Reflections from the Degrowth Conference – Part 1

We did it – after 2 years of intense preparation, the 8th International Degrowth Conference took place in The Hague and online from 24-28 August 2021, and WEGO was involved on many levels to make it happen!

Under the theme ‘Caring Communities for Radical Change’, the conference brought together over 900 activists, academics and artists to collectively imagine economically, ecologically and socially just degrowth futures for a planet that is facing multiple urgent crises. 

As a starting point, the conference aimed to address these big questions – not necessarily with the expectation to find absolute answers but rather to further the degrowth movement by exploring and learning from already existing ways of being and practicing alternatives to the destructive growth paradigm:

  • How do we confront the contradictions between endless economic growth and the ecological boundaries of our planet?
  • What kind of society would ensure a good life for all, without wealth and power being hoarded by the few?
  • How can we enable a just transition that halts over-extraction, over-production and over-consumption?

WEGO members were actively engaged in the conference organisation from its very beginnings. Apart from our network’s substantial financial contribution to cover the costs of the event, many of us were involved in shaping the thematic content as well as the logistical tasks behind the scenes. WEGO PhD’s and mentors who either contributed to the conference as core organisers, hosts of thematic sessions or plenary panelists included Wendy Harcourt, Chizu Sato, Panagiota Kotsila, Giovanna Di Chiro, Stefania Barca, Seema Kulkarni, Rebecca Elmhirst, Ana Agostino, Constance Dupuis, Irene Leonardelli, Ilenia Iengo, Alice Owen, Marlene Gómez, Siti Maimunah, Dian Ekowati, Nanako Nakamura and many others of our colleagues who joined as participants. Not to forget our communications and social media manager Karin Hueck who made sure to share this collective WEGO endeavour with wider circles by actively twittering about the conference. I myself was part of the WEGO team organising the FPE key conversation, the Arts & Culture working group and the key conversation on Rural-Urban Dialogues whose coordination I took over in the work-intensive weeks before the conference during which I also joined the Facilitation and Coordination team. I completed my 3-month secondment at Wageningen University with mentor Chizu Sato.

When the preparations for the conference started, nobody was expecting a global pandemic to disrupt all our lives so drastically. Covid-19 and the subsequent travel restrictions meant that we adapted the conference to take place in hybrid format with a big part of it taking place online – thus also making participation possible to people in places far away from The Netherlands or who saw their mobility restricted due to health reasons. However we did not fully want to give up on a physical gathering and so put a lot of energies into setting up decentralised venues in The Hague – ISS and other cultural spaces – for the in-person activities to take place which were joined by 230 participants who made their to the Dutch coastal city.

And what a strange and beautiful thing to finally meet again face-to-face with colleagues and friends who for a big part of this journey had only been seeing each other on countless zoom meetings of the different organisational teams. “Oh, you do have a body, you’re not only a floating two-dimensional face on a screen!” was an exclamation we heard many times on the first day in The Hague.

WEGOers excited to finally meet in person again: Anna Voss, Wendy Harcourt, Margreet Zwarteveen, Chizu Sato, Nanako Nakamura and Irene Leonardelli. Photo by Julien-François Gerber

Thematically, the manifold panels sessions, interactive roundtables and workshops were organised under 8 thematic key conversations:

  • Feminist Political Ecology & Degrowth
  • Decoloniality & Degrowth
  • Anarchism & Degrowth
  • Rural & Urban Dialogues on Degrowth
  • Green New Deals & Degrowth
  • Cultural Politics of Degrowth
  • Embodying Degrowth
  • Dutch Social Movements & Degrowth

As it is impossible to list the huge variety of sessions here, if you wish to get an impression of our overall programme please have a look at the conference website: https://www.degrowth.nl/ 

Yet it was not all just intellectual talking-debating-discussing – the Arts & Culture working group coordinated by WEGO mentor Chizu Sato (that I was part of together with my PhD colleagues Irene Leonardelli and Alice Owen, and other engaged members) made sure that the conference also provided spaces to engage and experience degrowth creatively, both online and in-person. 

The cultural programme ranged from film screenings and debates, theatre and music performances, weaving workshops, an immersive forest walk, exhibitions and artistic installations. Even now that the conference is over, outside the cultural venue NEST in The Hague an earth-built sitting area is still standing to provide a space for the surrounding neighbours to meet and chat, and a pigeon tower created out of recycled oyster farms’ mycelium waste is now growing fresh mushrooms to be picked up by funghi lovers. 

WEGOers enjoying the interactive artistic installations in The Hague. Photos by Irene Leonardelli, Nanako Nakamura and Anna Voss

You can read Part 2 of this post here.

Caring in the time of Covid, in Indonesia

July 2021

This morning, like every morning in the past weeks (I can’t remember exactly how many), when I get my phone to view my WhatsApp messages, I prepare myself to see and hear death. My relatives’ death, my friend’s death, my friend’s families, my friend’s friend, my neighbours, my neighbours’ families. And the list continues.

My ears go numb from hearing ambulance’ sirens, announcement of neighbors’ death from nearby mosques. It feels numb now to listen to such stories of death, how they were well, healthy, kind people. How they struggled at the end of their lives to find the care they needed (not all, but many, mostly). How they were alone (without their loved ones) in their final days of struggle.

My eyes are exhausted from reading death, pain, suffering and precarity. The news is full of death. Crowdfunding is filled with stories of people losing jobs that can not afford food for their families. Twitter is flooded with sad, desperate updates. I want to close my eyes and stop listening.  But closing my eyes makes the demon even bigger and scarier.

My heart used to feel anger. But now I feel scared. It feels like days go by and I wait for my turn. What if I need medical care (which is almost impossible to get now)? What if I don’t make it? What would it feel like to leave my two young children forever?

My head is just full, no space left there.

I and I see people have done what they can do, we try to care more. But nothing we do is enough. People are still starving. People are still struggling. People are still in pain. And those in power do not seem to understand the weight of ordinary people in their everyday life. They live in their bubble.

The day I finished this draft, a friend passed away (Monday evening, 19 July 2021, Bogor, Indonesia). He was a kind, loving husband and father to his 4 years old son. Healthy, young, just started a small workshop that provided income for 5 employees and their families. I contacted him at the end of last month, June, when I heard that his wife was infected with Covid and needed to self-isolate, and he was fine back then. He asked me to pray for him and his family to make it through. A week or so ago I knew that he was admitted to the hospital because he was infected and had problems breathing. Then he got worse – but not too worse – judging from the video he showed in his WhatsApp status. I kept on sending him messages (I asked him not to reply). I sent prayers. Then he said to his wife that he got better, tested negative, but was still in the hospital to improve his health. Two days later, he departed.

I got angry with the government, with God, with him. What an untrusted ruler to let their people dying to breathe and survive. What a cruel God to take him away when he had so much to live on. I got angry at him for not fighting harder, how dare he leave his very young son behind. People are unfair, the world is unfair. Every day is really hard to navigate. I got so many questions in my head in these terribly difficult times. I can’t even start to understand.

 

24 Aug 2021

I find it hard to decide whether I should share it or keep it in my folder, contained safely – suppressing my emotions and not letting it show – as the world tells us to do – be strong, be resilient. But then, two days ago, a good friend’s husband passed away, after two weeks of struggle in the hospital. Their sons are similar in age with mine and used to be in the same class in their school. That’s how I met my friend (the wife). She offered me her friendship, despite our differences. This gives me a push to share these small notes, to grieve and to remember them.

 

16 Sept 2021

Thinking and acting Care with FPE

My journey with FPE (Feminist Polirical Ecology) tells me to be reflective, to listen to stories embodied by others, my own stories. María Puig de la Bellacasa said that care is a matter of innocence as well as non-innocence and situatedness of care. 

Covid changes the way of caring. I do not have many friends but meeting occasionally and especially when we are in difficult times has always been a feature of our relationship. Being close and looking into their eyes, listening to their lived struggles, are a way of caring that I found healing – or at least it helps me to survive another day (both as the recipient or giver of care). But then Covid rules say that being close to each other, and having physical contact, is the opposite of caring. We struggle to connect and sense through words in our WhatsApp and voices over the phone, as video calls seems too much during bad days.

And therefore we scramble trying to find ways to stay with the trouble (famously said by Donna Haraway) – do we have other options anyway? (As I read from Anna (Tsing, 2015) in her book in ruin of capitalism context): Continue or maintain life – forget repair. At that point when my friends even find it hard to breathe, to survive. I just want to continue life (make every day bearable) and leave repairing to another time and space.

“in the most general sense,  care is a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair our world so that we may live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web.”
Berenice Fisher and Joan C. Tronto, “Toward a Feminist Theory of Caring,” in Circles of Care, ed. Emily K. Abel and Margaret Nelson (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1990) in (Tronto, 2015) emphasis added.

Caring is indeed not necessarily a feel-good thing, Bellacasa mentions this in her book Matters of care (Bellacasa, 2017). Caring means being emotionally drained for days when your good friend is ill and you see them pass away. Caring means that no matter how I feel shattered, I need to get up and be there for my young children.

Reciprocity is something in care that FPE scholars have attended to, and I find it in my everyday experience of care for my young children. The time I care for my young children (who are not able to take care of themselves yet), it is also the time I feel cared for. Maybe it is the kind of reciprocity that might be different with the conventional reciprocity “This is because reciprocity involves giving, receiving, and returning what has been given” (Mauss, 1974 in (Gómez Becerra & Muneri-Wangari, 2021)). My young children at this care relation do not necessarily return what I gave to them, but still their mere existence fuels my everyday life (in positive and negative sense) – me talking from the perspective of a mother from the Global South, with a partner attending to one school age child (online school for 1.5 year now) and one toddler. After all the pain of losing I experience, I might not be whole now if not for my children.

 

Readings that helped me with this piece:

Bellacasa, M. P. de la. (2017). Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. The University of Minnesota Press.

Gómez Becerra, M., & Muneri-Wangari, E. (2021). Practices of Care in Times of COVID-19. Frontiers in Human Dynamics, 3(June), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fhumd.2021.648464

Tronto, J. C. (2015). Who Cares? How to Reshape a Democratic Politics (First). Cornell University Press.

Tsing, A. L. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. In PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS (Vol. 1). Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

 

Gender and climate change adaptation responses in Kenya

The links between climate change and gender are widely known. However, little research has been done on how men and women respond differently to climate variability and uncertainties. To help respond to this, my ongoing PhD examines the politics of gender in climate change adaptation in the Maasai community of the Mara region in Kenya. So far, I have found many ways in which gender, class and age intersect with responses to climate variability, among diverse pastoralist men and women.

Extreme weather events

The Mara region of Kenya has experienced increasingly unpredictable extreme weather events like frequent prolonged droughts and floods that plague the area. This has led to a loss of key resources for livestock pastures, water, and salts, that are crucial for livestock production. The region has also faced tremendous ecological and social economic changes in the last couple of decades in the form of land fragmentation and dispossession, urbanization, and an influx of immigrants. These changes, coupled with the erratic weather events, have compromised the communities traditional coping strategies. In response, changes in processes, livelihood activities, and sources of income have emerged, along gendered lines.

Responses to climate variability occur in the confines of society that is laced with social inequalities along the lines of gender, class, age, race etc. These in-equalities pose barriers to access, control, and ownership of resources, perpetuate unequal distribution of labour, and excludes certain segments of society from meaningful decision making. Thus, shaping how diverse men and women, avoid, prepare for, respond, and recover from extreme weather events that threaten their lives and livelihoods.

You can read the full text at the Institute for Development Studies.

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.

International Women’s Day: ‘Gender Dimensions in Climate Change’ lecture

International Women’s Week was a day of celebration – and combativeness – for WEGO-ITN researchers and partners. Coordinator Prof. Dr. Wendy Harcourt held a lecture at Radboud University  on ‘Gender Dimensions in Climate Change’, which is now fully available online:

About the lecture:

’My talk will look critically at the notion of the green economy as the way to mitigate climate change. My argument is that the neoliberal green economy relies on market and technological efficiency and only pays lip service to notions of gender, empowerment and inclusion. Its apparent championing of small-scale green entrepreneurs – particularly women and indigenous groups from the Global South as ‘good for climate’ ignores power relations and inequalities based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, and physical ability. The neoliberal green economy is not a climate- or people-caring economy because it ignores the actual care work that is required to maintain everyday life in all societies.

My talk proposes that we must move beyond the green economy in order to advance climate justice by reimagining ‘caring for climate’ through a caring economy or solidarity economy framework, one that is embedded in the principles of cooperation, sharing, reciprocity, and intersectional environmental justice. Instead of ‘greening’ the economy we need to be ‘sustaining livelihoods’ to ensure nutrition, ecological balance, clean water, secure housing, gender equality, meaningful approaches to all forms of labour.

Care work is always there. What needs to change is that it is no longer invisible, privatised, and done for free by women, people of colour, immigrants, or other marginalised groups. 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 in order to ‘care for climate’, is to build caring communities for change based on solidarity economies. Such economies would value care work in all areas of life with the creation of new job sectors and climate-friendly livelihoods which challenge the gendered composition of the today’s neoliberal, androcentric and capitalocentric economy.’’

 

 

WEGO in action in India

Prof Wendy Harcourt, WEGO project coordinator will be travelling to India to give lectures as part of the WEGO-ITN initiative.

Prof Harcourt gave a lecture on
“Rethinking life-in-common in the Australian landscape”
on Friday, 7 February from 16 to 18 hrs at IGCS Seminar Hall, 4th floor, Biotechnology Building 2, Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences, Indian Institute Of Technology.

The lecture reflected on the shifts in Wendy’s personal and political lifeworld across time and space by sharing a story of changing awareness about ‘life-in-common’ in the Australian landscape; a landscape that is marked by historical, ecological and resource struggle and injustice. Her commentary takes up the rethinking of ‘life-in-common’ as part of the search for alternatives to capitalism and a way to overcome socio-ecological crises which pays attention to the deep connections of nature and culture. Wendy reflects on what a ‘life-in-common’ means as an Australian born feminist political ecologist wishing to understand how to address the erasures and violence that mark the Australian landscape.


applying a gender lens to the environment in the everyday

On Wednesday, 5th of February, Prof Wendy Harcourt gave a lecture on
“Applying a gender lens to the environment in the everyday”
at the Women’s Studies Centre and the Department of Sociology of Savitribai Phule Pune University, from 14.00 to 16.00 pm hosted by Dr. Swati Dehadroy and Dr. Anagha Tambe from the Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre and Dr. Shruti Tambe and Prof Hemant Chouhan from the Department of Sociology.

 

 

Wendy Harcourt at SPPU in Pune, 5 February 2020
WEGO in Pune, February 2020
WEGO in Chennai, February 2020

WEGO at POLLEN 20: ecologies of care

WEGO is happy to announce that our proposals for two ‘Paper Session’ entitled ‘Ecologies of Care I – Politics and ethics of care’  and Ecologies of Care II – Care-full political ecology – with whom, with what and where do we care?’ has been accepted for inclusion in the POLLEN 20 conference. 

The Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20) will take place from 24 – 26 June 2020 in Brighton, UK.

The conference theme is Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration

Organiser Name and Contacts:
Wendy Harcourt: harcourt@iss.nl; Enid Still: Enid.Still@uni-passau.de; Jaime Landinez Aceros: jlandinez@stanford.edu and Constance Dupuis: dupuis@iss.nl

Title: Ecologies of Care

Key words: care, gender, feminism, more-than-human, ethics

Session abstract

Recent debates on the politics and ethics of care brings together the politics of gendered bodies and labour, the messy ethics of more-than-human interdependencies, and questions of difference and belonging in alternative ways of being-in-the-world (Harcourt 2017; Puig de la Bellacasa 2017; Singh 2017). These perspectives tease out the invisibility of ‘caring ethics’ and what care means and does in different contexts and different socio-natural entanglements, exploring how practices of care can animate, complicate or make visible such entanglements. These discussions are infused with hope for an alternative, more ecologically sane society but are also critical of the depoliticisation of care as inherently ‘good’ or naturalised. The non-innocence of care and its uneven nature within more-than-human interdependencies are therefore central to these debates (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017). This panel organised by Well-being, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity – Innovative Training Network (WEGO-ITN) will try to build upon these discussions, expanding notions of care beyond human subjectivities (and yet rooting it in anthropocentric times), through exploring how care emerges in landscapes of extractivist ruins.

Core themes running through the panel will be: what caring practices are emerging from sites of socio-ecological transformation? How are notions and practices of care complicated by their non-innocence in particular sites and contexts? How are more-than-human interdependencies are animated when practices of care take place in extractivist ruins? The panel will look towards how we can repair our world as we seek to ‘interweave’ our bodies, ourselves and our socio-natures in a ‘complex, life-sustaining web’ (Tronto 2017) as we seek to locate some of the many ‘care-ful’ forms of political ecology needed to ‘reappropriate, reconstruct and reinvent our personal and political lifeworlds’ (Escobar and Harcourt 2005). The two panels will look at two main themes: Care in Extractivist Ruins and Care-ful political ecology – with whom, with what and where do we care? 

References 

  • Escobar, Arturo and Wendy Harcourt 2005 “Introduction”, Women and the Politics of Place London: Zed Books. 1-19.
  • Harcourt, Wendy. 2017. “Gender and Sustainable Livelihoods: Linking Gendered Experiences of Environment , Community and Self.” Agriculture and Human Values34(4):1007–19.
  • Puig de la Bellacasa, Maria. 2017. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Singh, Neera. 2017. “Becoming a Commoner: The Commons as Sites for Affective Socio-Nature Encounters and Co- Becomings.” Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization 17(4):751–76.
  • Tronto, Joan. 2017. “There is an alternative: homines curans and the limits of neoliberalism”. International Journal of Care and Caring 1: 27-43.

Part I‘Ecologies of Care I – Politics and ethics of care’ 

The first panel ‘Care in Extractivist Ruins’ will focus on how more-than-human interdependencies in sites of extraction are illuminated through practices of care and how such caring practices can become forms of resistance or coping. Some key questions the panel will address are:

  1. How can caring socio-natural entanglements resist, undercut, refuse logics of colonialism, militarization, and capitalism?
  2. When and how does extractivism extract, appropriate or exploit care (human, non-human) in local and global sites of climate crisis? e.g. through CSR campaigns that legitimise the extractive regime
  3. What practices of care emerge in the ruins of extractive landscapes in the global South and how do they contest assumptions around wellbeing?

Panel Participants

Each presentation will have 10 minutes this will be followed by buzz groups among the participants and a Q and A. The discussant taking into account the discussion 15 minutes before  the end of the session will ask one question to each panelist who will respond.

Collective Care in Times of Agrarian Crisis by Enid Still (UK), Universität Passau, Germany

Abstract: The agrarian crisis in India has been depicted as one of indebtedness and financial burden, driving thousands of farmers to suicide. This picture is of course inherently partial. The experiences of women farmers and the widows of farmers who have committed suicide trouble the perception of suicides as only an economic ‘problem.’ They reveal a much deeper social malaise, rooted in a politics of land, patriarchy and caste, re-produced by regimes of exploitation and dependency, where the extraction of value from the soil and the extraction of bodies from agrarian communities are deeply intertwined. The perspective of women farmers and farm widows on the crisis have been silenced and invisibilised, their ability to navigate these times thus curtailed, due to both cultural norms that stigmatise widows in multi-layered ways and narrow socio-political categories that define farmers as landowners, predominantly therefore upper-caste men. Through practices of collective care however, the struggles of rural women in India are finding a voice and demonstrating the possibilities for healing degraded lands and a traumatised agrarian community.  

Poisoned Landscapes: Stories of Soil Care Amidst War Times by Jaime Landinez-Aceros (Colombia), Stanford University, USA

Beyond Economy: Exploring Care within the Everyday Lives of Independent Oil Palm Smallholders in West Kalimantan, Indonesia by Dian Ekowati (Indonesia), Brighton University, UK

Siti Maimunah (Indonesia), Universität Passau, Germany

Facilitator and Discussant: Giovanna DiChiro, Swathmore College, USA,  gdichir2@swarthmore.edu ‎

Part II: ‘Ecologies of Care II – Care-full political ecology – with whom, with what and where do we care?’   

 The second panel on ‘Care-full political ecology – with whom, with what and where do we care?’ will explore from feminist, interdisciplinary and intergenerational perspective ‘care-full political ecology’ describing different acts of looking after, protecting and providing for the needs of human and non-human others. The papers will look at how care operates in the  co-production of genders, natures and bodies as we move towards emancipatory politics of life-worlds. 

Panel Participants

Each presentation will have 10 minutes this will be followed by buzz groups among the participants and a Q and A. The discussant taking into account the discussion 15 minutes before  the end of the session will ask one question to each panellist who will respond.

Enfleshing Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention On Protecting The Human Rights Of Older Persons by Ana Agostino (Uruguay), Montevideo, Uruguay and Constance Dupuis (Canada), International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands

Caring for self and nature: Women and Ageing in Rural Japan by Nanako Nakamura (Japan) and Chizu Sato (Japan), University of Wageningen, The Netherlands 

Abstract:

Flower farmers and water flows: caring for and theorizing about troubled socionatures in Maharashtra, India by Irene Leonardelli (Italy), IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, The Netherlands

Abstract: The paper will look at the everyday practices of care, reciprocity, sharing, solidarity and equity  between farmers and natures among flower growers in Maharashtra. Inspired by feminist political ecology studies, I unpack the multiple socionatural relations, practices, experiences and embodied emotions of women farmers growing flowers using waste water coming from nearby industrial areas. By looking at flowers as a product of socionatural interaction (or women farmers-water interaction), I unfold the tensions farmers experience in the everyday in relation to taking care of themselves, of their community and of the nature they inhabit. I develop my narrative as a way  to theorize about and care for more sustainable and equitable socio-natural presents (and futures).   

Facilitator and Discussant: Yvonne Underhill-Sem, University of Auckland, New Zealand, y.underhill-sem@auckland.ac.nz

More information on the WEGO sessions will follow