Audra Mitchell: A Global Political Ecologist with a Vision for the Future
Audra Mitchell is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Political Ecology at the Wilfrid Laurier University and the Balsillie School of International Affairs. She is also cross-appointed to the Departments of Political Science at WLU and UW. Her research spans across various disciplines, such as international studies, environmental studies, security studies, ethics, and more. She is also a disabled (Autistic and Dyspraxic) scholar who draws from her lived experience in understanding patterns of violence, exclusion and marginalization.
In this article, we will explore some of her main contributions to the field of global political ecology, which is an interdisciplinary approach that examines how ecological issues are shaped by global power structures and inequalities. We will also highlight some of her current projects and future goals.
More-than-human perspectives on international theory, security and ethics
One of Audra Mitchell’s key contributions is to challenge the anthropocentric assumptions of conventional international theory, security and ethics. She argues that these fields tend to ignore or marginalize the role of non-human beings and forces in shaping global politics and ethics. She proposes a more-than-human perspective that recognizes the agency, diversity and interdependence of all forms of life on Earth.
For example, in her book International Intervention in a Secular Age: Re-enchanting Humanity?, she critiques the secular and humanist foundations of international intervention. She shows how intervention practices often rely on a narrow conception of humanity that excludes other ways of being human, such as those informed by spirituality, animism or indigenous cosmologies. She also demonstrates how intervention practices often have negative impacts on non-human beings and environments, such as displacing animals, destroying habitats or disrupting ecosystems.
She suggests that a more-than-human approach to intervention would entail acknowledging the diversity and complexity of human and non-human worlds, respecting their autonomy and dignity, and fostering relationships of care and responsibility among them.
Global ecological thought and indigenous ecological knowledges
Another important contribution of Audra Mitchell is to bring global ecological thought into conversation with indigenous ecological knowledges. She argues that global ecological thought, which is a broad term that encompasses various theories and movements that address global environmental issues, often fails to engage with the rich and diverse knowledges of indigenous peoples who have been living in harmony with nature for millennia.
She contends that global ecological thought can benefit from learning from indigenous ecological knowledges, which are not only sources of information but also ways of relating to the world that are rooted in culture, spirituality and history. She also advocates for decolonizing global ecological thought by challenging its Eurocentric biases, acknowledging its complicity in colonial violence and oppression, and supporting indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.
For instance, in her edited volume Decolonizing Global Environmental Politics, she brings together scholars from different disciplines and backgrounds to explore how decolonial perspectives can inform global environmental politics. The chapters cover topics such as climate justice, food sovereignty, water governance, biodiversity conservation, environmental security and more.
Futurisms rooted in marginalized groups’ knowledge and lived experience
A third major contribution of Audra Mitchell is to create futurisms rooted in the knowledge and lived experience of marginalized groups. She argues that dominant visions of the future are often shaped by powerful actors who impose their interests and values on others. She proposes alternative futurisms that are grounded in the perspectives and aspirations of groups who are currently excluded or oppressed by global systems.
For example, in her project BioPlural Futures: Creating Conditions for Enduring Life on Earth, she collaborates with indigenous scholars, activists and artists to imagine futures that are based on (bio)plurality, which is a concept that emphasizes the radical difference and interdependence among all forms of life. She also explores how (bio)plurality can challenge global structural violence, which is a term that captures the multiple and interconnected forms of violence that drive patterns of extinction.
She hopes that by creating these alternative futurisms, she can inspire people to think differently about the present and act differently in the future.