The University of Arizona

"Critical Ecosystems" as a concept in political ecology – developing a comprehensive analytical framework

Michael Acheampong


Political ecology is supposed to be a field of two parts of equal importance – "politics" and "ecology." However, critics have pointed to the fact that it dwells on the politics, while rendering ecology secondary in its focus. Political ecologists have hardly used the structure that the concept of ecosystem services brought to the field of ecology, and this lends credence to this critique. In this article, I introduce the concept of "critical ecosystems" that reinforces understanding of the science of "ecology", as an important dimension of political ecology. I use components of the framework of ecosystem services in context of unequal power relations. Some local people who have symbiotic relationships with their environment owe their existence – both their livelihoods and culture – to specific natural resources whose decline has proximate and tangible consequences for them. However, they often lose these "critical ecosystems" in times of natural resource exploitation due to their relative powerlessness. I argue that it is important that political ecologists utilize the framework of ecosystem services in our inquiries, to prioritize those ecosystems that are intricately connected to the survival of the local population. Based on this, I introduce the "critical ecosystems" model, and how it can be modified to fit specific cases and can reconcile the sociological and political dimensions of political ecology, with biophysical understanding of ecological processes. This holistic inquiry, I argue, will make political ecology worthy of its name.  

Keywords: Political ecology; ecosystem services; unequal power relations; Millennium Ecosystems Assessment; Ghana

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