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Transition Friction in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Green Economy Ethnography

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRANSITION-FRICTION (Transition Friction in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Green Economy Ethnography)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-08-31

This project investigates the lived reality of the social and environmental changes which are being brought about by the pursuit of ‘sustainability’ and the building of a ‘green economy’.
Policy imperatives and funding priorities increasingly generate initiatives for economic transitions to ‘green’ production and consumption patterns, at different scales, and all over the world. Because there are many (sometimes contradictory) visions of ‘sustainability’ underpinning these kinds of initiatives and because they produce a whole variety of (not always desirable) social and ecological effects, they urgently need to be analysed with a focus on questions of social justice. This project aims to do just that by focusing in particular on a case study in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where a recently founded university is meant to catalyze economic change and contribute to the country’s transition to sustainability.
By using ethnographic research methods, the project is able to collect rich qualitative data on the complexities of people’s experience of the changes underway and the intricacies of the ways in which the university development affects their lives and changes or reproduces social inequalities. This data will highlight important challenges of sustainability transitions in one of the world’s economically most disadvantaged, biologically most diverse regions with a large and varied indigenous population. The conclusions are being shared with stakeholders in Ecuador, contributing to continuing discussions on which development pathways lead to what kind of sustainability, and how to open these up in socially just ways.
Aiming to compare the findings with other case studies, the project carries relevance well beyond the particular situation in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and will contribute to internationally important debates on how to create a just and sustainable world.
The work performed by the researcher comprises desk-based research, fieldwork in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the organisation of an international workshop, the preparation of scientific publications, and dissemination and communication of preliminary findings and final results amongst the research community as well as the wider public. The researcher has benefited from training and professional development during the project period, and contributed to the transfer of knowledge to early career researchers through the organisation of a grant writing workshop as Marie Curie Ambassador event.
Desk-based research was conducted in order to contribute to the development of an analytic framework for the study of green transition initiatives. Key here were an early literature review, and data collection on ‘green economy’ discourse in Ecuadorian media and policy publications, as well as international guidelines of intergovernmental bodies. A four-month fieldwork period was conducted in the Napo region of the Ecuadorian Amazon and involved structured and semi-structured interviews, focus groups, participant observation and peripheral data gathering necessary for in-depth ethnographic analysis. This has to date resulted in the publication of a journal article and media contributions. Four further scientific articles are in preparation.
For dissemination purposes, the researcher presented her findings at eight conferences, two workshops and one public science event, and convened two conference sessions at international conferences. Moreover, her organisation of a two-day international workshop on ‘Critical ethnographies of green transition’ to be held in November 2019 will result in a network of critical ethnographers focusing on sustainability transitions at a variety of scales, and produce a ‘tool kit’ for the critical ethnographic study of green transitions and the publication of an edited volume (Special Issue).
Situated at the confluence of political ecology, transition studies and critical ethnography, TRANSITION-FRICTION cross-fertilises these three literatures, contributing a specific focus on the power dynamics and social effects of green economy transition initiatives.
In analysing the socio-ecological relations that a new university in the Ecuadorian Amazon gives rise to, including their connections to policy discourses on a transition to a ‘green economy’, the project has constructed a transferable conceptual framework and methodological approach for the analysis of green economy initiatives at multiple scales. The project enhances understanding not only of an initiative in the Amazon, but also of the socio-ecological complexities and power dynamics that constitute transition initiatives elsewhere.
Moreover, the project has consolidated the researcher’s expertise, enhanced her research maturity and facilitated her career development within the knowledge producing sector. This is evidenced by the researcher’s appointment as Associate Professor at the University of Coventry’s prestigious research Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, as well as her recruitment as consultant to non-governmental and intergovernmental (UN) organisations.
Napo region, Ecuadorian Amazon