A political ecology of weeds

How do plants that move and spread across landscapes become branded as weeds and thereby objects of contention and control? In a chapter recently published in the International Handbook of Political Ecology, Priya Rangan and I outline a political ecology approach that builds on a Lefebvrian understanding of the production of space, identifying three scalar moments that make plants into ‘weeds’ in different spatial contexts and landscapes. The three scalar moments are: the operational, which relates to empirical phenomena in nature and society; the observational, which defines formal concepts of these phenomena and their implicit or explicit ‘biopower’ across institutional and spatial categories; and the interpretive, which is communicated through stories and actions expressing human feelings or concerns regarding the phenomena and processes of socio-spatial change. Together, these three scalar moments interact to produce a political ecology of landscape transformation, where biophysical and socio-cultural processes of daily life encounter formal categories and modes of control as well as emotive and normative expectations in shaping landscapes. Using three exemplar weeds – acacia, lantana and ambrosia – our political ecology approach to landscape transformations shows that weeds do not act alone and that invasives are not inherently bad organisms. Humans and weeds go together; plants take advantage of spaces and opportunities that we create. Human desires for preserving certain social values in landscapes in contradiction to actual transformations is often at the heart of definitions of and conflicts over weeds or invasives.

Our book chapter is available in its official version via the publisher’s website, via the DOI, or as an unofficial authors’ preprint in PDF format (here) .  I have also given a related lecture earlier this year at the University of Lausanne, in which I outline political ecology in general and then present the argument of the book chapter.  The presentation was titled “A political ecological approach to weeds:  biogeography, biopower, and biotropes”.  You can watch the video on Vimeo (see below) or on the University of Lausanne website (here directly, here as part of the TIM lecture series, or download the MP4 file).  Note that in the University of Lausanne version there is an introduction (in French) by my colleague Valérie Boisvert.


Kull, CA & H Rangan (2015) The political ecology of weeds: a scalar approach to landscape transformation. In The International Handbook of Political Ecology, edited by Bryant, RL. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 487-500.

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