. Thompson (1971, 1991), and Jim Scott (1976) have provided useful ways to think about moral economy. They framed moral economy as a way of enacting understandings of just commons, subsistence entitlements, and desirable economic relations based on social struggle. This framing can be particularly useful in combination with political ecology approaches to investigate 'moral ecologies.' These are society-environment assemblages that are often more aspirational than enacted, but toward which considerable effort is expended, and whose moral and ecological dynamics are functionally linked, perhaps as best illustrated in recent attention to agroecology as a powerful mechanism for ensuring rights to food (De Schutter 2011a, 2011b, 2012). Given political ecology's focus on power relations, moral ecologies that do not exercise considerable power are often overlooked by political ecologists. However, even if particular understandings may not be highly efficacious in exercising power, they may have considerable influence on relational conceptualizations. This mismatch between habitual inattention to moral ecologies and their potential importance contributes to tensions within contemporary society-environment scholarship between structuralist and poststructuralist modes of engagement. Given the value of both modes, particularly for understanding what Peet and Watts (1993) describe as liberation ecologies (and the regional discourse formations that shape them), I argue that political ecology provides useful frameworks for documenting and analyzing the socio-ecological experience of regions—in terms not only of the functions of society and environment, but also of the performance and curation of knowledge about those functions.

Keywords: moral economy, food systems, curation, critical regional studies, land use planning, participatory action research, environmental justice, integrated natural resource management science

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