The chapters in this section of the Handbook ask, In what ways are nature and society transformed through economic activity, and how does this metabolic relationship affect various social groups in different ways? Dynamics of environmental transformation – from deforestation, soil erosion, and the enclosure of forests and game reserves, to the planting of chemical-intensive lawns, and the rapidly changing ecologies of health – are central foci of research in political ecology. Such processes may usefully be considered expressions of the metabolic relationship between nature and (capitalist) society. In the section’s first chapter, Noel Castree presents an explicitly Marxist reading of political ecology, through the work of the late Neil Smith. Never a self-described political ecologist, Smith’s writings on the capitalist production of nature and the politics of scale have nonetheless provided a theoretical foundation for political ecology. The next chapter, by James Wescoat, considers the political ecologies of risk, hazard and vulnerability, one of the oldest streams of political ecological thought. Emerging from the human ecology tradition, research in this area remains vital to political ecology as the following chapter attests. Diana Liverman critically reviews recent work in climate change which, given its fundamental linking of human and physical processes, as well as its clear implications for social justice, is a rapidly growing area of political ecological research,
The next two chapters in the section consider the dynamics of economic development and social reproduction, both core themes in political ecology. In the first of these, Astrid Ulloa examines the relationship between environment and development, and the various ways development, and alternatives to development, have been conceptualized and enacted in Latin America and the global South more broadly. The second of these two chapters, by Edward Carr, examines the concept of livelihood – a core analytical category in political ecological work on (mostly rural) development. Following this, Brian King examines the political ecologies of disease and health, placing these medical, scientific questions squarely in social, political, and environmental context.