Environments of Policy and Practice: the Management of Sustainability

Environments of Policy and Practice: the Management of Sustainability

Environments of policy and practice: the management of sustainability

In discussions of environmental change, two meanings of ‘environment’ are often confused. One conveys the phenomenal world of immediate experience, the other a physical world whose reality is given independently of our experience, and that we can know only through detached observation and measurement. For most people the environment of everyday life is understood in the first sense, yet the second predominates in the discourses of techno-science and policy-making. Attempts to include diverse perspectives on the environment have possibly made the gap between these two senses even wider.

Implicit in sustainable development is a hegemony that subordinates other ways of knowing to realms of ignorance (Hobart 1993), or mere belief as opposed to the factualness of Western ‘Science’ (Latour 2003), to the practical as opposed to the intellectual (Harris 2010), to opinion as opposed to expert knowledge. This hegemony dilutes alterity and co-opts diverse knowledges into universalist categories (Escobar 2008). The logic of empire (Dirlick) does not only silence radical alterity. The homogenizing logic of modernity/coloniality, implicit in the governmentality of policy, actually functions by eliding difference present within supposedly coherent categories, groupings, identities and so on (see Brubaker and Cooper 2000, Mol and Law 1994, Latour 1993, Ingold 1993). The prospective character of enquiry in experimental theatre remains marginal to academic research that retains an emphasis on retrospective description. In the same vein the material accomplishment of, for instance, applied work in soil-ecology questions the monopoly of objective knowledge. What this does specifically is evidence the complex diverse realities that are produced even within the sciences. Sustainability can only be managed if the processes for decision-making and policy-making are also made sustainable. Therefore, what is needed is a revision of the epistemic principles of policy-making.

Equally importantly there is a need to revise the notion of ‘making’ policy so as to allow for continual dialogue and revision in response to ever-variable conditions. For, if as we argue, sustainability is about keeping life going, then policy-making needs to be as responsive to change as are those who work the fields, those who fish ocean deeps and shallows and those who create performances embodying our diverse heritages.

The projects within SP3 all build on current hopeful experiments that explore alternative development and responsive policy making. Examples of these can be found in Escobar’s work that describes the alternative development work of Colombian activists, the work of the transnational grassroots federation called FoEI attempting in their regular international meetings to make space for radically different ways of knowing (Gatt forthcoming), collaborative anthropologies (Rappaport 2008, Lassiter 2004, Marcus) and performance ethnography that experiments with performed alternatives to text as ways of making space for subaltern knowledge (Conquergood, Denzin, Magnat). Others examples concern the work of soil ecologists who are attempting to develop new ways of knowing through the making of artificial soils with taking local interests into account, and the collaboration between small-scale fishermen and marine biologists from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina aiming to produce shared knowledge to preserve while dwelling in natural protected areas. For the disciplines of anthropology, art, architecture and design, committed to mediating between these diverse understandings, all this poses an acute challenge. To meet it, we need to draw techno-scientific expertise together with the wisdom of inhabitants in the common project of designing environments for life. Each of the projects in SP 3 will attempt to create possibilities to bring such different understandings of the environment into dialogue with one another as equal, though not necessarily commensurable, ways of knowing.

SP3 is also developing a network of affiliated researchers, descriptions of their work will shortly be available on this page.

Performing collaboration: The challenges of difference in sustainable knowledge-artefact making

This arm of SP3 takes its lead from the work of the transnational grassroots activist group called Friends of the Earth (FoEI). In order not to reproduce the unsustainable systemic conditions that underpin current economic and political exploitation of people and places, FoEI dedicates a large portion of work in striving for sustainability through the international federation by means of experiments in inclusive decision-making that is mindful of radical alterity. (see Gatt forthcoming for details of FoEI meetings that make space for diverse ways of knowing and communicating) Anthropologists are carrying out similar experiments to decolonize their research practices. Examples include collaborative anthropology (example Lassiter 2004, Rappaport 2008) and cross overs between various art forms and anthropology (Denzin, Conquergood, Marcus and Myers 1995, Wright and Schneider 2005, 2010, Ravetz). As experiments these emerging fields have both already provided valuable insights for the continuation of their efforts to decolonize research and provide sustainable knowledge-making practices, but they also falter in certain respects.

This project focuses on fusing the insights from collaborative anthropology and performance ethnography in order to learn from the experiences of both. The aim of this synthesis is specifically to explore ways of making knowledge that is deliberately inclusive of radically diverse epistemologies/ontologies.

Collaborative anthropology has provided a clear principle for this purpose – collaboration requires partners to be included in all stages of the work, from project design, to methods, to analysis, to theory-building, to presentation. However, experiments in collaborative anthropology have so far tended to reproduce the hegemonic knowledge paradigm of scriptocentrism (Conquergood 2002). On the other hand, while art-anthropology collaborations and performance ethnography unsettle the scriptocentric forms and practices of academia and western Science, this work often falters in two ways. In collaborations between anthropologists and artists the aims of collaborative anthropology are often achieved and collaboration is not instrumental or one-sided. However, Foster finds that in these cases, especially in site-specific art-anthropology projects, local inhabitants tend to be instrumentalised and objectified (Foster 1997, Marcus 2009). On the other hand in performance ethnography, in order to avoid these sorts of issues, researchers have turned to autoethnography (see ex Denzin 2004). In so doing they leave out of their critical enquiry the very systems of subordination and exploitation that their experiments were a reaction against in the first place (Atkinson 2004).

Learning from these experiments, this project has been collaborative from its inception, based on a collaboration between an anthropologist and a renowned theatre-maker from Singapore; Ang Gey Pin. Ang Gey Pin has trained, performed, directed and taught in Europe, North and South America, and Asia, as well as working for 10 years with Jerzy Grotowski. Ang Gey Pin's own enquiry about heritage and the artist’s intuition through theatre work resonates with the issue raised here of tracing the interactions of diverse knowledge traditions. Extending the collaboration to the sites of fieldwork will be done by including the participants in each fieldwork interaction in collaborative analysis, making sure that there is ample space for critical reflection on the content, means and form of the representation of their experiences. In fact such research situations will be considered exchanges, following the example of Odin Teatret’s notion of performance barter (see Mette Bovin 1988 for experiments in anthropology as provocation together with Roberta Carreri, one of Odin Teatret’s actresses). Finally, rather than focusing on site specific art and performance, the project will explore intercultural and temporal movements of diverse knowledge as embodied in song. Thus this will be an experiment in collaborative anthropology that makes space for subaltern epistemologies by means of performance, thereby adding to the experiments of people like FoEI activists, and Escobar together with the Colombian activists he works with, for whom sustainability cannot happen without finding ways to decolonize policy-making.

Caroline Gatt (Post-doctoral Research Fellow and Sub Project Coordinator)