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A Political Ecology of Value

A Cohort-Based Ethnography of the Environmental Turn in Nicaraguan Urban Social Policy

Dr Alex Nading

A Political Ecology of Value is a three-year (2016-2019) qualitative study, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, that aims to develop a cohort-based methodology for exploring development and change in complex urban settings.  Based in Managua, Nicaragua, the investigators will examine the rollout and effects of “Live Clean, Live Healthy, Live Beautiful, Live Well,” a permanent national campaign established in 2012 by Nicaragua’s government.  While urban development in Latin America has long been couched as degrading to the natural environment, newly-elected left-wing governments in the region have recently introduced social policies that draw on an emerging alternative paradigm known as buen vivir (“living well”). Buen vivir  rejects a linear and reductive economic calculus of wellbeing in favor of a holistic one based on strengthened connections among individuals, households, communities, and environments.  Nicaragua’s national government is attempting to both improve urban landscapes and promote buen vivir by intervening in three areas: work, healthcare, and education.  To understand this “environmental turn” in social policy and its effects on the urban poor, this project will develop and test a model that accounts for the feedback between multiple registers of value. The project Co-PIs (Dr Josh Fisher, Western Washington University, Dr Alex Nading, University of Edinburgh) will study the three main elements of “Live Clean, Live Healthy”: (1) waste management programs led by Nicaragua’s economic ministries; (2) health interventions led by the Ministry of Health; and (3) environmental education strategies led by the Ministry of Education.  The PIs will recruit participants from these ministries as well as (a) formal and unregulated dumps, where thousands of waste pickers make a living; (b) foodworkers, including street vendors and urban farmers; and (c) public schools.  Building on a tradition of collaborative research in Latin America, and mirroring the FSLN’s emphasis on integrated social policy, the Co-PIs will assemble respondents into a “longitudinal ethnographic cohort.”  The PIs will gather the cohort for quarterly meetings to refine research questions and elicit responses to their emerging analyses.

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