Coronavirus and the much needed overcoming of capitalism

It is important to incorporate a new vision linked to the ethics of care, which opens the possibility of hoping for a better world, a world in which the community dimension becomes central, where care is the basis for connections, not only between human beings but also at the community level and with nature.

The arrival of the Coronavirus in Uruguay has put the population on alert and transformed daily life. The call to stay at home cannot be answered in the same way by all people, considering the activities they carry out but also because not everyone has the real possibility of confronting extreme situations given that the necessary social protection measures have not yet been put in place. What is clear is that, in line with what happened in other affected countries, either voluntarily, by measures suggested by the authorities or imposed by (more or less democratic) measures, the changes in daily life have been radical.

These changes in behaviour respond to the fact that the population perceives that there is an imminent danger. The virus is in circulation and the possibility of people getting sick, or in serious cases dying, is a reality. It is a concrete fact that impacts their lives, directly, or through the excess pressure that the epidemic places on the health system shared by the population. It is not a personal problem. It is a collective problem, a problem of humanity as a whole. There are causes (not entirely clear) and there are consequences. And the consequences are visible. Containing and transforming the situation requires public policies, systems that respond equitably, and an informed and acting society.

At least since the 1970s, when the first United Nations conference on Environment and Development was organised, humanity has had the necessary information and available data that establishes with absolute clarity that the dominant model of production and consumption, like the Coronavirus, sickens and kills, in addition to destroying nature and the diverse ecosystems, putting at risk not only the lives of the present but of future generations. For 50 years, the universal response has been to maintain the same model, dressing it up with statements and terms that are becoming fashionable as a denialist strategy to continue praising economic growth as an indispensable condition for the well-being of humanity. Every year, multiple conferences are organised and programmes are put in place to make production and consumption “sustainable”, to make the economy “green”, to have industry and technology develop “resilient” practices, and the list could go on citing buzzwords used to ensure the perpetuation of a destructive, unjust, discriminatory, exclusive model that fundamentally puts at risk the continuity of Life in its many manifestations.

While the Coronavirus multiplies exponentially and we know the number of victims daily, capitalism has produced unequal societies where millions die daily from multiple causes: hunger, preventable diseases, violence, environmental pollution, destruction of ecosystems, etc. But in addition, capitalism has generated individualism as a central phenomenon, which determines total indifference to the suffering of “the others”, added to the centrality of consumption almost as a way of existence. In recent decades, countless books and articles have been written, innumerable courses have been organised at  university and popular levels, networks have been created throughout the world promoting lifestyles that not only call into question the capitalist model but, and fundamentally, they summon to recognise that there are other ways of being and inhabiting our common planet. Feminist and environmental movements, as well as those of solidarity / community economies, have systematically proposed the necessary consideration of care, reciprocity and overcoming extractivism in relation to nature as central processes to achieve truly sustainable, egalitarian and just societies.

When the pandemic has passed and all of us recognise that we live in another world (in which thousands will no longer be, not only the direct victims of the pandemic, but those who will have succumb to other diseases because of non-existent or weak public health systems which collapsed in the face of the crisis, millions who will have lost their livelihoods and did not have protection systems that could guarantee their right to life and well-being, depressed socioeconomic and environmental indicators and without the resources to reverse them) the ways of being in the world and the public policies that enable them will play a central role in the prevention of new crises. That is why it is important, now, to put on the table knowledge, visions and practices that state that the virus is not the anomaly or the monster, but rather reveals the monstrosity of the dominant model1.

CENTRALITY OF LIFE

In this other world, care must be more important than the logic of profit, putting Life at the centre and not money. Care is an intrinsic function of “the social”, which has historically been associated with the feminine and that can sometimes become a burden linked to gender mandates, devalue and become invisible in its contribution and relevance. It is important to incorporate a new vision linked to the ethics of care, which opens the possibility of hoping for a better world, a world in which the community dimension becomes central, where care is the basis for connections, not only between human beings but also at the community level and with nature. Care helps to contribute to more sustainable livelihoods, to the extent that satisfying needs, rather than being exclusively linked to markets (and economic growth). is mainly understood through reciprocity and solidarity. The State is not oblivious to these processes, but quite the contrary, plays a central role in guaranteeing its solidification for the population as a whole, distancing itself from the neoliberal logic that makes each person responsible for their life and that of their family in open opposition to the ontological reality that defines us as human beings – that is, our relational and community nature. The current Coronavirus pandemic is also an excellent example of the impossibility of individual solutions, showing that the only way out of the crisis is caring, for ourselves and for others, that each person who needs attention is intertwined with their most immediate environment, with their community and with the citizenry as a whole, and that the State has the fundamental role of providing resources and distributing them with a criterion of justice and social equality.

But caring goes far beyond us, people. The capitalist mode of production assumes that nature is only the source of resources to satisfy supposedly infinite needs, and that therefore the supply of goods and services must be unlimited in order to guarantee permanent economic growth that generates jobs, consumption, exploitation of nature, new products, new jobs, consumption. Above all, this cycle is predicated on permanent profit, which, invested in speculative markets, allows enrichment without social responsibility and without offering any type of benefits or assistance to the majority of the population. The population, with some luck, will be able to access some of those jobs, consume, that consumption continues to depend on the exploitation of nature and continues to contribute to the enrichment of the famous 1% that concentrates 44% of the world’s wealth2. This is the monstrosity of the system, which lays waste to rivers, species, plants, soils, animals; that creates strata and classes condemning broad sectors of the population to situations of exploitation due to their sex, gender, sexual orientation, class, capacity, place, age, ethnicity; that puts at risk the very continuity of Life without offering well-being or care; and that favours the emergence of diseases that one day make us realise that all the accumulated assets do not even serve to begin to respond to the challenge.

 NATURE AND INTERDEPENDENCE

From a feminist and ethics of care perspective, it is possible to affirm that the dominant vision of nature in capitalism does not recognise its intrinsic value and its interrelation with the diversity of Life, but merely positions it as a provider for human beings, and this is what has justified unsustainable uses and over-exploitation, with known consequences in terms of climate change, pollution and others. The challenge is precisely to recognise the interdependence, the necessary limits in its use, the existence of nature’s own needs that require respect for cycles, protection, care and proper handling, regeneration and restoration of certain processes. The extractivist logic that guides the exploitation of nature is the opposite of the logic of care, and just as it happens with people and societies, it not only harms the subject of those exploitative actions (in this case nature) but the interdependent system as a whole. The stories that come from different parts of the world regarding skies that turn blue again, improvements in the quality of water and air as a result of the decrease in economic activity, are indications that changes in the way of production have a fast impact in nature.

These changes, however, and as we saw at the beginning, respond to the emergency and largely to fear. Long-term changes require a new understanding of the meaning of life and well-being. From the centrality of the economy to the centrality of Life. From self-identification as consumers to citizens. From nationals of a country to inhabitants of a shared planet. From recipients of public policies to co-makers of a reality that celebrates diversity and thrives on plural and diverse knowledge. There will be those who argue that it is a romantic approach. But it is in reciprocal care, within the framework of states that guarantee egalitarian and social protection policies, with programmes that allow overcoming inequalities and discrimination, and with productive practices that recognise and respect interdependence with nature, that we are playing the chances of overcoming this crisis today and forward.

Montevideo, March 2020

This article was originally published in Brecha, Montevideo, Uruguay: https://brecha.com.uy/coronavirus-y-la-necesaria-superacion-del-capitalismo/

1. Bram Ieven and Jan Overwijk,  “Dit is de normale orde”, De Groene Amsterdammer, 18 March 2020, https://www.groene.nl/artikel/dit-is-de-normale-orde
2.  Global Inequality, https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality/#global-wealth-inequality

A memory from pre-corona times – a visit to Montevideo March 2020

A memory from pre-corona times

Looking at these four photos now, taken when I was visiting Ana Agostino and Constance Dupuis in Montevideo Uruguay March 6-13 it seems a life time, not just two weeks ago. My visit included what today would be an unthinkably risky schedule. Together with Ana and Constance (and our partners) on 7 March we attended the opening of the Plaza Las Pioneras, a collective feminist space mingling with 100s of people in a joyful celebration of reclaiming disused space for feminist arts and culture and politics. On 8 March we were marching with 350,000 people through the centre of Montevideo singing, chanting. I admired all the energy and vision around me. In all these encounters I was constantly being introduced, hugged and kissed. We washed our hands but we were free of the omniscient presence of the Corona virus in our daily life, though it was there in the messages from Italy (where my daughter and others in WEGO were on lockdown) and of increasing worries about what if it were to spread?  

During my visit I went to the Universidad de la República de Uruguay, Montevideo (UdelaR) and the Defensoria de VyV de Montevideo  to discuss the WEGO project and Constance’s project on ageing and to give a talk on Feminist Political Ecology and development dilemmas organised by Javier Taks at the Social Science faculty. More informally, I joined a dialogue with feminists of all ages at the Cotidiano Mujer about feminist political ecology and eco-feminism. I was poised to go on with Ana and Constance to Buenos Aires to meet more feminists in academia and government, when the impact of COVID-19 abruptly hit. Just the day before leaving for Buenos Aires we were informed as I had been in Italy less than two weeks ago, I was not allowed into Argentina, and it rapidly became clear that foreigners were going to be asked to leave Uruguay. 

Now we are in the reality of Corona times it seems incredible how much I could do in that week in Montevideo, and what I took for granted. We could walk, chat, hug, enjoy dinners together, greet and kiss strangers, sit together on crowded buses, visit museums and even go to a Tango concert.

These photos capture those last tranquil moments, as well as the deep friendship and respect I have for Ana Agostino who hosted me. I have known Ana for well over a decade. We share our feminism, our passions and our network of friends overlap. I use her writing on climate justice and post development for my classes, and have been inspired over the years by her on-going commitment to human rights, environmental justice and feminism. I am so pleased she has accepted to be Ombudsperson for WEGO bringing her 5 years of experience of being Ombudsperson at the Defensoria in Montevideo and vice president of Latin America Ombudpersons. 

These photos were taken by Constance in Montevideo and also at La Flores – a seaside area we visited just before I went to the airport. It was here amongst the sea, the flowers and birds that I shared some needed quiet time with Ana and enjoyed this last (for a while)  beautiful sunset of freedom.

Wendy Harcourt

Building communities in times of crisis: creative planning and revisioning for unanticipated changes and contingencies for your WEGO PhD

20 March 2020

Dear WEGO-ers

The Coronavirus outbreak is impacting all of us bringing uncertainty even to the best laid plans, and has required many of you to suddenly leave your research areas and secondments. We recognise that this is causing a lot of upheaval and uncertainty. Please be assured that this does not signal ruin for your PhD nor will it undermine the WEGO network. Right now, the most important thing is that everyone feels safe, supported and stay healthy and that we work out ways to stay in touch and support each other. All the mentors have been in touch with each of you. We respect the decisions you are making in terms of where you want to be at this moment. We have also checked the EU funding requirements which have been adjusted to allow for this situation. We feel it is important to put in place ways to keep the community together to bring you care and support and continued engagement with current global issues from an FPE perspective.

This message is two-fold.  The first is to help you think through how to cope with uncertainty and the unexpected for your PhD project. 

The second is to share with you some ideas of how we can come together as a network at this unexpected and difficult time by building community together and by learning from other on-line communities of practice. 

I Ways to deal with uncertainty, health, planning in your research including revisioning for unanticipated changes and contingencies 

Once the situation becomes clearer, you will need to set out some new schedules and goals for your PhD work. In many respects, the virus outbreak could be likened to the  difficulties some of us faced in our ‘fieldwork’. It is more severe because it is affecting all of us, but in principle, you can find ways through and build contingency plans for your projects. Fieldwork does not make a PhD. The weaving together of ideas from the literature, data, and your analysis of them is what makes a PhD. If your primary data is limited, then think about what kind of secondary sources are available that you can use to fill out your PhD story. You might also eventually think about contributing to the broader scholarship on methods as part of your PhD, especially if the current situation has inspired you to think about how this literature failed to capture some of your experiences during your research.

Principles

Evaluate the “risks”to your project before you start. Re-evaluate as you go along and particularly as circumstances change. Note as FPE scholars, we should use the term ‘risk’ with caution – there are many feminist STS critiques of risk, risk assessment, and risk management (including Foucault’s critique of biopower), and the governmentality and structures of monitoring, surveillance, populationism, social control, pathologization, etc that assume the ‘expert classes’ will manage these various risks to protect the normative order of things. We have to be careful that the language of ‘risk,’ and how it has been historically and is currently being deployed in the current moment resonates too closely with the imperial, surveillance, and carceral state imaginaries.  We need to continue to interrogate the colonialist underpinnings of academic research that sends people to the ‘field’ to ‘uncover’  knowledge that is then brought back to the metropolitan universities. We can be mindful of  Haraway’s expose in Primate Visions in her analyses of the brave white researcher leaving their comfortable lives and families and facing all manner of threats to uncover scientific knowledge about non-human primates.  We need to continue to examine deeply how we understand our WEGO research from an intersectional perspective which situates ourselves and the current uncertain situation.  This why we are using the term: “creative planning and revisioning for unanticipated changes or contingencies”.

Our issue now is how to move forward and to adjust.  As you do so be aware of:

  • Health—infectious disease, accessibility to health care / evacuation provisions, your own health status before going
  • Mental health—isolation, culture shock, communication, mobility, exercise facilities
  • Security situation—history of communitarian politics, conflict, economic stability, local superstitions (Ingrid’s story), timing of elections
  • Transportation—forms of transportation and their risks (small flights, helicopters, trails, roads). Road accidents are the number 1 risk of fieldwork in many places!! 
  • Unavailable data—this can sometimes be because a data source (statistics or aerial photos, etc) is not released to you, or because you have to leave your field site, or because people you expected to talk to are not around.
  • Socialization: any culture has a different way to socialize interpersonal relationships, socialize problems and solutions, to speak about something is an art and it happens differently in different cultures. It is important to take care about how you socialize in what way and when in order to avoid negative reactions unintentionally.  Pay attention be careful what questions you ask in relation to cultural or personal habits
  • Gender Based Violence: remember to take care and be aware of the possibility for psychological, verbal, physical and sexual violence as well as being stalked online and by phone. Be aware you may have to overcome difficulties be sure you know your rights, have access to information, and organizations and networks who fight GBV as well as access to legal and health services.

Planning the ‘risks’ connected to your research.

All ‘fieldwork’ carries a variety of objective ‘risks’ as above. You will not be able to deal with all of them. You may well need to think of new plans and change your research due to the virus. Some things to keep in mind if you are not in your own country or going to remote areas to do research. 

  • Contact your embassy, (not all countries have embassies in Nepal, for example) If no, ask in advance which embassy your country relies on for any documentation or where the nearest embassy is.  Notify your embassy in advance about your research period. This could be useful in case of any crisis and if you are lost and without money  they can assist you. In Nepal, for example, they will not send a rescue team unless they have your information.
  • Make sure someone you trust (better two people) know where you are at all times, both locally and externally. If mobile phones and social media go down, how will you communicate? If there is a major problem, who is your first point of contact and do they know how to reach others in your network, can they mobilise rescue services? Always carry phone numbers for your embassy, evacuation services and your health 
  • Gather information. Pay close attention to the overall local situation and also to the research issue you are working on. Make relationships, ask how things are daily. It can be useful for your research but is also important in terms of understanding when the security situation might change.
  • When the different ‘risks’ come together, small problems can become big ones. An infection from a leech bite is annoying unless you find that you need to walk for several days to evacuate your field site, or you get another problem (stomach bug). Then the infection can be life threatening. Your immune system can drop quickly when exposed to multiple pressures. Mitigation: be vigilant with hygiene, treat all problems seriously and avoid putting too much pressure on yourself on a day-to-day basis.
  • Transportationis often significantly safer if you spend more money or travel with others. Consider what options you have and balance that with the impression you give local respondents. Don’t be afraid to ask drivers to slow down or get out and find another mode of transportation if possible. Drivers and others sharing a bus/taxi with you have their own social lives and political connections, which can affect your work, safety and how others see your political positioning (see Ingrid’s article in Area about this).
  • Be transparent with your research goals. Let local people who are not necessarily participants know what you are doing. Make sure you have a solid and reliable network of people who believe in what you are doing. This can help if things suddenly shift and you find yourself subject to suspicion. 
  • Always leave yourself amarginto cope with the unexpected! Whether that is the timing of leaving field sites, the number of hours you work a day (avoid exhaustion), back-ups of your data, extra chargers for your phone, extra pair of eye glasses (!), extra medicines you do not expect to use.
  • Bring what you need. Music, a diary, a yoga mat, chocolate, a sleeping bag, a large towel, or extra phone credit to call abroad/surf the net are all good examples of things that can help keep your mental and physical health strong. Do not be afraid to have a few ‘home comforts’ with you.
  • Think through alternatives to your ‘dream’ project. If you cannot get the data you need, what other questions or data sources are available? 

The unexpected

Most research projects have to be changed or redesigned because of unexpected events. This could be what you are facing now. This should not be cause for panic. Rather, this is the moment when you revisit your research goals, theoretical interests, and think creatively about what you have and how to fill data gaps. This is one reason why a good research design to begin with is so important. It is the foundation from which you can rethink the project as needed and the initial process teaches you how to do so. If you do not have a good research design now, or if your project has changed dramatically due to the coronavirus, then take this opportunity to draft one.

  • Think through your research goals, which ones need to be dropped? Does dropping them make the work too ‘thin’? If so, can you add new goals that do not require your presence in a field site? (see c.)
  • Take stock of what data you have gathered. What story is emerging? Are there obvious gaps? How can you fill them?
  • What can you find out remotely? Can you ask go on-line is it possible someone locally is in the position to collect data for you? Can you use archives? Do you need to ask a historically or policy driven question in order to fill out an ethnographic study that was cut short?
  • Can you write down some of your experiences and lessons learned thus far in terms of ‘the conduct of research’ (methods)? Might you have a compelling story that could turn into an article or chapter that would be useful to others?

Another interesting resource on fieldwork in pandemics from Deborah Lupton can be found here:

At the end of the document we share stories of how some of the WEGO mentors have approached their  research and how they faced the unexpected

II Building a WEGO on-line community practice – towards post Corona times

No doubt many of you belong to networks that are circulating inspiring ideas and stories of how people are coming together in solidarity to share, comfort and work together in these difficult times. We would like to encourage such inspiring sharing among WEGO as well, creating a collaborative WEGO space.

In this space we can share how COVID-19 is impacting our different worlds and help build an intersectional ‘FPE’ response linked to other conversations in which we are participating. The mentors group on Whats App has been sharing YouTube clips on teachers surviving doing on-line classes, poetry and our concerns about how to build practices of care among students and teachers among WEGO.

While we have our two WhatsApp groups, and our somewhat clumsy Mycelium space, it seems important at this moment to create one shared space where we can exchange insights and reflections and build up our responses and ways of coping.

For example, the CERN listserv has been sharing many interesting ideas and articles on community ways of coping and learning to care differently in these dark times. Some readings (a few have been shared already on the What’s App):

See also Ethics of Precaution: Individual and Systemic Risk

Many of these writings centre around thinking positively about these times of uncertainty asking questions about “To what kind of world is going to emerge from this crisis? How will we have changed, individually and collectively?” Crisis creates change, and so this is an extraordinary  time for imagining and advocating for socio-economic and ecological change. WEGO can help make the links between the Corona crisis and broader socio, environmental and political-economic situation and how to turn this time into one where we can apply our intersectional analysis in ways that can work for positive, sustainable and equitable change. For example, how to can we radically degrow;  put systems in place that address economic distribution; regenerative agriculture; change in consumption and travel; how to move towards governance that can prevent and deal with shocks and pandemics, etc. 

It is important (and inspiring) to discuss these bigger political questions around justice and equality, care and commoning, and embodied political ecologies that interest many of us at a deep level. It will could be that you can build from this discussion,  how your topic of research is affected by the crisis, and how you find insights in FPE that can produce a caring and ecologically just response could transform the situation. Making the current crisis part of their research can help you to deal with it. 

In order to set up the space to do this, we will explore (again) how to set up a listserv perhaps using a gmail account so we can share our ideas there as well as the more spontaneous Whats App groups and our weekly zoom meeting.

We will set up a regular weekly Zoom on Thursdays (making sure it can work in all time zones) where anyone (hopefully many of us) from the WEGO network can  join in for a quick catch up. We want this space to be somewhere to share concerns, express anxieties and difficulties, while also discuss plan B for your research, and reflect on the situation more broadly, building on our intellectual strengths. 

Be reassured that delays and adjustments to the research plans are understandable, and that at this point of the epidemic we are all “digesting” what is happening and try to adapt to it in different temporalities. You can and should put your health, security and well being as a priority. This will mean you will work less intensely while you are taking care of yourself and others. While we are all living in different circumstances we hope WEGO will continue to build a community where we can listen, share and support each other. 

The Mentors – including Sharmini – will all be working in this period as best we can – we are privileged that most of us have salaried jobs – let us make the most of it! We hope you found this useful and we look forward to continuing the conversation.

 III The principles guiding the changes to WEGO PhD projects
  • WEGO’s priority is that all the students are safe and well and feel secure.
  • WEGO will go slow mindful of the collective grief and emotions we are all feeling.
  • Changes to the PhD project will come through a series of consultations among PhDs, mentors and partners involved in each of the 15 projects.
  • WEGO will aim to build a community of care and support through weekly meetings and on-line training lab in June in 2020.
  • WEGO has appointed an ombudsperson Dr Ana Agostino who is available for consultation for all members of the WEGO project providing advice in relation to complications and conflicts that might occur with mentor(s), supervision,  personal conflict, etc.
IV How Mentors have experienced uncertainty and change in their field work:
Ingrid Nelson photo

Ingrid

I was definitely feeling anxiety during my PhD when my field site ended up being a focal point of a regional cholera epidemic in 2010. I had wonderful hosts in Mozambique keeping an eye on me and ensuring my safety…but about half the village insisted I was purposely giving them cholera with a white powder (these kinds of rumors have a long history in Mozambique and beyond…there are several books and articles about this, which have offered political and class-based analyses among others…I’m writing about more place-based aspects). The situation in rural Mozambique became so serious that several local leaders were lynched (burning tires around their necks). A local friend escorted me out of the village on our motorcycles just a few hours before a group of people had intended the same for me…these situations are rare, but they do happen. Thankfully, before I arrived in my research sites, I had read about the long history of rumors tied to health and development interventions and to the legacy of colonial upheaval of local lives in this specific region. These readings informed my contingency planning and communications with local support offices and the local hospital staff during the epidemic. These connections were helpful for keeping communication open and finding different ways to bridge the mistrust between local residents and health workers who were also being attacked in other areas. I also have some reflections on the social connections of drivers in rural areas and other field notes in an article in Area (2013). Area has some really interesting articles on fieldwork, power and transforming our practices. I especially recommend work by Martina Caretta and her colleagues https://martinaangelacarettaphd.com/publications/) and Sofia Zaragocin (see her on Twitter here and check out her Google Scholar profile: https://twitter.com/sofiazaragocin?lang=en). 


andrea nightingale photo

Andrea

During my PhD work in rural Nepal I was ill about 50% of the time with colds, flu and stomach problems. It radically curtailed my energy for the fieldwork I had planned. I coped with the situation by hiring some young students in the village to conduct a survey for me. Then I did not have to run around to every house. My ex-husband was with me and he led the forest vegetation survey. I tried to ensure I participated in 10% of the plots, but I would have had to abandon that part of the work if he had not been there. 

I also regularly face dangers with transportation. Road travel in Nepal is very dangerous so a huge part of our fieldwork budget is travel. We walk, use private jeeps, planes and helicopters. Some times of the year we cannot travel to our fieldsites because the risks are too great. When I was younger, I used to walk alone for 2 days into my field site. That now seems suicidal. Even if you don’t need a local assistant, hire one anyway for companionship and to avoid travelling alone. If you do not have funds to pay someone, you can often find a Masters student who is keen to get some training and experience. Treat it as an exchange. Offer to help them with their English, etc. 

My recent work has been on conflict and political transition. This has required constant adjustment. We have struggled with how to ask the right kinds of questions that do not change every time the political situation shifted (which it did between each of our field work periods). We had to change field locations several times due to the security situation. It was important that we theorised carefully what we were interested in so that the change in the empirical situation actually provided data for those questions rather than making us feel we were doing the wrong kind of project. For example, initially we asked what people thought ‘new Nepal’ was, but when the hope and possibilities of the revolution very quickly wore off, we had to rethink what we thought was important about political change. When we began framing our questions around the relationships between authority and political subjectivities, then the shifts from ‘new Nepal’ to ‘corrupt Nepal’ helped us to better understand that relationship.


Rebecca Elmhirst photo

Becky

It feels like a lifetime ago but I was doing PhD research in a difficult-to-reach rural area of Lampung, Indonesia. Roads were poor and I was reliant on public transport. On the way back to the field after a break with friends I was badly injured in a road accident. I had made various arrangements through my risk assessment about what would happen in that eventuality and was really glad to have done that – it meant I had a clear plan in place that just meant making some calls. A good local support network is vital. Even as I was lying in hospital, my main worry was my data (or lack of it). Looking back, that seems very upside down, but I’m sure this is quite common. I was even thinking about how a plaster cast would hold up in the rainy season! It was clear that I was going to have to completely change my research design and approach. The abrupt change to my plans were unsettling but it also meant I dug into some secondary data that I hadn’t even considered before, and ironically, this began my journey into political ecology when I saw the disconnect between peoples’ experiences and the development planning documents, not to mention highhanded statements in policy documentation and iterations from the powerful in newsmedia discourses. This became a major part of my study, and the limited fieldwork I had done could be woven into a new pattern of understanding. Time alone knitting (I found it hard to concentrate on academic articles for a while) actually became deep thought time and gave me tools for reflexive theory building afterwards, some of which I’ve tried to hold onto over the years. 


Panagiota

Doing research in rural Mekong Delta, Vietnam for my PhD proved more challenging than I thought it would be. I had to submit a complete research plan (who to interview with what questions) to the Vietnamese authorities, before I even entered the field. The extreme bureaucracy and state control of any communications with researchers (and especially foreigners) forced me to put together very rigid research plans. Despite the obvious limitations of this (not allowing a more open project together with local organizations and networks), it helped me break down my work in phases (having to ask for new permissions every 3 months) and re-evaluate while planning each phase what is it I know and what I still need to find out in order to answer as best as possible my research questions. Think of disruptions in your research as breaks to evaluate this. 


Sergio

I did fieldwork in Spain for my PhD, so no imminent particular ‘risks’, but maybe for that reason, lots of inefficiencies. I drove around the region of Aragon for several weeks interviewing people from 50 different villages. Each new piece of information raised new questions and questioned previous assumptions. Instead of going with it and focus on the story I wanted to tell, and tried to fill gaps as they emerged and that was endless. I never used 100% of the data I collected. In Northern Mexico, Yaqui community, it was the opposite situation. It was a bad time for me to be there for a number of reasons (conflicts with the government) so I had to revise my data collection plans. The traditional authorities would talk to me 1 out of every 3 appointments (I guess they wanted to test on which side I was) and I had a very short window of time to interview community members (always with “Pancho” the local escort I was assigned). No chance of ethnographic work. This forced me to be very efficient in the questions I wanted to ask. In the end I mostly filled gaps of understanding to have a good storyline. I filled details, explored alternative hypotheses and dressed the story line later, with secondary data and previous studies. The paper was not perfect but good enough. A good (published!) start. 


Giovanna

In my own environmental justice work, I am always forced (called in/called out) to face my own research practices as a privileged white woman working together with marginalized communities of color.  I have been profoundly influenced by my own mentor, Donna Haraway, in terms of how we engage with particular languages, knowledges, theories, stories.  As Donna puts it, “It matters what stories tell stories; it matters whose stories tell stories.” 

Field notes: resilient leadership in times of crisis

Field Notes —

What ‘resilient leadership in times of crisis’ means

Our communities can lead, but their challenges are critical

Island and coastal communities, and the people who care about them near and far, must pull together right now.

Tourism and lobstering, our key economic drivers, are in peril. The islands and coast rely on an annual influx of $4 billion in tourism revenue, earned primarily between June and September. If the pandemic runs its course through October, as some models predict, the financial stability of many families will evaporate.

For the $1 billion lobster industry, national markets and key export countries are struggling, so demand has evaporated. The pandemic has driven lobster prices through the floor, below $3 per pound at the boat. At that price, it doesn’t make sense for fishermen to take their boat off its mooring.

In the midst of this turmoil, North Haven island has garnered national and international press attention by the decision of its board of selectmen to ban non-residents from coming to the island.

One reaction to North Haven’s move is sympathy, with some seeing it as consistent with nations closing borders and enforcing social distancing measures. And so it is not surprising the island community would implement its own measures to accomplish what others are trying to do on an international scale.

But community is experienced personally and specifically, not in the abstractions of pandemic and international politics. At a personal level, North Haven’s decision has amplified concerns among a large number of people who consider Maine home, but are not residents. For seasonal residents who thought they were neighbors and friends, the move to close off the island may seem like distrust and animosity, and could have a long-term detrimental impact on the community’s social fabric. Many who care about the Maine coast, but live elsewhere, are asking if they are still considered a part of the communities they love.

Many of the educational, social, and cultural institutions in island and coastal communities exist because of a partnership between residents who lead local initiatives and the generosity of seasonal residents. Decisions that amplify the “from here, from away” divide undermine the social fabric that has allowed Maine’s island and coastal communities to become guiding lights nationally and internationally for how to live sustainably.

There are good reasons why Maine coastal communities are struggling with responding to those who might come to Maine to wait out the pandemic. Maine’s island communities are at great risk during this pandemic because of the age of their populations. Maine’s island communities have a median age of 48; Maine’s median age is 44.6, making it the nation’s oldest; and the U.S. has a median age of 37.9.

The islands are vulnerable, since the virus has a disproportionate impact on seniors. These are communities of between 50 and 1,200 people with little or no capacity to deal with medical emergencies.

In this context, the concerns expressed by North Haven municipal leaders are understandable, but the message still hurts.

All across Maine, small isolated communities are struggling with how to care for people. When we look to the islands more broadly, we find a more educational and conversational tone during this stressful time. It can be summarized as follows:

Please consider the risk you would expose our community to by coming here. Our community has an aging population that is already difficult to care for, and our resources are stretched. We don’t have the ability to help care for you if you get sick. You will have to go to the mainland. It would be a great help to us if you stayed where you are right now. We appreciate you, and we look forward to seeing you when the pandemic passes.

A robust series of conversations are taking place across the coast as the pandemic worsens. The Island Institute is helping to facilitate these discussions.

Resilient leadership in times of crisis requires generosity and caring, networking, asking for and offering support, and staying informed. Leadership also requires recognizing that island and coastal communities exist in reciprocal relationships with each other. The long-term relationships between island and coastal residents—and those who care about the Maine coast more broadly—are of critical concern, because this will not be the last crisis Maine’s island and coastal communities face.

It is important that we pull together, rather than create divides. Our actions today will speak volumes on how we interact with each other the next time we need the care and support of our neighbors.


Additional information and resources

State reacts to coronavirus challenges with emergency legislation

Island Institute coronavirus resource page


* Island Institute is a partner institute in the WEGO-ITN consortium

A school for climate activists

Report
Life Vs capital: Understanding the crisis, changing the world. 

Life vs Capital was the first training school for climate strikers held in Naples, Italy on October 2-4, 2019.

The School was organized by the partnership of Fridays for Future Naples(FFF) and Ecologie Politiche del Presente(EPP) with funding from Guerrilla Foundation, right before the start of the second national assembly of Fridays for Future Italy in Naples. The school provided the space for horizontal learning through the exploration of theoretical perspectives and analytical tools on issues concerning climate change, urban social and environmental justice movements, decoloniality, education and pedagogy, energy transition, feminisms and commoning for students and climate strikers. The school saw the participation of high school and university students from many cities in Italy, with an average participation of 100 people at each workshop. The school for climate strikers has been crucial for the strengthening of networks across Italian students’ collectives, seeing the sprouting of more Political Ecology self-organized groups and Fridays for Future nodes in different cities. 

The training school for climate activists in Naples aimed to raise awareness among students around issues of climate change while emphasizing a critical analysis towards aspects of education, sexism, capitalism and the development model based upon the exploitation of specific subjectivities and territories to gain profit. Climate change, the pressing degradation of ecosystems and the 6thmass extinction are expressions of XXI century’s class conflict, moreover, they are all aspects reflecting the incompatibility of capitalism with life reproduction. 

The school has been inspired by the Zapatistas “ConCiencias por la Humanidad”, where we strived to approach environmental education via non-hierarchical and non—frontal pedagogy. We have experienced the importance of continuing the quest for alternative methodologies in approaching students and strikers on topics that demand a transversal strategy in order to account for the complexity of the topics. It emerged that even if media and educational systems do not represent properly the complexity, students are gaining consciousness around the four interrelated mechanisms of oppression through which capitalism keeps its global control: class, gender, race and species. Students have shared the need for alternative educational systems and methods in order to acknowledge that Extinction Capitalism is simultaneously classist, patriarchal, colonial and speciesist. The school aimed at casting a light on the interlinkages and interdisciplinary tools to build intersectional alliances to deal with all aspects of oppression and to avoid authoritarian drifts that can manifest during a state of emergency. 

Programme

Workshop 1: Changing the School to Change the System 
Moderators: Monica Capo (FFF) & Nicola Capone (EPP)
Speakers: Vincenzo Mautone (student, UniOr) – Laura Saffiotti (teacher, liceo scientifico Mercalli) – Luca Malgioglio (teacher, Teachers for Future) 

Workshop 2: Climate Crisis and Energy Sources: from Emergency to Alternatives
Moderators: Stefania Barca (EPP) e Sergio Marchese (FFF Milano)
Speakers: Cristina Mangia (researcher, ISAC CNR) – Dario Minervini (researcher,Università Federico II di Napoli) Gianluca Ruggieri (researcher, Università dell’Insubria).
Interventions: Coordinamento Fuori dal Fossile; Re: Common; Mamme No Tap; Civiltà del Sole Campania

Workshop 3: Decolonial Perspectives on Earth-Body-Territory: Struggles against extractivism and for eco-autonomy 
Moderators: Ilenia Iengo (EPP) and Miriam Corongiu (FFF)
Speakers: Maura Peca (researcher at Centro Studi Indipendente sui conflitti ambientali CDCA, Rome) – Antonello Petrillo (Professor, UniSob Naples) – Giuseppe Orlandini (PhD student, UniOr Napoli) – Isabelle Anguelowski (Professor, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona)
Interventions: Non Una di Meno Naples; Stop Biocidio; Rete di Cittadinanza e Comunità; Cittadini e Lavoratori Liberi e Pensanti Taranto

Workshop 4: Feminisms and Commoning: the seeds of new alliances
Moderators: Virginia Papaleo (FFF) and Roberto Sciarelli (EPP)
Speakers: Federica Giardini (Professor at Università Roma Tre) – Ilenia Iengo (PhD student at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona) – Salvo Torre (Professor at Università di Catania) 
Interventions: Rete Jin Naples – Non Una di Meno Naples – Rete Beni Comuni

Workshop 5: Occupy Climate Change! Climate Emergency and Urban Social Movements
Moderators: Marco Armiero (EPP) and Gilda Berruti (OCC!)
Speakers: Salvatore Paolo de Rosa (researcher at KTH Stockholm) – Ashley Dawson (Professor at City University of New York) – Lise Sedrez (professor at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) – Federica Palestino (Professor at Federico II University)
Interventions: Legambiente Naples – Comitato No Grandi Navi Venezia – Nuova Cooperazione Organizzata

Open Debate: No Borders: Alliances for Climate Justice 
Moderator:Salvo Torre (University of Catania)
Interventions: Marco Armiero (KTH Stockholm) – Stefania Barca (CES, University of Coimbra) – Miriam Tola (University of Lausanne) – Gennaro Avallone (University of Salerno)


LIFE vs CAPITAL: Presentazione della scuola di formazione
Life vs Capital è la prima scuola di formazione per climate strikers che si tiene a Napoli dal 2 al 4 ottobre 2019, precedentemente alla seconda assemblea na…

LIFE vs CAPITAL: “Decolonizzare la terra/corpo/territorio. Lotte anti-estrative”
Life vs Capital è la prima scuola di formazione per climate strikers che si tiene a Napoli dal 2 al 4 ottobre 2019, precedentemente alla seconda assemblea na…
LIFE vs CAPITAL: “Decolonizzare la terra/corpo/territorio. Lotte anti-estrattive”
Life vs Capital è la prima scuola di formazione per climate strikers che si tiene a Napoli dal 2 al 4 ottobre 2019, precedentemente alla seconda assemblea na…

LIFE vs CAPITAL: “Femminismi e lotte per il comune: terreni per nuove alleanze”

Life vs Capital è la prima scuola di formazione per climate strikers che si tiene a Napoli dal 2 al 4 ottobre 2019, precedentemente alla seconda assemblea na…

Feminist entanglements of care

Thinking with care does not mean romanticizing, idealizing isolated stories. On the contrary, it means taking seriously the troubled dynamics and relations that shape our everyday life, our bodies, and our worlds, paying attention to what, who and whose knowledge is cared for or neglected. Care means constantly being aware of our positionality and situated way of knowing (as white, western, well-educated women) but allows us to consider alliances for more just and equitable socionatural worlds.

We share below how our time together in India in February inspired us to disentangle some of the “threads of care” that shape how we think and conduct research as feminist political ecologists.

 A long train journey from Pune to Chennai

feminist entanglements of care
Irene and Wendy on the Chennai Express, 22 hours train journey from Pune to Chennai

 Two of us, mentor and student of the WEGO network,  are sitting on the Chennai Express: twenty-two hours from Pune to Chennai: from sunset in Pune, through a night filled with loud snoring, to a bright sunrise, a few thousand kilometres further south in India. Our attention keeps swinging between the outside world and the aisle. Dozens of servicemen are continuously passing by to sell chai [Indian tea], coffee, rothi [Indian bread], snacks, pani bottles [water bottles], and more. They walk by in a perennial rush. Every time we want a chai we try often in vein to attract their attention. Indian passengers are heard right away. What are we doing wrong? How does what we want get so lost in translation? We are reminded of art of noticing, of listening, of learning how to share, how to ask, how to communicate – patiently, humbly, carefully. 

Outside the cabin window, we watch India roll by: the immense extensions of bare and cultivated land. We marvel at the nuances of green and yellow, the fruit trees, rock formations, palms, groups of houses and temples, construction workers under the harsh sun, children playing next to the rails, women farmers bending over rice paddies. Are they weeding? Are they harvesting? What are their stories? Why do we care about their stories? Why do we care for the places they inhabit? What as visitors can we understand? 

The train journey through India helps us to reflect on how caring about others, about what life offers or does not to others, shapes how we think as feminist political ecologists. 

The art of noticing and doing: guerrilla gardening

feminist entanglements of care
Irene with Varsha, a woman farmer and friend in the village where she is conducting research

My brief time in India in February 2020 was a moment to practice the art of noticing how care was entangled in transnational feminist connections that wove in and out of visceral sensations, sights, colours and smells as I travelled through others’ lives and places. My journey was one of privilege, paid for by EU funds, and being cared for by members of the WEGO research network. People were caring about how and where I slept, how I would move from place to place, what I ate, what I drank, what I wanted to see. As an invited (self-funded) visitor to academic or activist institutions you are not quite a tourist. You build on histories representing ideas and possibilities. You are invited to fit into peoples’ lives, as you join momentarily a community of scholars/ feminists/ activists. Your aim is to find ways to resonate with others’ experiences as you collectively seek to go beyond the differences, look for the connections and to assess what knowledge exchange is possible. Words and names are used like signals. It is an elaborate pattern of building transnational meanings, one I have engaged in for many years. The entanglement of political hopes, shared experiences and analysis of what is possible means caring, on multiple levels. The sense of pleasure in finding that we do care even if we only meet for that moment, is always eerily comforting, as albeit  the differences in culture, language and the everyday is also very present.

My reason for this trip was to learn from and have a glimpse of how Irene and Enid, two of the WEGO PhDs were experiencing their time in India. Their care for me and others around them made the trip possible. From lecture halls in leafy universities, we spent time enjoying the beauty of ancient trees, centuries-old temples, choosing food to cook together, visiting local cooperatives and sharing the wonder of sunsets and moon-lit skies. We spoke about care for more than human others, as we watched the two stray dogs that lived in the grounds of Enid’s building, and decided to do some hands on care-work: cleaning the ground of rubbish and putting in some (resilient) plants in front of Enid’s apartment.  

feminist entanglements of care
At the organic farmer market in Chennai

We began our guerrilla gardening in the cool of the morning.  Wearing closed shoes and long jeans to avoid thorns, and the snakes or whatever was in those weeds, we set to work. We removed a lot of plastic, glass and old paper and other unidentifiable man-made waste. In the afternoon we located a nearby nursery run by a woman who was growing edible and medicinal plants for well-being in her family farm outside of Chennai. We bought what we could carry back, along with a bag of cow dung. The evening task was digging and spreading the dung and planting different herbs, creepers and aloe vera around the older thirsty trees, on the now cleaned ground. We placed a ring of stones around each tiny plant. As the evening shadows spread, we watered the plants, and stepped back to see the fruits of our care in practice.

Wendy Harcourt, January 2020

Feminise politics now! Report from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung

This free-to-download report entitled ‘Feminise Politics Now’ looks at how we can make organisations more democratic and more inclusive in practice.

In particular it looks at the experiences of activists in six cities from a municipalist perspective and proposes a toolkit of measures to overcome the obstacles they encountered.

The report is written by Laura Roth, Irene Zugasti Hervas and Alejandra de Diego Backer. It is published by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Feminist communitarian organization in times of femicides. Insights from the second international encounter of women who fight

From the 26th to the 29th of December 2019, the “Segundo encuentro internacional de mujeres que luchan” (Second International Encounter of Women who Fight) took place in the territory/community of “Los Zapatistas” in Chiapas Mexico. This community that emerged in the very geopolitical south of Mexico has been organizing since 1994 against the wrong decisions of the Mexican government. In doing so, this community has pointed out the need to frame these wrong decisions in the complexity of a world-system built under the premises of colonialism, capitalism, eurocentrism, modernity, and, patriarchalism. In this same line, they urge us to understand that patterns of power such as racism, classism, sex-gender inequalities, an unequal division of labour, and conquest of nature are the result and expressions of this complex world-system.  

In this context, two years ago the Zapatistas women decided to launch, for the first time, an international call to build up a network among different women coming from different geopolitical places. The purpose of this was to get organized and strategically fight together against the inequalities we, as women, experience in our everyday lives. This year, the encounter started with different workshops, but from the very first day, one of them particularly caught participant’s attention. The topic of this workshop was violence. The main idea of this space was to share in public the ways we, as women, have experienced violence in our daily life, to then categorize the kinds of violences we are most exposed to and come up with alternatives to face, address and tackle them. However, the workshop lasted at least 15 hours. I was totally shocked by the number of women telling their terrifying experiences. It was also completely bleak, because I can assure that on average around 85% of the participants who told their stories were women of colour and from the south (mostly Latins). This figure is not because we are talking about Mexico, a Latin country, as the workshop was attended by people from at least 40 nationalities. 

After several hours of listening and understanding the issue of violence, our bodies were tired and our minds were exhausted, but our task was to listen to everyone, to lend a hand, and support each other. We were sure about something: we are going through a moment in life in which what governs is a neoliberal feminist narrative. Yes, women can vote, women can achieve better jobs, they can compete against men and win, but back home, everything changes. On that journey, women cannot go back home without fear. Fear of being kidnapped, of suffering from sexual harassment, or something worse, of being murdered. There are great battles won by feminists in some public and private institutions, but in our daily lives, the government and men continue to kill us, in the streets, in the school, in our own houses. And although this is an international issue, there is no justice, nor laws that protect us. Femicide is reduced only to figures, and in this world of numbers, life is worthless. In Mexico, at least 9 women are killed every day just for being female[1], meaning that these murders are a sex-based hate crime. And they always go unpunished, there is never a culprit and there are never answers for these types of murders. They only fill the shelves and archives of the courts.The greatest consolation to this is that the feminist struggle continues and although it gets harder every day, we know that the anger we feel will make us foster new changes.

 Puuff… the encounter was more than sadness and bitter moments. There were other more hopeful workshops, in which the importance of recreation, self-care and self-defense were the order of the day. Workshops on poetry, art, dance, and culture were spaces in which we felt safe, respecting, listening, and understanding each other.We discussed the importance of readjusting care work processes in our daily lives, reconfiguring our role as women taking and recovering any social space, and building up strategies to foster new ways of doing economics, where our bodies, nature, and life are not commodified. Nature was always the main actor in all discussions, our bodies as territories and the defense of the mother earth in times of an epistemological and ecological crisis. 

During three days of sharing our experiences and commitment to readjust this world full of injustices, we promised to keep on reflecting everything that was discussed there, and spread the word with other women who could not attend and come up with new imaginaries to solve our daily struggles in a communitarian organization. The next meeting is in December 2020 where we will not only listen, combine, and share experiences but also assume the role of participants who come with proposals for a better life. 

Para un buen vivir, de los sujetos, de la naturaleza, y de la naturaleza con los sujetos. 


[1]Esquivel, K. (2018). 9 women are murdered in Mexico every day. Retrieved from: https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/9-murdered-everyday.

Starting the other way round? Reflections on my PhD journey

Within WEGO, I am enrolled as a non-resident PhD at ISS in The Hague while being based in Rome. The virtue of starting my PhD journey moving to the country where I will also carry out my research – Italy – is that since the very beginning, I had the chance to immerse myself into the “field”, that is to explore what is happening in the agroecological networks I want to work with. Parallel to engaging with the theory of academic literature I consider relevant to my topic on feminist political agroecologies, I could already get a glimpse of how these visions, debates and practices are taking place on the ground in Italy by participating in meetings and assemblies about self-organisation, food sovereignty, social and ecological justice in urban and rural territories, solidarity and alliance-building from below and beyond borders but also discussions around social reproduction, care and gender relations within these networks. 

“I could already get a glimpse of how
these visions, debates and practices are
taking place on the ground in Italy”

At the same time, seeing the theories and practices of feminist political ecology merge so tangibly I also came to understand how this seeing has shaped my very own-personal-positioned-situated self and meaning-making of “reality”. Now, feeling that everything is interconnected and that there are endless theoretical and methodological possibilities of approaching a topic and so many projects, initiatives and people whose stories are all worth telling, how to disentangle these complexities, select what, how and (with) who(m) to focus on and bring them into coherent pieces of academic writing? 

Women’s group sharing experiences and discussions around care-full ways of being and working together at ‘Terra e libertà’ (Land and Freedom), Fuorimercato’s national assembly on social and environmental justice in Puglia, October 2019.

I sometimes wonder how it would have been had I started my PhD elaborating the theoretical framework and research questions on a university desktop far away from the “object” and “subjects” of my research and then only set off to do my “fieldwork”, as had been my previous experience in academia. Maybe being more detached, also geographically, would have made the writing part of my proposal more easy and straightforward. And yet, I wouldn’t want to miss the observations and impressions I now have already gained moving in these networks in Italy which have given me a strong feeling that the questions I want to ask are relevant for the people I will work with. 

“I sometimes wonder how it would have been had I
started my PhD … on a university desktop far away from
the “object” and “subjects” of my research”

Reflecting back, a substantial part of my journey with WEGO so far has been about un-learning and re-learning what research can also be – a process of co-learning from the people and places we engage with, a ‘diálogo de saberes’ (‘dialogue of knowledges’) which does not aspire to be objective, impersonal or complete. I can only be grateful to be part of such an amazing research network. Nonetheless, what I have missed is the everyday exchange with other PhD peers and the encouraging working environment at the university, which is why I now came to ISS for a few months to concentrate on refining my proposal before officially starting my “fieldwork” with the actual “workers of the fields” in Italy who are cultivating fertile territories of resistant agricultures.

For the next months I look forward to an inspiring sharing of ideas within the Dutch WEGO network of mentors and PhD’s and the upcoming “Shut-Up and Write” sessions with fellow PhD students at ISS!

Anna Katharina Voss
4 March, 2020

Me participating in the working group on political ecology at food sovereignty network Genuino Clandestino’s annual spring meeting in Abruzzo, April 2019. (Retrieved from CDCA Abruzzo – Centro Documentazione sui Conflitti Ambientali, https://m.facebook.com/abruzzocdca/photos/pcb.2362257697390197/2362249890724311).

#EachforEqual: international women’s day 2020

International Women’s Day 2020 will be celebrated on March 8th.

With the hashtag #EachforEqual, the campaign for 2020 is focusing on a gender equal world. 

The IWD 2020 campaign emphasises the idea of collective individualism. As individuals we are responsible for our own thoughts and actions, but we are also part of a whole where our individual actions impact broader society. 

The #EachforEqual campaign runs all year and provides a unified direction to guide and galvanise collective action.