#ScholarSpotlight with Amy Janzwood

Amy Janzwood is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia and a visiting fellow at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies. She is a political scientist specializing in Canadian and comparative energy, climate, and environmental policy and politics. Amy has a Ph.D. in Political Science and Environmental Studies at the University of Toronto and a Master of Arts in Global Governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs. 

In this chat with Global Policy: Next Generation, Amy discusses her book project on the influence of social movements against new oil sands pipelines, engaged scholarship that inspires her, and focusing on the process. 


What is the focus of your research? 

My book project, Mega Pipelines, Mega Resistance?, explains the causal influence of social movements against new oil sands pipeline infrastructure. In short, I show that in the last decade, opposition to mega pipeline projects in Canada has stalled pipeline development. Considering the power and momentum of the oil and gas industry in the early-2000s, these movements’ success in frustrating pipeline development has been truly remarkable. 

The book identifies the causal role of social movement campaigns, what I call “campaign coalitions,” against new mega oil sands pipelines. I show how broad-based and diverse coalitions of actors (of environmental NGOs, Indigenous organizations, local communities etc.) formed and used an effective combination of strategies that leveraged increasingly amenable (legal, political, and commercial) contexts while also influencing and hastening those changes. In the book’s conclusion, I offer thoughts about this movement’s success and the implications for social movements, climate policy, and fossil fuel development in North America. 

Beyond the book, I have a few different projects that explore the politics of fossil fuel development, including the role of contentious politics, political economy, and interpretive politics.

Why is your research important to you? 

My research is motivated by the interrelated economic, energy and climate crises, the continued development of fossil fuel infrastructure, and Indigenous-led resistance in response. While completing my coursework for the PhD in 2015 and 2016, there were widespread protests against proposed mega oil pipelines, including the Keystone XL, Energy East, and Trans Mountain expansion projects. These were some of the biggest and most ambitious pipeline projects ever proposed to move heavy oil or bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to export markets. In many ways, these protests build on long-standing Indigenous struggles around rights and responsibilities to the land, but there were also non-Indigenous communities and organizations that were mobilizing against them across Canada and in the United States as well. As a former student of social justice and having attended the occasional demonstration myself, I wanted to know what the impact of this resistances was on the projects. This became the motivation that guided my doctoral research. 

Which academics’ work has inspired some of your key thinking?

So many! Kate Neville’s work on contentious politics and energy has shaped my thinking most strongly, especially how to understand the interactions between the institutional and the social. Social movement scholars Doug McAdam and Hilary Boudet inspired me to think about causation as a configuration of interacting dynamics. Sarah Martin’s work on infrastructure has motivated some of my interdisciplinary incursions. And Angela Carter and Kathryn Harrison are leading thinkers on supply-side politics necessary for a livable planet, and I try and follow in their footsteps. 

More broadly, Steven Bernstein and Matthew Hoffmann showed me how to think about decarbonization and assess climate governance experiments. The many amazing folks at the Environmental Governance Lab formed the core of my intellectual community. 

And lately I have been inspired by work of Indigenous and critical scholars who work on settler-colonial institutions, and Indigenous resistance, refusal, and resurgence—they include Deborah Curran, Winona LaDuke, Tyler McCreary, and Shiri Pasternak.

What issues do you see your field being focused upon in the next several years?

I dabble in a few fields—most relevant for GP readers I think would be some of the dynamics related to global environmental politics and political economy. We know that climate change cannot be fixed without tackling both fossil fuel demand and supply. However, there has been surprisingly little attention to fossil fuel supply, and the Paris Agreement doesn’t even mention fossil fuels! Activists have launched domestic and transnational campaigns as a result, including a campaign for a “Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty” (to put pressure on climate national plans), and campaigns to disrupt fossil fuel infrastructure investments. So I hope we will be seeing more attention on these dynamics. On the corporate power side, we need to start making sense of the morass of new climate commitments that companies are making and how to get companies to keep these commitments.

How does your research link to or have an impact on global policy issues?

For countries that are fossil fuel exporters, like Canada, addressing supply-side climate action is nearly politically impossible. There are so many important transnational dynamics that shape these politics—international climate commitments, energy forecasts, oil prices, the behavior of our trading partners, changing norms around fossil fuels, and transnational networks to name a few. My work tries to make sense of how these things interact and shape state and non-state actors’ behaviour. 

What is the one piece of advice you wish you had been given when starting your academic career?

Focus on processes not outcomes! Disappointment is inevitable in this work, whether it’s funding, publications or the job market. Rather than relying on external validation, which is how we have generally been raised in academia, and I was no different, but now I try to focus on the processes I’ve developed for whatever project I’m working on. It takes some time to develop these processes, but I’ve learned to trust them, and I tweak them as I get feedback. And I get help! From supervisors, other faculty, friends, and online resources (e.g., great blogs by The Professor Is In or Raul Pacheco-Vega). And for the day-to-day stuff, for me it’s about community and mutual support – whether it’s exchanging writing, setting work goals, or just checking-in – that makes everything more enjoyable! 

What is one must-read book/article for scholars not in your field?

This is a shameless plug for the brilliant Kate Neville and her new book Fueling Resistance compares local contentious politics around biofuels in East Africa to fracking in the Yukon. It’s boundary-crossing, ambitious, beautifully written, and an exemplar of what engaged scholarship can look like.