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Rights to nature in post-crisis Europe: Tracing alternative political ecologies to the neoliberal agenda through the study of emerging environmental movements

Rights to nature in post-crisis Europe: Tracing alternative political ecologies to the neoliberal agenda through the study of emerging environmental movements

The entrenchment of neoliberalism after the 2008 financial crash has fundamentally changed nature-society relations across Europe. From fracking and gold-mining to the loss of public green spaces and land grabbing, natural ecosystems are being expropriated to overcome economic recession whereas emerging environmental movements are increasingly opposing the injustices and the often undemocratic character of social-environmental change. Demonstrations in 2015 in Berlin against the environmental impacts of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and in Paris during the UN Conference on Climate Change align with anti-fracking, anti-mining and anti-privatization movements across Europe that often bridge traditional divisions between the environmental and labour agendas. Europe is becoming an area of major importance for studying not only the increasing environmental contradictions of capitalism but also the re-birth of environmental politics, bearing witness to the emergence of alternative and counter-hegemonic approaches to nature-society relations.

In this project, we aim to document and analyse the impacts of neoliberal attempts to exploit non-human nature in post-crisis Europe and the increasing opposition of emerging environmental movements.

We focus on the alternative policy approach based on social needs and environmental justice that these movements demand. Following a political ecology approach the key questions we aim to address are: what kind of nature and thus society do these emerging movements wish to produce and for whom? Which alternative democratic systems are being proposed that could ensure more equal access to nature and more socially just distribution of environmental costs and benefits? What are the commonalities between localized struggles?

To this end, we will conduct comparative ethnographic research in places where local communities face exploitation or/and dispossession (e.g. from fracking, mining, privatizations, infrastructure projects, urban developments) in four countries (England, Greece, Ireland, and Spain). We will adopt qualitative research methods based on grounded-theory approach and frame analysis. Through linked programmes of semi-structured and in-depth interviews, participant observation, and focus groups, we will map out the arguments, drivers and narratives that motivate environmental struggles while unraveling commonalities across regions.

This research is funded by the British Academy (BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant) and seeks to address two key research gaps: the limited rigorous empirical research on nature neoliberalisation in Europe and the limited links between scholars and activists about the social-ecological impacts of neoliberalism and emerging alternatives.

It thus has the potential to contribute to radical interdisciplinary scholarship and inform policy understanding of the management of nature in a period which in retrospect may well be considered as a critical point of transformation in how society-nature relations are conceived, valued, managed and governed.

This project draws inspiration from an academic-activist conference that we organized in June 2016 in Cambridge thanks to the 'Geoforum' grant).