Universität Bonn

Abteilung für Südostasienwissenschaft

22. Oktober 2021

Habilitationsprojekt Dr. Oliver Pye - Labour, Nature, and Development. The Social Relations of Palm Oil in Southeast Asia Habilitationsprojekt Oliver Pye

This cumulative habilitation brings together some of my key English-language publications on palm oil in Southeast Asia, representing empirical research and theoretical work over the last ten years. Apart from an introductory chapter on the Political Ecology of palm oil, the publications cover the expansion of palm oil in the context of the promotion of agrofuels by the European Union; a discussion of the claim of “sustainability” by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO); an analysis of transnational activism around palm oil; and finally, a section on the Labour Geography of the palm oil industry.

The collection of published articles is complemented by a theoretical discussion (the “Kumulus”) of the relation between labour, nature, and development. Labour is used in the threefold sense of 1) the social metabolism with nature through work, 2) labour as a social category in the sense of the working class, and 3) labour as agency, in the sense of the labour movement. I examine how different development theories explain the contradictory relationship between development and nature, and what specific role labour plays in their explanation of the problem and proposed solution to ecological crisis. I discuss Sustainable Development, Ecological Modernization Theory, Political Ecology, Post-Development Theory, World-System and Dependency Theory, the theory of Unequal Environmental Exchange, Accumulation by Dispossession, World-Ecology, Social Ecology, Societal Relations to Nature, Imperial Mode of Living, Historical Materialism, the Metabolic Rift, Labour-led Development and Labour Environmentalism in this way. I conclude that most development theories neglect the role of labour, but that fusing the strong points of different global theories with Labour Geography and the perspective of De-Alienation could offer both a more dialectic explanation of the current ecological crisis and, more importantly, a perspective of how to overcome it.

The habilitation was submitted in May 2021 and is currently under review.

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