(936) 337-8589

(936) 337-8589


(936) 337-8589


What is at Stake? The Ontological Dimension of Environmental Conflicts

Call for Papers in Society & Natural Resources Special Issue:

What is at Stake? The Ontological Dimension of Environmental Conflicts

Guest Editors

Riccarda Flemmer (Free University of Berlin, Germany), Verena Gresz (University of Hamburg, Germany), & Jonas Hein (University of Kiel, Germany)

Environmental conflicts are commonly understood as human struggles over the ownership, access, and distribution of natural resources (Martinez-Alier, 2002). ‘Nature’ appears therein as a predefined given where conflicts take place and ‘natural resources’ are taken as mere goods to be exploited, developed or protected by humans. This view suppresses social systems where rivers, mountains, and animals are conceived as living beings with agency (Blaser and De La Cadena, 2018; de la Cadena, 2015; Collard et al., 2018; Escobar, 2015; Wilson and Inkster, 2018). This is particularly present in struggles over the extraction of natural resources, large-scale development projects and conservation areas superimposing with indigenous peoples’ territories or the lands of peasant communities. In contrast, an ontological perspective on environmental conflicts argues that neither the objects, nor the subjects in these conflicts are predetermined facts or entities rather defining them constitutes a crucial dimension of struggle itself.

This special issue investigates the overlooked ontological dimension of environmental conflicts. Therefore, we invite contributions that focus on the highly contested definitions of what is at stake, who is struggling and who gets to decide what is at stake in environmental conflicts as deeper reaching struggles than mere distributional disputes.

By providing trans- and interdisciplinary perspectives, the issue should contribute to the ongoing ontological turn in political ecology (Goldman et al., 2018), anthropology (Blaser and De la Cadena, 2018; Blaser, 2013a; Descola, 2014; Escobar, 2011), and human geography (Boucquey et al., 2016; Hinchliffe, 2007; Joronen and Häkli, 2017; Robertson, 2016). According to the ‘ontological turn’, ontology is considered not to be one order of given things but to be plural; and these ontologies are shaped and produced by social practices. Thus, the ontological dimension of environmental conflicts refers to struggles between different assumptions about ‘“what exists’”’ (Blaser, 2013a). The definition of ‘the real’ is deeply intertwined with ‘the political (Mol, 1999). The political and the ‘real’ are actively shaped and contested and thereby structure the agency of social actors. In struggles over diverging understandings about what exists, certain types of knowledge are often not taken seriously and become disqualified. Not only in the context of indigenous or traditional knowledge (Nadasdy, 1999), but generally, “conflicts between scientific and ‘lay’ knowledges [are] not just epistemic conflicts between ways of knowing, but […] reflections of different ways of being, practicing and relating – of ontologies” (Leach et al., 2005: 5). This recognizing of the ontological dimension of socio-environmental conflicts goes beyond respect for culturally different understandings of ‘one environment’ and enables critical research to consider power asymmetries between forms of knowledge which compete in defining these conflicts (Blaser, 2009; 2013b).

We invite submissions that advance conceptual understandings of the ontological dimensions of environmental conflict as well as contributions that offer in-depth empirical insights on how to overcome unitary conceptualizations of nature and to include different assumptions of what is at stake into natural resource management. We seek to bring together authors from different social science disciplines, such as anthropology, human geography, and political ecology. Thereby, we aim to advance the ‘ontological turn’ as a transdisciplinary project enabling research and practitioners to consider power asymmetries between diverse forms of knowledge which compete and clash in defining environmental conflicts. We explicitly welcome submissions that focus on cases in the Global South as well as in the Global North. Potential topics include but are not limited to:

  • Ontological conflicts in environmental planning
  • Epistemic justice and recognition
  • Ontological perspectives on environmental and climate justice
  • Multiple ontologies of rivers, watersheds, mountains, forests and other more than human beings
  • Plural perspectives on non-human species
  • Relational conceptualizations of human and non-human lifeworlds
  • Indigenous cosmologies
  • Plural and decolonial research methodologies
  • Plural participatory techniques and planning approaches
Submission Instructions:

Interested colleagues are encouraged to submit an abstract of 150 words to the guest editors. The files should be mailed as an MS word attachment by October 15, 2021, to [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected]. Guest editors will invite selected authors by November 1, 2021.

Important Dates:

  • SNR Publishes Call for Abstracts: July, 2021.
  • Abstract Submission to Guest Editors: October 15, 2021
  • Invitation to Contributors to Submit Full Papers: November 1, 2021
  • Full Paper Submission: February 15, 2022

Blaney, D. L. and Tickner, A. B. 2017. Worlding, ontological politics and the possibility of a decolonial IR. Millennium, 45(3), 293-311.

Blaser, M. 2009. Political ontology: cultural studies without ‘cultures’?. Cultural Studies, 23(5-6): 873-896.

Blaser, M. 2013a. “Ontological Conflicts and the Stories of Peoples in Spite of Europe.” Current Anthropology 54(5): 547–68.

Blaser, M. 2013b. Notes Towards a Political Ontology of ‘environmental’ Conflicts. In Lesley Green (eds) Contested Ecologies: Dialogues in the South on Nature and Knowledge: 13–27. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Blaser, M. and de la Cadena, M. 2018. Introduction. Pluriverse. Proposals for a World of Many Worlds. In Marisol de La Cadena and Mario Blaser (eds) A World of Many Worlds. 1-22. Durham: Duke University Press.

Boucquey, N., Fairbanks, L,. Martin, K. S., Campbell, L. M., and McCay, B. 2016. The ontological politics of marine spatial planning: Assembling the ocean and shaping the capacities of ‘community’and ‘environment’. Geoforum, 75: 1-11.

Carolan, M. S. 2004. Ontological politics: Mapping a complex environmental problem. Environmental Values. 13(4): 497-522.

Collard, R.C., Harris, L. M., Heynen, N., and Mehta, L. 2018. The antinomies of nature and space. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 1(1–2): 3–24.

de la Cadena, M. 2015. Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice across Andean Worlds. Durham/ London: Duke University Press.

Descola, P. 2014. Beyond Nature and Culture. Paperback edition. Chicago, Ill. University of Chicago Press.

Escobar, A. 2015. Territorios de diferencia: La onotología política de los ‘derechos al territorio’. Cuadernos de Antropología Social 41: 25–38.

Escobar, A. 2011. Sustainability: Design for the pluriverse. Development, 54(2): 137-140.

Goldman, M.J., Turner, M.D., and Daly, M. 2018. A critical political ecology of human dimensions of climate change: Epistemology, ontology, and ethics. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 9(4): e526.

Haraway, D. J. 2016. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Hinchliffe S. 2007. Geographies of nature: societies, environments, ecologies. London: Sage.

Joronen, M. and Häkli, J. 2017. Politicizing ontology. Progress in Human Geography, 41(5), 561-579.

Leach, M., Scoones and I., Wynne, B. 2005. Introduction: science, citizenship and globalization. In Leach M, Scoones I and Wynne B (eds) Science and citizens: Globalization and the challenge of engagement (Vol. 2). London: Zed Books.

Martinez-Alier, J. 2002. The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

Mol, A. 1999. Ontological Politics. A Word and Some Questions. The Sociological Review 47 (1_suppl): 74–89.

Nadasdy, P. 1999. The Politics of TEK: Power and the “Integration” of Knowledge.” Arctic Anthropology 36(1-2): 1–18.

Robertson, M. L. B. 2016. The affects of water—The materialized morality of wells, pipes, and pumps in Tarawa, Kiribati. Society & Natural Resources, 29(6), 668-680.

Stengers, I. 2010 Cosmopolitics Vol 1. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Ureta, S., Lekan, T., and von Hardenberg, W. G. 2020. Baselining nature: An introduction. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 3(1): 3-19.

Wilson, N. J. and Inkster, J. 2018. Respecting water: Indigenous water governance, ontologies, and the politics of kinship on the ground. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1(4): 516–38.