Debate on the need for more fairness in academic research collaborations between actors in Africa (or the ‘Global South’, broadly) and counterparts in the Global North has intensified in recent years, while practice-oriented frameworks and efforts to foster more equitable partnerships have proliferated. Important approaches to recognise and undo asymmetries in concrete collaboration arrangements – division of labour, decision making, access to rewards, capacity building – have been identified.
In this provocation we draw on African and other postcolonial, decolonial and feminist scholarship, as well as systems thinking and global science data to argue that such ‘equitable partnerships’ efforts at best sidestep the urgent need for a much more profound rebalancing of the positioning of Africa and ‘Global North’ in the worldwide science and research ecosystem as a whole. We consider why such wider rebalancing is an imperative for both Africa and the global community, propose that research collaborations must be understood as a key entry point for advancing such a systemic shift, and suggest a necessary transformative collaboration mode to this end. We conclude by positing an urgent need to think and act beyond ‘equitable’ partnerships and highlight where responsibilities for action must lie.
This article contributes to debates on international collaborations by examining contradictions between the decolonial turn and the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund which imposed Global North leadership on Global South partners. Through the lenses of compromise and complicity, the article explores how collaborators strive to work together equitably within the constraints of a UK government Official Development Assistance funding scheme. Drawing on focus group discussions with members of a research team, the article traces, first, their engagement with political and institutional constraints and, second, their articulation of collaborative compromise and productive complicity. The article foregrounds the generative potential of complicity as a productive concept that can help partners to navigate the challenges of interdependence and partnership entailed in North–South, South–South, cross-sector and interdisciplinary collaboration.
The term polycrisis has recently gained much interest in academia and policy-making circles as a perspective to understand the nature of ‘overlapping emergencies’ – geopolitical, ecological, pandemics and economic – that are disrupting policy and politics in the Global North and South. How do we understand the nature of these new forms of crisis? This provocation argues that polycrisis, while a good descriptive term for the overlapping emergencies that characterise the current conjecture, should be analysed in terms of the larger crisis of capitalist social reproduction. The polycrisis needs to be understood as a political crisis that arises from a contradiction between social reproduction and the crisis of capital accumulation. It leads to increasing authoritarian statist forms as well as the growing resistance and dissent that is a feature of the broken politics of time and distinguishes the multiple intersecting crises of the 21st century.
In this article we identify the ways in which Leon Trotsky’s ideas constitute a powerful resource to understand the contemporary crisis of international relations and its historical roots in the 20th century. Trotsky’s concept of uneven and combined development has already been highlighted as a signal contribution by an established scholarship in and around the discipline of International Relations. While this is a welcome development, we contend that it has come at a significant cost, detaching Trotsky’s theoretical insights from his revolutionary politics. We employ a different mode of engagement with Trotsky’s ideas, focusing on the theory of Permanent Revolution as an expression of an original analysis of the dialectic between the national and the international. Far from being a theoretically detachable and politically erroneous appendage to the more fundamental and applicable concept of uneven and combined development, we argue that Permanent Revolution constitutes its necessary culmination, as well as Trotsky’s most significant contribution to classical Marxism. We then elucidate how, writing in the first half of the 20th century and applying his theory of Permanent Revolution, Trotsky was able to diagnose certain essential lines of political development – the rise and ongoing breakdown of American hegemony, the political degeneration and collapse of the Soviet Union, and the emergence and failure of the postcolonial independent nation states – tracing the long and crisis-ridden trajectory of international relations from the second half of the 20th century down to today.
Since the early 2010s, small drones have become key tools for environmental research around the globe. While critical voices have highlighted the threat of ‘green securitisation’ and surveillance in contexts where drones are deployed for nature conservation, Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) worldwide have also begun using drones – most often in alliance with non-governmental organisations or researchers – exploring this technology’s potential to advance their own territorial, political and socio-ecological goals. Against this backdrop, this paper examines six different experiences in five countries where communities are using small drones in areas of high ecological and cultural diversity with international significance for nature conservation. We highlight the ways that communities deploy drones – both in terms of their motivations and actual use strategies. We also reflect upon the opportunities and barriers that IPLCs and their collaborators encounter in designing and implementing meaningful drone strategies, explicitly considering social, economic and political challenges. Finally, we consider the socio-ecological outcomes that community drone use enables across these sites along with the ways that drones engender more biocultural and territorial approaches to conservation through IPLC-led monitoring and mapping efforts. In conclusion, we suggest that effective, meaningful and appropriate deployment of drones, especially with IPLCs as protagonists in their use, can support nature conservation together with the recognition and protection of biocultural and territorial rights. Given the mounting demands for conservation to counter intertwined global socio-environmental crises, community drones may play a role in amplifying the voices and territorial visions of IPLCs.
Drones are unoccupied aerial systems (UAS) whose technology has evolved rapidly over the past 15 years. Increasingly used in conservation to manage and monitor biodiversity, drones offer rich capabilities to observe in difficult terrain, have relatively affordable hardware costs and are likely to continue to proliferate rapidly in the years ahead. Drones are useful for tasks as diverse as monitoring wildlife poaching and illegal timber extraction, managing ecotourism and disaster responses, and tracking the regeneration or degradation of forests, and offer potential for more specialised tasks as their sensory payloads are developed. However, although associated technical issues and applications have been explored in wide-ranging ways within conservation science, there has been relatively little social-scientific engagement with drones to date. This leaves a gap surrounding the potential social benefits and risks of drones, as well as in interdisciplinary conversations. This introduction is the first of four papers under the heading ‘Drone ecologies’, building on an interdisciplinary workshop held under the same name at the University of Bristol in July 2021. Expanding from the plenary dialogues that opened this workshop, this introduction explores what interdisciplinary perspectives on drones can offer in addressing global social and ecological challenges, drawing on expertise from the fields of conservation biology, human and physical geography, rainforest ecology and environmental systems. Setting out the aims of the overall special collection, we review here the ways that drones are being used, and might be used, in biodiversity conservation, setting out important considerations to minimise risks of inadvertent harms.
Rapidly evolving drone technologies are taking the conservation sector by storm. Although the technical and applied conservation literature tends to frame drones as autonomous, neutral technologies, we argue that neither drones nor their implications can be adequately understood unless they are grounded, conceptually and methodologically, in the context of broader societal structures that shape how drones and the data they produce are used. This article introduces the value of a political ecology framework to an interdisciplinary audience of biophysical and social scientists interested in the multiple possibilities and complications associated with conservation drones. Political ecology provides the tools for studying and critically engaging with drone use in conversation in ways that are politically engaged and attuned to power relations – historic and present, local and global – in a more-than-human world. In making this argument, we point to four conceptual tools in political ecology that offer a framework for unveiling the power relations and structures that surround drones in different contexts: political economy, territoriality, knowledge and expertise, and more-than-human relations. Using empirics from our work across Latin America (Colombia and Guatemala), Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique), and North America (the US and Canada), we illustrate the salience of this framework and demonstrate why evaluating what drones do in and for conservation requires first understanding the complex set of power relations that shape their use.
In this policy intervention, we recount the process of producing a policy briefing targeting researchers and practitioners who use drones in biodiversity conservation. We use the writing process as a springboard to think through the ways that interdisciplinary exchange has and might further inform the ethical use of new technologies, such as drones. This approach is vital, we argue, because while drones may be deployed as tools that enable or empower forest, wildlife or habitat monitoring practices, so too can they be variously disruptive, repurposed and/or exceed these applications in significant ways. From questions of surveillance and capture, data ownership and security, to noise disruption, drone use requires careful and critical reflection, particularly in sensitive contexts. Yet, interdisciplinary exchange attentive to the ethical, social and experiential dimensions of drone use remains patchy and thin. To this end, this intervention reflects on the process of a group of scholars from ecological, environmental and social science backgrounds coming together in an interdisciplinary project grappling with diverse issues around responsible conservation drone use. After recounting our methodology, including the surprises and learning that emerged in practice, we contextualise the key themes we chose to foreground in our published policy briefing. We conclude by connecting our collaboration with wider actions and energies in the context of existing (conservation) drone policy and practice, while underscoring our contributions to existing work.
To achieve the dual goals of minimising global pollution and meeting diverse demands for environmental justice, energy transitions need to involve not only a shift to renewable energy sources but also the safe decommissioning of older energy infrastructures and management of their toxic legacies. While the global scale of the decommissioning challenge is yet to be accurately quantified, the climate impacts are significant: each year, more than an estimated 29 million abandoned oil and gas wells around the world emit 2.5 million tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In the US alone, at least 14 million people live within a mile of an abandoned oil or gas well, creating pollution that is concentrated among low-income areas and communities of colour. The costs involved in decommissioning projects are significant, raising urgent questions about responsibility and whether companies who have profited from the sale of extracted resources will be held liable for clean-up, remediation and management costs. Recognising these political goals and policy challenges, this article invites further research, scrutiny and debate on what would constitute the successful and safe decommissioning of sites affected by fossil fuel operations – with a particular focus on accountability, environmental inequality, the temporality of energy transitions, and strategies for phasing out or phasing down fossil fuel extraction.