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Political ecology and ontology: is literal critical realism the answer? A response to Knudsen

Forsyth, Tim ORCID: 0000-0001-7227-9475 (2023) Political ecology and ontology: is literal critical realism the answer? A response to Knudsen. Journal of Political Ecology, 30 (1). 191–197. ISSN 1073-0451

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Identification Number: 10.2458/jpe.5546


In a recent article in this journal, Ståle Knudsen argues that the recent trend to flat ontology in political ecology is mistaken and urges more engagement with critical realism as introduced by Roy Bhaskar. His article also criticizes how various political ecologists have used critical realism. In this response, I argue that Knudsen misses the point firstly about my work but more generally also on two further matters: the challenges of discussing ontology for environmental problems that are embedded in human experience and discourse, and on his insistence that ideas about critical realism should be limited to a literal reading of Bhaskar's writings decades ago. This response gently questions Knudsen's tone and argument by making two points. Firstly, debates about critical realism should not be limited only to Bhaskar's original framework concerning different domains of the actual, empirical, and real, but also to ideas that have built on this framework. Second, political ecology does not only ask what is ecologically real but also how, and with what politics, are ideas of reality made and used. Bhaskar's writings in the 1970s were foundational to debates about critical realism, but are insufficient for understanding how ideas of ecological reality are made, persist, and include or exclude different perspectives. This article examines Knudsen's discussion of the Tragedy of the Commons as an example.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author.
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: J Political Science
Date Deposited: 17 Apr 2023 09:03
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2024 10:39

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