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Ivan Scales, BSc MSc PhD

Ivan Scales, BSc MSc PhD

Sir Harvey McGrath lecturer in Geography and Fellow, St Catharine's College


I am a political ecologist and my research emphasises the role of political, cultural and economic factors in shaping the way natural resources are used and contested. I specialise in the tropics (with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa) and have carried out research in Cameroon, French Guiana, The Gambia, Madagascar and Senegal.

I am interested in receiving expressions of interest from potential PhD students who would like to carry out research in one the following areas: agriculture and food security; the political ecology of forests (including mangroves); the diversity of environmental values (especially green capitalism and radical alternatives); the 20th century environmental history of Africa. Please send a CV and 1000 word proposal of research.


  • September 2008 – present: Lecturer in Geography and Fellow, St Catharine's College.
  • December 2001 – September 2004: Project Officer and Madagascar Course Coordinator for the Tropical Biology Association


  • October 2004 – March 2008. PhD in Geography, University of Cambridge. Thesis title: 'Forest frontiers: The political ecology of landscape change in western Madagascar'. My research focused on the underlying drivers of forest loss in the central Menabe region of western Madagascar between 1896 and 2005.
  • September 2000 - September 2001. MSc in the Anthropology and Ecology of Development, University College London. Thesis title: 'The moabi tree (Baillonella toxisperma) - Use and use conflicts in the Mokoko River Forest Reserve, Cameroon.'
  • October 1996 - June 1999. BSc in Ecology, University of Durham

Awards and scholarships

  • Royal Geographical Society Small Research Grant - 2012
  • Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities Early Career Fellowship - 2011/2012
  • Economic and Social Research Council / Natural Environment Research Council PhD research grant - October 2004 to October 2007.


My current research areas are:

The political ecology of tropical forests

Tropical deforestation has been a key priority in international conservation policy for the last 30 years. The possibility of reducing global carbon emissions through preserving forest cover has led to renewed interest in tropical forests.

Deforestation is a complex issue, subject to diverse drivers. Economic and social factors influence land cover change (and vice versa), and these interactions change through space and time. An understanding of the causes of forest loss demands an analysis of the dynamics of forest cover change linked to an analysis of the social dynamics of forest use.

My research in this area focuses on mangroves and looks at patterns of forest cover change, the underlying drivers of forest use and loss, and conflicts over forest use.

The emerging political economy of agriculture in Africa

The last five years have seen a rapid expansion in the cultivation of crops for biofuels. Governments from the global North are keen to reduce dependence on fossil fuels for reasons both of climate change and energy security, whilst governments in the global South hope that agrarian change will play a key role in economic growth and rural development. Biofuels also represent a new profitability frontier for transnational corporations and investment funds, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where land and labour costs are relatively low.

There is concern that biofuels are competing with food crops, and that the energy security of the global North, together with the profits of corporations and investment funds, is being prioritized over the food security of the global South.

My research looks at the political, economic and environmental dimensions of these emerging forms of agriculture in Africa, including their implications for both rural livelihoods and biodiversity.

The diversity of environmental values

People connect with the environment in diverse ways – from organised religion to personal values. Their attitudes towards nature are shaped by culture, age, wealth, gender, and education. 'Nature' is therefore something that isn't just material but also socially constructed.

My research in this area focuses on the environmental values held by different individuals and groups (from rural households in Africa to research scientists and conservation organisations) and how these play into the politics of natural resource use. How do people see 'nature' and how does this affect how they interact with it? I am particularly interested in the emergence of environmental narratives – stories that help people to simplify and explain complex environmental processes. How do these narratives come about and how do they influence the politics of resource use?

The 20th century environmental history of Francophone Africa

The arrival of European colonialism in Africa saw dramatic social and environmental changes, as policy sought to change livelihoods from subsistence agriculture and pastoralism to more intensive forms of agriculture for the production of export commodities. Following independence, many African nations continued to pursue plans based on the modernisation and commoditisation of rural livelihoods.

My research in this area draws on work in archives, the analysis of remotely sensed imagery (from aerial photographs and satellites) and maps, as well as the collection of oral histories to understand how and why African landscapes and livelihoods changed during and after the French colonial period. I am also interested in the theories, ideologies and narratives that underpinned French agricultural and forestry policy.


  • Scales, I.R. ed (in press) Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar. Earthscan, London. Due to be published March 2014
  • Scales, I.R. (in press) 'The Future of Biodiversity Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar: Lessons from the Past and Challenges Ahead' in I.R. Scales (ed) Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar, Earthscan, London
  • Scales, I.R. (in press) 'Tourism, Conservation and Development in Madagascar: Moving Beyond Panaceas?' in I.R. Scales (ed) Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar, Earthscan, London
  • Scales, I.R. (in press) 'A Brief History of the State and the Politics of Natural Resource use in Madagascar' in I.R. Scales (ed) Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar, Earthscan, London
  • Scales, I.R. (in press) 'The Drivers of Deforestation and the Complexity of Land Use in Madagascar' in I.R. Scales (ed) Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar, Earthscan, London
  • Scales, I.R. (in press) 'Conservation at the Crossroads: Biological Diversity, Environmental Change and Natural Resource use in Madagascar' in I.R. Scales (ed) Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar, Earthscan, London
  • Scales, I.R. (in press) 'Trees, tourists and trade-offs: The political ecology of rainforest tourism and conservation in Madagascar' in Prideaux, B. (ed) Rainforest Tourism, Conservation and Management: Challenges for Sustainable Development. Earthscan, Oxford
  • Scales, I.R. and Adams, W.M. (in press) 'Human geography and conservation' in Mascia, M. (ed) Conservation Social Science: Understanding people, conserving biodiversity. Wiley-Blackwell
  • Scales, I.R. (2012) 'Farming at the forest frontier: Land use and landscape change in western Madagascar, 1896 to 2005'. Environment and History 17: 499-524.
  • Scales, I.R. (2011) 'Lost in translation: Conflicting views of deforestation, land use and identity in western Madagascar' The Geographical Journal, doi:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00432.x
  • Sandbrook, C., Scales, I.R., Vira, B. and Adams, W.M. (2011) 'Value Plurality among Conservation Professionals'. Conservation Biology, 25, 285-294

Book reviews

  • Scales, I.R. (in press) 'Forest and labor in Madagascar: From Colonial Concession to Global Biosphere. By Genese Marie Sodikoff', Environmental History
  • Scales, I.R (2012) 'Nourishing the land, nourishing the people: A Madagascar success story, Brett Shapiro et al.' Mountain Research and Development, 32(4):492-493
  • Scales, I. (2009) 'Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment, Joachim Radkau'. Journal of Agrarian Change, 9, 598-601

External activities

  • Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
  • Grants reviewer, Royal Geographical Society
  • Peer Review Group, Economic and Social Research Council
  • Member of the Committee of Management of the Centre of African Studies


  • Part 1A Human Geography
  • Part 1B Development
  • Part II Political Ecology in the Global South
  • MPhil in Conservation Leadership