Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

A Political Ecology of Home: Attachment to Nature and Political Subjectivity

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

A Political Ecology of Home: Attachment to Nature and Political Subjectivity

Article excerpt


At the Joint Review Panel (JRP) for Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline across northern British Columbia, many participants presenting oral statements situated themselves as decidedly 'ordinary' people, with rich connections to the land and landscape. Without speaking of ownership, they nevertheless made claims to the area as their home through highly detailed articulations of knowledge and experience of its natural features. For some, it was also connected to a collective, indigenous territorial claim. In all cases, we argue that it is an articulation of 'home,' and that this formed the basis for the political subjectivity that led to their participation in the JRP hearings. Linking the scholarly literature on home with that of political ecology, in this paper we explore the significance of the assertion of experience and knowledge of the physical environment as the basis to claim it as 'home' and to assert a political right to defend it from perceived intrusion.


Political ecology, home, political subjectivity, citizenship, British Columbia, Northern Gateway pipeline


What political subjectivity is generated in the act of claiming common areas of the natural world as 'home'? Work in environmental perception and political ecology has recognized that it is possible that "people actually feel really 'at home' on a wet hill-top ... up a sheer rock-face ... when wandering through a dense wood ... and so on" (Macnaghten and Urry, 2000: 2). There is also a well-established body of geographical literature on the concept of home that emphasizes its physical and emotional aspects: home as both a place of residence and a sense of belonging (Blunt and Varley, 2004; Ralph and Staeheli, 2011; Tuan, 1977). For Tuan (1977: 144), home is fundamentally "an intimate place," which may exist in different manifestations at different scales. Although Tuan himself referred to "wilderness" as "undifferentiated space" (p. 166), knowledge and experience of the natural environment may make it as intimate as a backyard. Claiming the natural environment as 'home,' however, reaches beyond private property and politically domesticates 'nature.' Some attention has been paid to the "nature" produced by recreational tourists (Edensor, 2000; Macnaghten and Urry, 1998, 2000) and the socio-ecological relationships underpinning and shaping domestic space (Robbins, 2007; Shillington, 2008). In this paper, we seek to link and build on such scholarship in cultural geography, political ecology, and citizenship in order to make sense of an emotional and experiential intimacy with the physical environment as a 'home,' when that territorialisation is mobilized for political purposes.

The need to unpack these relationships arose in our observations and analysis of presentations to the Joint Review Panel (JRP) for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline across northern British Columbia (BC). The JRP opened an interesting but limited space of political subjectivity for local communities impacted by the project. Research on the participation of the Haida (Galbraith, 2014) and the Carrier Sekani (McCreary and Milligan, 2014) found that while the JRP allowed criticism of the project and the review process, there was no acknowledgement of, or space made for, indigenous structures of law and governance, territorial ontology, or land claims. Le Billon and Vandecasteyen (2013) noted the JRP was criticized in BC communities for serving only as "consultation," and not a "means for the public to participate in decisionmaking" (p. 43). They further argue that the JRP was structured to reduce the volume and scope of participation. We also observed the Panel regularly caution participants to restrict their comments to the immediate project and not discuss, for example, the broader impact of oil sands development.

Many participants prefaced their comments to the JRP by excusing their lack of scientific or other expertise, instead asserting their personal experience of and attachment to the area in question as the basis for their right to speak and be heard. …

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