Welcome to the Emotional Political Ecology Symposium!

Convened by Alice Beban (Massey University), Sango Mahanty (The Australian National University) and Sopheak Chann (Royal University of Phnom Penh) as part of the POLLEN 2022 virtual conference series.

Jump to the comments to discuss the opening keynote

The Emotional Political Ecology symposium aims to explore the possibilities that working with emotions offers for advancing the broader field of political ecology. Working with emotion opens possibilities for imagining new kinds of human-non-human relations, more deeply theorising power and resistance, and centering lived experience and relational subjectivities to go beyond binary ways of thinking about development and nature.

Participants in the Emotional Political Ecology symposium have prepared presentations as part of panels which can be viewed using the links below. Each panel has one live event between 5 - 9th September.

The event opened with an opening keynote panel featuring Professor Andrea Nightingale (University of Oslo), Dr. April Bennett  (Massey University) and Dr. Sochanny Hak (Analyzing Development Issues Centre, Cambodia). Make sure to watch the recording above!

Click here for the symposium programme.

Register for updates here

The images used on this webpage are by Chiranjeevi A, George Hoza, Lou Batier, and Bisakha Datta via Unsplash.

Comments 4

  1. What a wonderful opening keynote panel on Monday! Thanks so much to Prof Nightingale, Dr. Bennett, and Dr. Hak, for their excellent, thought-provoking presentations. I would love to hear from all of you (those of you who were there, and those of you who have watched the recording above) about what resonated with you in our three presentations. All thoughts, questions, provocations, ideas welcome 🙂

  2. To get us started, I will paste below the provocations Andrea put to us in her presentation:

    Such an exciting field, huge proliferation and interest in understanding how emotion and affect shape nature-society relations and the politics of environmental governance. I personally have been finding the engagement of emerging scholars to be especially exciting as they see the relevance and theoretical potential of thinking with and through emotion and affect. As the field expands, however, I feel there are a number of theoretical and methodological challenges that most of us, including myself, back away from. In my remarks today I want to put a couple of these on the table and I hope that as our sessions progress we can discuss them in relation to the excellent papers we have on the schedule.


    1. What are emotions? The literature often defines them as relational, something that flows between in interactions between humans or humans and more-than-humans. But as a relational dynamic, there is still much to be probed here in terms of the ontology of emotions. Some scholars turn to psycho-analytical theory and others to neuro science to try to get a better handle on emotion. But I find these other traditions to be in conceptual tension with the idea that emotions are relational. Psychology is largely positivist as a field, and especially neuro science relies on experiments in highly decontextualised scenarios to measure or ‘see’ emotions. I do not have an answer, but want to put it out there for debate. It would be great to see someone do a review article thinking through the various antecedents for understanding emotion in EPE.

    2. What is the relationship between emotion and affect? A couple of excellent interventions by Deb Thein and Steve Pile in the emotional geographies conversation are quite useful in positioning work on affect in relation to emotion. However, like definitions of emotion, there is not a consensus on how to think about them, and some of the literature conflates them. Those who insist that affect—usually defined as aleatory and uncertain reactions that emerge as bodies encounter each other—is not the same as emotion, nevertheless rely on embodied responses to track affects: churning stomach, racing heart, and other bodily responses which are also closely linked to how people understand or experience emotions. I find the literature on affect to hold more promise for capturing nature-society dynamics because it is less tied to human emotions—or an anthropomorphic rendering of animals emotions—but I think there is huge potential here for theoretical advancement. As a political ecologist, I am interested in primarily interested in affect for how it can help me to make sense of the politics of environmental governance. How and why both people and non-humans don’t cooperate or engage as expected.


    1. How can we ‘see’ emotions? This is closely connected to my theoretical questions and for me, is probably the biggest weakness in my work and much of the work I read. We have inadequately thought through the methodological implications of wanting to capture emotions.

    a. Are emotions ephemeral, or at least dynamic? Emotions that might be expressed as anger in an initial stage, can become bitterness or even acceptance and gratitude over time. This at least is my own experience and that of many people I know. What is it that we want to capture with emotion if we accept that they are not static over time and space?

    b. How do we qualitatively or quantitatively capture emotions? Do we need to witness them to say something meaningful in qualitative terms or are people’s recollections adequate? Quantitatively we have many more tools, but how do these measures match with our theoretical commitments to relationality and unpredictability?

    c. Where do we think we find emotions? Going back to my theoretical concerns about affect, are they reflected in the body? If so, then how do we know that different people or more-than-humans will have the same embodied reactions to the same emotions?

    d. What is the relationship between emotions and cognition? Here, I am not thinking of emotion-reason debates, but rather the methodological implications of trying to get people to articulate their emotions after the event has passed. There is a layer of processing that has taken place, usually, and in interviews, we need to take great care with how we ask questions depending on how we understand the relationship between emotion and cognition.

    I am sure we do not have time to discuss all of these, but I think that as a collective, we need to begin putting some of these fundamental challenges front and centre in our analyses and research designs. I am really looking forward to hearing how others have tackled these challenges and whether some of my provocations have already been empirically worked through.

  3. Sango also put forward a question following the presentations:

    Reflecting on the different positionalities of all three presenters vis a vis their research, how does positionality shape our interpretation of emotions?

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