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Research Areas

As a centre for transdisciplinary research and action, the POLIS Project cultivates ecological governance through innovative research, strategic policy advocacy, law reform, education and community action. Several key thematic research areas emerge and intersect in the projects we undertake within the realm of ecological governance. These include: 

Law and Political Ecology Political ecology examines how nature is paying the price for our current consumer-driven society. It explores the question: How do we reform current laws and governance approaches to transform this situation and support circular and ecosystem-based systems instead?

Urban Sustainability Urban sustainability begins with an ecologically sound and community-based planning and development in our communities. Preserving forested and agricultural land, improving public transit, creating affordable housing and increasing citizen participation in community development are all objectives of “smart growth,” a strategy that has emerged as a response to the problems associated with urban/suburban sprawl. How can we restructure urban governance to improve efficiency and effectiveness to incorporate the growing demand for civic involvement?

Water Sustainability Freshwater management must be sustainable -- ecologically, economically and socially. Yet, our current approach of seeking more and more water to meet demand makes long-term sustainability impossible. How do we help facilitate innovative governance, including "watershed governance," as an alternative to our current and unsustainable approaches?

Community-Based Ecosystem Management Providing more community authority over natural resources is key to community economic development and protection of critical ecosystems. How do we transform governance structures to accommodate more community control of forests and lands while maintaining the role of senior governments?

Cultural and Ecological Health Our social and cultural systems are both dependent on, and significantly affect, the integrity and functioning of ecological systems. Addressing threats to human and ecosystem health requires due attention to multiple factors and a complex of issues – ethical, legal, social, and political – that arise out of the way humans treat and are treated by their ecological contexts. But acknowledging individual and institutional action and inaction is not enough. Without an integrated understanding of, and commitment to, institutional change at basic social and cultural levels, will we continue to facilitate the cultural and ecological erosion that we seek to end?

Biocultural Ethics Serious international concerns in the last couple of decades about appropriation of Indigenous knowledge and cultural resources through the practice of “bioprospecting” have not only changed the discipline of ethnobiology but significantly influenced contemporary research ethics policies and practices. Consideration of these issues compell us to consider questions of how ought we treat one another and build bridges across diverse social, cultural, economic, political and geographic borders?

Collaborative Research and Learning A recent wave of interest in “civic engagement” by universities across North America has raised the profile of collaborative approaches to research and learning. While brimming with promise for creating understandings and solving problems in more democratic and mutually-beneficially ways, collaborations between universities and communities also raise a number of challenges. What onus rests with publicly-funded academic and government institutions to address the issues involved?

Property Commons Capturing the relationship between property rights regimes and power, the property commons highlights the nature of ownership, entitlements and the historical formation of different kinds of belonging. What are the roles of public space and social centres in respect to commoning ethics, such as mutuality, reliability, co-operation and respect?

Knowledge Governance How knowledge is created and shared is of great importance in today’s “information society” and “knowledge-based economy”. From calls by local community groups for greater public accountability and civic engagement in university research to evolving intellectual property protection regimes at the international level, the topic of knowledge governance brings a host of opportunities and raises complex issues related to ownership, commodification, access, and benefit-sharing.

Page last updated: 02/05/2013