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Ken Conca, Power in environmental peacebuilding

Environmental peacebuilding investigates mutually reinforcing relationships between environmental sustainability and peacebuilding. However, environmental peacebuilding research and practice frequently neglect to explicitly take account of power relations and inequities. This is despite other fields of research highlighting the centrality of power relations in the environment and in conflict.

In a new article in a special issue of World Development Sustainability, SIS Professor Ken Conca and his co-authors reviewed the environmental peacebuilding literature for i) descriptions of contextual power dynamics and ii) explicit discussion of addressing power in environmental peacebuilding interventions. Just over half of included articles contained at least one of these, meaning that nearly half of articles did not discuss or engage with power or inequity in either the environmental/conflict context or the intervention process. Where articles did engage with power, there was a tendency to draw from narrow conceptualisations of power as control over others and over natural resources.

Conca and his co-authors discuss these results in the context of broader debates around conceptualising power, and highlight the value of a relational approach to power for environmental peacebuilding. Finally, they propose a framework to recentre power in environmental peacebuilding interventions. They illustrate the ways that all interventions engage with power to some extent, regardless of whether they explicitly set out to do so, and argue that reaching the ‘virtuous cycle’ of mutually reinforcing positive peace and environmental sustainability requires active transformation of power relations.

Read the full article here.