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!

New article: “Practices of Care in Times of COVID-19”

Our researchers Marlene Gómez Becerra and Eunice Muneri-Wangari published a paper on “Frontiers in Human Dynamics”: Practices of Care in Times of COVID-19. They also explained how this publication came into being:

“We saw in this health crisis the ideal scenario for rethinking and listening to other forms of life and to recognize diverse practices of care that can work as a vehicle of social change. Questioning these practices motivated us to write this paper”

 

Abstract:

We argue that the COVID-19 virus has been a trigger for emerging practices of care by being an actor with agency that transforms the everyday life of subjects by placing them under uncertainty. Therefore, this paper aims to show how practices of care emerged or were maintained as vulnerable groups were confronted by restrictions to movement and uncertainties following the outbreak of COVID-19. We demonstrate this using two case studies of the Maasai pastoral community in Narok, Kenya and the community kitchens in the city of Berlin, Germany. Thus, we seek to show how practices of care for, care about, and care with are carried out by the members of these communities during pandemic times. Granted that care remains highly contentious in feminist literature, this paper contributes to a growing body of literature on care in Feminist Political Ecology by broadening the conceptualization of care. The research builds on a typology of care relations based on practices of distribution, exchange, and reciprocity. This allows us to show when care is exercised in a unidirectional and hierarchical way and when in a multidirectional way reinforcing social bonds of responsibility and collective care that transcends the socio-nature boundaries.

The article is Open Access and you can read the full paper here.

Registrations are open for ‘FPE Dialogues on Re-thinking Food’

Registrations are now open for our ‘Feminist Political Ecology Dialogues on Re-thinking Food’ on July 1st & 2nd at University of Passau. Register via the following link: https://bit.ly/2TUaoPp

About Rethinking Food Passau

Food is essential to sustaining relational webs of life. Difficult times around the world have only further demonstrated this interdependence and the need to think differently about food systems. To attend to the question of what constitutes alternative agriculture and food practices, and why it is important, the “Feminist Political Ecology Dialogues on Re-thinking Food” has been organized by the University of Passau. It is part of a series of events organized by  WEGO-ITN. The two-day event will be held online on Zoom on the 1st and 2nd of July from 16:00 to 18:00 CEST. Since this is an international event, translation from English into German and Indonesian Bahasa will be provided.

Food production and supply has changed dramatically over the past few decades, contributing to unjust processes of production and distribution of food around the world. The global food industry is also closely interrelated with climate change. In addition, the homogenising effects of factory farming and monocultures mean that regional suppliers find it increasingly difficult to participate in food markets. These inter-related concerns make the need for alternative forms of agriculture and food consumption ever more visceral. The aim of the FPE Dialogues is to share insights from ongoing research projects and engagements with alternative food and economic practices in Indonesia, India and Germany; with the hope to stimulate conversation about what constitutes “alternative” agriculture or food consumption and why it matters.

The keynote speaker for the first day will be Dr Parto Teherani-Krönner. She will speak about her concept of ‘meal cultures’ and its relevance in re-thinking the multiple layers of food relations. We very much look forward to welcoming her to Passau via zoom, and hope to see some of you there.

Day 1
Dr Parto Teherani-Krönner on ‘Meal Cultures’
Followed by questions and discussion with the audience
16.00-18.00 CEST

Day 2
Roundtable on Re-thinking Food
Dimas Dwi Laksmana, Patrick Keilbart, Marlene Gómez Becerra, Siti Maimunah and Enid Still
16.00-18.00 CEST

Presenters will share perspectives from research on organic agriculture in Indonesia, community kitchens in Berlin, the relationship between food security and coal extraction in Indonesia and agricultural collectives in India.

The roundtable will then reflect with the audience on questions of inclusivity and the meaning of alternative in food systems.

 

Information provided by: Passau University

Register now for ‘Feminist political ecology and the economics of care’ at IAFFE

WEGO-ITN’s coordinator Prof. Dr. Wendy Harcourt will be speaking on June 17th at the 29th international conference of the International Association for Feminist Economists, in Quito, Ecuador. The preconference lecture – ‘Feminist political ecology and the economics of care’ – will be online, 16:00 (Quito time) and 23:00 (Amsterdam time).

Registration for English speaking public

Registration for Spanish-speaking public

About the lecture:

Caring for climate, caring for earth and caring for people should be at the centre of economic value, not at the margins. What is required is to build caring communities for change based on solidarity economies. Such economies would value care work in all areas of live with the creation of new job sectors and climate-friendly livelihoods which challenge the gendered composition of today’s neoliberal, androcentric and capitalocentric economy.

In her lecture, Professor Wendy Harcourt will discuss how different notions of care from feminist political ecology, feminist economy and feminist degrowth profoundly challenge the neoliberal capitalist focus on growth, the free market and technological efficiency and the inadequate lip service paid to notions of gender, empowerment and inclusion. 

Commoning through blogging: Reflections on our “Reimagining, remembering and recommoning water” series

In two webinars at the IASC 2021 Water Commons Virtual Conference (19-21 May 2021), past and future contributors reflected on the joint UndEnv-FLOWs series “Reimagining, remembering, and reclaiming water: From extractivism to commoning”.

Last week, during the IASC 2021 Water Commons Virtual Conference (19-21 May 2021)  two panels reflected on the blog series “Reimagining, remembering, and reclaiming water: From extractivism to commoning”, co-hosted by Undisciplined Environments and IHE Delft’s FLOWs. The series builds on emerging discussions and activist practices of re-commoning water, that seek to heal  our relations to this non-human “relative” of ours. These new political ecologies  demand what Orla O’Donovan calls a  “re-membering”, in a double sense: bearing in mind the importance of water and past ways of relating to it, and re-connecting the socio-ecological ‘members’ of our water bodies.

During the first panel, those authors who already published an essay in the series (Jenia Mukherjee and Amrita SenPatrick BresnihanEmilie DupuitsElliot HurstSiti Maimunah and Sarah AgustioriniCleo Woelfle-ErskineKat Taylor and Sheri Longboat) reflected on the contributions so far, on how the series is fertilizing new ideas on re-imagining, re-connecting and re-claiming water commons. The contributors were invited to join an exercise in “active reading”: giving a brief description of  another essay from the series, and answer briefly how that essay 1) fosters “critical thinking on current challenges and possibilities for more just and ecological water presents and futures”  and 2) re-centers the political dimension of water commons and commoning. The diversity of the contributions that made up the series so far demonstrated how the category of the commons and the commons themselves are stretched between,  on the one side, universal understanding and aspirations – for instance to advance a political agenda against neoliberalism or privatisation – and, on the other side, specific, situated, and different local understandings of the commons.

You can read the full text on the Undisciplined Environment blog.

When honesty is not the best policy: the ethical dilemma of sharing research findings

Two hours had just flown by. We were in the backyard of a local shopkeeper’s house that doubled as an electronic repair shop. But business was closed today. The heavy wooden doors and windows had been bolted shut so no one could interrupt the interview.

The conversation was about two communities entrenched in a bitter battle over ethnic hierarchy in the village. Engrossed by the interview, I had deliberately been doing very little talking when my speaker, a local schoolteacher and youth activist, asked me:

“I have told you everything I know. And I am sure you have interviewed them too, right? Now tell me, honestly… do you think we are telling the truth, or do you believe in their story?”

I suddenly realized at that moment that I had lost my grip over the interview. In a quick turn of events, we had switched roles. And I was now being asked to pick a side.

How should a researcher respond to such a question? Should she answer honestly, knowing that she will be showing researcher bias? Or should she refrain, and explain to her research participant why she must remain impartial? 

No matter which way you go, your ethical responsibility as a researcher is challenged. 

You can read the full text at Undisciplined Environment.

Video series: Second Training Lab

Originally planned to take place in Bolsena, Italy, at WEGO-ITN’s partner Punti di Vista, last year’s Second Training Lab was adapted into an on-line event, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All meetings, lectures, workshops and plenaries happened between June 10th-18th 2020.

All encounters and discussions were recorded and are now also available in videos produced by the group. The editing was a collaborative project by WEGO PhD’s Marlene Gómez, Dian Ekowati, Enid Still and Anna Katharina Voss, together with film maker John Akerman.

Videos include a keynote lecture by Prof. Dr. Katherine Gibson, from the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, and the Community Economies Research Network (CERN) – plus discussions between WEGO members about the meanings of Feminist Political Ecology and care. Finally, 3 videos depict mini lectures on PhD’s research projects.

They are also available at our Youtube and Vimeo channels.

“Women who inspire us”: a March 8th campaign

WEGO-ITN promoted a special Twitter campaign on International Women’s Day. Partners, researchers and activists were invited to share with us their list of inspiring women for March 8th 2021. The list included artists, professors, academics and local activists. Take a look:

 

 

 

 

 

“The Feminist Political Ecology Podcast”, by WEGO, is out

WEGO-ITN is launching its first podcast!

“The Feminist Political Ecology Podcast” is directed to those who believe in doing environmentalism, justice and feminism in a different way. Every episode we’ll invite researchers, activists and professors in- and outside our network to discuss the most urgent and inspiring topics around feminist political ecology. Stay tuned.

The first episode, with Early Stage Researcher Marlene Gómez, is out:

“What does care have to do with food waste? And what can we learn about commoning by looking into alternative food practices? In our first episode, we will talk to Marlene Gómez, a PhD-candidate at Freie Universität Berlin and Early Stage Researcher at WEGO, about her work in community kitchens in Berlin and Barcelona.”

 

 

 

New book: “Negotiating Gender Expertise in Environment and Development”

Our partner Prof. Dr. Rebecca Elmhirst, from the University of Brighton, together with Dr. Bernadette Resurrección, released a new book in December 2020: “Negotiating Gender Expertise in Environment and Development – Voices from Feminist Political Ecology”, by Routledge.

This book casts a light on the daily struggles and achievements of ‘gender experts’ working in environment and development organisations, where they are charged with advancing gender equality and social equity and aligning this with visions of sustainable development.

Developed through a series of conversations convened by the book’s editors with leading practitioners from research, advocacy and donor organisations, this text explores the ways gender professionals – specialists and experts, researchers, organizational focal points – deal with personal, power-laden realities associated with navigating gender in everyday practice. In turn, wider questions of epistemology and hierarchies of situated knowledges are examined, where gender analysis is brought into fields defined as largely techno-scientific, positivist and managerialist.

An open access version of this book is freely available at: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781351175180