Reflections from the Degrowth Conference – Part 2

This is the continuation of the first part of the Reflections.

The set-up of the first 3 days meant that we had many parallel sessions taking place, many of them online, or here and there at the different venues in The Hague (with limited places due to Covid-19 restrictions) which initially felt, to me at least, that the conference was all a bit scattered and hard to grasp in its completeness. Especially as I and many others of the organising team were still busy working behind the scenes and problem-solving issues like speakers not having registered on time or cancelling last minute, providing IT support for the online sessions, preparing the plenaries etc. – all dealings that come with organising a hybrid international event. Whereas during the last 2 days it all seemed to come together, and I felt that I could finally engage more deeply with the actual content of our conference. For those of us who were in town in person, this was also a moment to all gather numerously at a central location. These last 2 days concentrated many of the key conversation plenaries as well as the closing session, all of them taking place at cultural venue PAARD in The Hague and being livestreamed with some speakers joining online. The plenaries’ themes and speakers were as diverse as the overall sessions and activities within the 8 thematic key conversations, and featured truly inspiring voices and stories from many different parts of the world. As a culmination of the key conversations on FPE and Decoloniality, WEGO organised the corresponding plenary sessions. ‘Decoloniality and Degrowth: Resonating and Listening’ hosted by Chizu Sato invited us to think-feel beyond Western academic forms of knowing and experience decolonial and anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal ways of being-in-common by cultivating active listening. Listening to the knowledges inherited in stories, music, art, oral traditions and other-wise practices of inhabiting territories and cultures as a first step to really face and counter the continuing structural and cultural effects of colonialism. 

Chizu Sato hosting the Decoloniality plenary during which we were also delighted with a musical performance by speaker Max de Ploe and Mame N’Diack. Photos by Anna Voss

‘Feminist Political Ecology Perspectives on Degrowth’ was a dialogue between WEGO mentors Giovanna Di Chiro, Stefania Barca and Seema Kulkarni about their work on environmental and climate justice, gender, care and degrowth conceptually and in situated communities in the US, Brazil and India. Facilitated by Panagiota Kotsila and Ilienia Iengo we listened to them conversing about the importance of engaging carefully with communities their territories conflicted by ecological exploitation. As a core theme in FPE, this also means understanding how culture and gender roles shape these communities and to decolonise our ways of creating kinship to avoid patronising the land and its people as we strive to build solidarity connections – in Giovanna’s words, “to indigenise ourselves”. Bodies, territories, care and human and more-than-human wellbeing are intrinsically intertwined and our plenary gave a glimpse of how a FPE perspective can help embed these concepts within degrowth scholarship and activism on the ground. After our plenary I had several participants at PAARD approach me saying they were deeply appreciative of the insights they had gotten from the discussion – a welcomed feedback to realise that we had offered the audience inspiring food for further thought.

The FPE plenary with Wendy Harcourt and Anna Voss on stage in The Hague, and Panagiota Kotsila and Ilenia Iengo facilitating the debate online with our speakers Giovanna Di Chiro, Stefania Barca and Seema Kulkarni while sketcher Carlotta Cataldi was graphically capturing the discussion in her live-drawing. Photo by Irene Leonardelli

Finally, the grand finale of the closing plenary provided each of the 8 thematic streams a moment to reflect on the themes that had emerged during the past days as well as to look forward, asking the question of “Where do we go from here?”.

For the FPE key conversation Irene Leonardelli pointedly resumed why we need a feminist degrowth movement:

“Because a movement for social and environmental needs to include diversities: diversities of gender, race, class, ableism, and sexual identities; and these diversities need to be included in meaningful ways. Because including these diversities is the only way to counteract and dismiss the colonial and oppressive and exclusive continuities of our consumption patterns. Because a limit-full desirable inclusive future has to be shaped on reciprocity and responsibilities, to care for one another and for the planet that we are all part of. 

In this regard, the FPE Key Conversation also stressed the importance of learning from communities that are already practicing degrowth, communities, movements, collectives (and we heard many stories and experiences during the past days) that refuse to align themselves to the logic of capitalism and growth and of centralized oppressive market-oriented states; communities that are fighting every day for environmental and social justice, or more simply for their own well-being and survival on earth.”

Wendy Harcourt, Irene Leonardelli and Enid Still at the conference’s closing plenary. Picture by John Akerman Özgüç

Back in 2018, at the 6th International Degrowth Conference in Malmö, the Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA) was launched to shape the degrowth movement from within. I believe it’s fair to say that through WEGO’s engagement we ensured that feminist and decolonial thinking and doing was embedded as a fundamental approach throughout our conference weaving through many of the discussion and other key conversations as well. Nonetheless this is an ongoing process in-the-making which requires us to continuously and critically question both our political visions and everyday doings as we try to give meaning to the idea of caring communities and the radical change they can bring about.  

Speaking on behalf of the Decoloniality key conversation, Enid Still gave a very nuanced reflection on the importance but also challenges that come with diversifying the degrowth movement:

“We think there needs to be a deeper engagement with colonial histories not just theoretically but materially, which means tackling questions of reparations and mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, as well as challenging the sustained silencing of these histories and epistemologies from the south in pedagogic practice. This involves engaging with existing and ongoing work, particularly from scholars, activists and artists in the global south, on how global economic structures are deeply racialised and colonial. A sustained engagement in this way, will help the movement to better understand how the hegemonic way of living and being – capitalist, white, hetero-patriarchial, ablest – takes away space and possibility for other ways of being and living. 

 However, we also want to bring a practice of caution to the use of terms like care and decoloniality, particularly in spaces of white privilege. We need to question what actions the use of these concepts actually entail and what happens when these terms are used within forms of self-representation? Reflexivity is important here but is it enough? To avoid appropriation, co-option and paying lip-service to the important thinking and praxis of decoloniality, perhaps it’s helpful to come back down after this conference and start from our own situated, local, yet networked place and practice to think about these huge, globally entangled and often uncomfortable questions. Since to take these learnings into our everyday lives will be an important step in taking decoloniality seriously.”

Concentrated listening during the plenaries at PAARD and a festive audience thinking-feeling degrowth in their bodies at the conference’s closing session. Photos by John Akerman Özgüç

The conference in The Hague may be over, but in conversations with my fellow colleagues and friends who in one way or the other were participating in making it happen, it became clear that many of us are still processing, digesting and reflecting back on the whole process while also looking forward and asking ourselves: How to continue these rich and diverse discussions? And in all their diversity, did the amalgam of sessions and perspectives engage enough with the concept of degrowth as such, in its analytical but also practical, material aspects? How to grow the degrowth movement and make it speak to those who are not already in one way or another working on building alternatives? How to reach beyond academic circles and localised self-organised grassroots initiatives? Whose voices are missing in our discussions and imaginaries of radical change? How do we as WEGO want to engage further with degrowth, analytically and practically? (Hint: Some of these conversations will likely continue within our network and find their way into a collective book we are planning to publish next year). 

One apparent paradox that was raised during the closing plenary and that stayed with me afterwards, was how to reconcile degrowth’s celebration of slowness, of slowing down our hectic lives and counter the ever-accelerating capitalist pace, with the sense of urgency and the need to address the multiple crises our planet is facing. Don’t we have to speed up to radically change the destruction of the ecosystems and climate that sustain us (and that we are part of) and to tackle the deep socio-economic injustices that were only made more visible by Covid-19? 

Obviously, no conference as inspiring as it might be would ever be enough to solve the world’s pressing issues in 5 days. Rather, I like to think in terms of Donna Haraway’s idea of ‘staying with the trouble’ and staying with the inherent contradictions of any social and political movement or network. And cherishing that degrowth embraces so many different perspectives, voices and scales of action, ranging e.g. from anarchist system-subversive activism to trying to influence the policy arena. Maybe degrowth is an umbrella for a diversity of approaches, maybe it is just one amongst many alternative movements… In that sense, I loved how activist and artist Jay Jordan during the Cultural Politics plenary invited us to ‘Start from where you are and what you can do, and most importantly, have joy in doing it!’

Within the conference together with my colleagues Irene Leonardelli and Enid Still we organised a small film festival on ‘feminist and decolonial naturecultures to inspire degrowth imaginaries’ for which we had selected 10 documentaries that were originally showcased in the Rising Gardens Film Festival 2021 by the campaign One Billion Rising South Asia and the Indian feminist network Sangat and Kriti Film Club. The audio-visuals featured stories of women entangled in ecological realities which attend to feminist and decolonial ideas, practices and resistances. As film maker Nandan Saxena expressed during our panel discussion on how film as an art form can help us imagine liveable futures, sharing small situated stories is like planting “seeds of thought”. Trying to resist the feeling of helplessness and despair at the state of the world, I hope with our conference we planted a few new seeds while nurturing what is already flourishing.

Ultimately, what I take with me is the experience of having been part of a fantastic team organising such an international event in a non-hierarchical, self-organised manner and in a complex hybrid format during a global pandemic. A huge shoutout and congratulations to all my colleagues and friends, from WEGO and beyond, who made this degrowth conference possible, and to all the participants for enriching it with their contributions and discussions.

Thank you!

‘Despite Extractivism’ Exhibition – Open call for Contributors

Now in its third year, the team behind the ‘Extracting Us’ exhibitions are calling for works which bring attention to aspects of resistance to extractivism that sometimes slip from view. 

The ‘Despite Extractivism’ exhibition will continue the journey of activist/academic/artistic inquiry towards understanding the differentiated but connected ways extractivism impacts communities across multiple contexts. The project is also motivated by exploring how the exhibition format can be a way of fostering active solidarity.

Building on the connections between extractivism and care that emerged from bringing together the works of thirteen artists working in different extractive contexts, the new exhibition aims to further explore how everyday and creative ways of caring for each other and the environment can also be subversive acts of resistance which challenge the very logics underpinning extractivism. In these cracks in the concrete of extractivism, what kinds of fertile alternatives might be cultivated and enabled to flourish? How do acts of caring and resistance counter – and sometimes risk reproducing – extractivism? 

The exhibition and accompanying programme of events will be aligned with the  International Degrowth Conference in the Netherlands in August which will be exploring the theme of ‘Caring Communities for Radical Change’, and the COP26 Climate Change Conference in the UK in November in the run up to which we will amplify the connections between extractivism and the demands of environmental and climate justice. 

Contributions are invited from communities, creatives and campaigners working in places affected by the extractive industry anywhere in the world. With the ongoing pandemic context, all digital formats will be considered (visual, audio, text, video). 

Please see here for the full call including the exhibition themes and curatorial principles. We look forward to expressions of interest by 7th August. 

This exhibition is co-curated with the ONCA gallery in Brighton (UK) and researchers associated with the University of Brighton and the WEGO_ITN research network. 

Meet Aleta Baun: Indonesian environmental activist, politician, weaver

Aleta Baun. Photo credit: Eva Tobing - Organizational documentary for Cipta Media Ekspresi (Wikimedia) on Mario Vitoria's drawing, for Teachers of the World: Courage and Wisdom.

WEGO researcher Siti Maimunah and Tessa Toumbourou published an article on Teachers of the World: Courage and Wisdom,  an ALICE Project initiative, that highlights the lives and voices of women and men – activists, academics, intellectuals, artists or writers – who stood out in the fight against different forms of oppression, building paths of social, cognitive and sexual justice. Here is their piece about Aleta Baun, Indonesian environmental activist, parliamentarian and weaver.

Aleta Baun

Aleta Baun successfully led a citizens’ movement for over a decade, working to prevent four large marble mining companies from destroying the land and forests of her sacred homeland on the western part of the island of Timor, Indonesia. In 2006 she brought together 150 women from surrounding villages to peacefully protest while weaving cloth – the traditional craft of the Mollo people. After a year of non-violent occupation, the mine was abandoned and the sacred area protected. Aleta, known as Mama Aleta in her community, is now a parliamentarian representing her community against the impacts of extractives industries. By supporting women to take leadership roles and use creative protest techniques that reinvigorated traditional cultural practices, Aleta’s accomplishments extend further than just preventing mining destroying her communities’ environment to also improving gender equity, governance structures and economic development in her region. Aleta’s work offers inspiration for what indigenous rights’ and environment movements can achieve with passion, creativity and persistence.

Forest lifeblood

Home for Aleta is the Mollo region, at the foot of Mutis mountain range on the western half of the island of Timor. The area is known for being green and fertile, distinct from the otherwise dry province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). As well as being spiritually significant for the Mollo people, the community indigenous to the region, Mutis mountain range is also an important watershed for the Timor island. The mountains are made of porous marble towers, which allow water to permeate and drip down to follow the roots of vegetation, forming wellsprings at the base of the rock. The name Mutis, meaning ‘the flow of water’, is indicative of the function of the mountains. Thirteen rivers flow from the mountain to supply drinking and irrigation water for much of West Timor.

The Mollo people rely on forest resources for their livelihood needs, including food and medicinal products. Soil is considered to be the source of life, and the crops that grow in the rich mountain soil the embodiment of their ancestors. Natural dye is collected from forest plants, to use in their traditional weaving—a skill that women in these villages have crafted for generations. The Mollo people have a strong spiritual connection to their environment, and are believed to have occupied the land around the mountain range for more than 13,000 years. They consider the soil, water, stone and trees intrinsic to their own selves. For the Mollo people, land is symbolic of flesh, water as blood, stone as bones and forests as veins and hair. Aleta explains this relationship as fundamental to the identity of a Mollo person:

– If we are separated from any one of these natural elements, or if any one of the elements are destroyed, we start to die and lose our identity. So, we find it very important to protect the land.

To read the complete article, click here.

 

Practising feminist political ecology: building knowledge communities

The WEGO proposal for a roundtable on ‘Practising feminist political ecology: building knowledge communities’ has been accepted for the 16th The European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) General Conference: Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice taking place from 29 June to 2 July 2020 at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

 Convenors: Wendy Harcourt, Lyla Mehta, Margreet Zwarteveen and Ana Agostino

Feminist Political Ecology (FPE) is an approach that looks at how to promote community well-being, peace and social justice. It analyses power relations within different systems of oppression and at different scales in communities, building solidarity in the global North and South. FPE examines the processes, strategies and political mechanisms that community initiatives use to challenge the existing power relations based on exploitation, domination, and conflict. With audience participation from both the Global North and South, the workshop will share the innovative insights of the Wellbeing Ecology Gender Communities (WEGO) ITN network on how to do grounded research in solidarity with social movements and community initiatives around issues of social and environmental justice, natural resource management and care.

Climate change is a man-made problem — with a feminist solution!

Join former Irish President Mary Robinson and comedian Maeve Higgins in this uplifting new podcast, celebrating amazing women doing remarkable things in pursuit of climate justice.

Each episode features the Mothers of Invention driving powerful solutions to climate change – from the grassroots to the court room, the front lines to the board room – all over the world.

Mothers Of Invention is a podcast on feminist climate change solutions from (mostly) women around the world.

Women are more likely to be affected by climate change, so women who are spearheading compassionate solutions. Mary, Maeve, and a different guest host every week dig into the biggest climate issues of our time. We learn how to cope, empower and enact change through the eyes of extraordinary women driving climate innovation– our Mothers of Invention. People-powered initiatives to new government policy to groundbreaking research to hard science. It’s not over till it’s over.

 

WEGO workshop at the Environmental Justice Conference

Siti Maimunah and Alice Owen organised a workshop on 4 July 2019 to introduce the theoretical and methodological practices of Feminist Political Ecology to Environmental Justice research. This workshop was organised as part of the Environmental Justice Conference 2019: Transformative Connections.

Transformative Connections: Environmental Justice Conference

As well as pursuing transformations towards sustainability and environmental justice, FPE researchers are also pursing transformations of the ethics, methods, epistemologies and practices of research.

In this workshop participants were invited to join members and associates of the WEGO network to explore the key insights and perspectives that have come from the practices of doing FPE research. FPE researchers were invited to prepare short responses to questions which formed the basis of a facilitated discussion exploring key themes such as scholar-activism, ethics, scales and methods in relation to their work with struggles for environmental justice.

Connecting people photo from FPE to EJ workshop in UK by Siti Maimuna and Alice Owen

The discussion then broke off into a ‘world cafe’ where all participants  joined conversations exploring key themes and shared their own research experiences. The workshop was recorded with the intention that it can become a learning resource.

Conference Outputs
Connections photo from FPE to EJ workshop in UK by Siti Maimuna and Alice Owen

We have been working hard to update our Global Environmental Justice group website with some conference outputs, so please take a look.
You can view and download the graphic records at this UEA Global
Environmental Justice flickr page.
You can view the conference videos at the Environmental Justice
Conference 2019 playlist on YouTube. We are still in the process of
editing some of the sessions, they will be added to this list as they
are completed.
Some people had asked if the conference presentations would be available on the website. We have considered this and decided it won’t be possible. We would encourage delegates to contact specific presenters directly and request that presentations be shared that way. You can find contact email addresses for all presenters in the Abstract Book.

Background paper and follow up papers

The conference background paper remains on the conference website and please let us know if you have any particular feedback that you didn’t have a chance to share.
At the moment we have not planned any special issue publications but do feel free to pursue any ideas yourselves and let us know if we can
assist.