The University of Arizona

Theorizing power in political ecology: the 'where' of power in resource governance projects

Helene Ahlborg, Andrea J Nightingale

Abstract


Power and politics have been central topics from the early days of Political Ecology. There are different and sometimes conflicting conceptualizations of power in this field that portray power alternatively as a resource, personal attribute or relation. The aim of this article is to contribute to theorizations of power by probing contesting views regarding its role in societal change and by presenting a specific conceptualization of power, one which draws on political ecology and sociotechnical approaches in science and technology studies. We review how power has been conceptualized in the political ecology field and identify three trends that shaped current discussions. We then develop our conceptual discussion and ask explicitly where power emerges in processes of resource governance projects. We identify four locations that we illustrate empirically through an example of rural electrification in Tanzania that aimed at catalyzing social and economic development by providing renewable energy-based electricity services. Our analysis supports the argument that power is relational and productive, and it draws on science and technology studies to bring to the fore the critical role of non-human elements in co-constitution of society – technology – nature. This leads us to see the exercise of power as having contradictory and ambiguous effects. We conclude that by exploring the tension between human agency and constitutive power, we keep the politics alive throughout the analysis and are able to show why intentional choices and actions really matter for how resource governance projects play out in everyday life.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2458/v25i1.22804