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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011

(P313)

Practices of environmental justice: negotiating the relation between the social and the ecological sphere

Location Tower B, Piso 3, Room T12
Date and Start Time 20 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

Alexander Koensler (University of Perugia) email
Cristina Papa (University of Perugia) email
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Short Abstract

Various approaches are currently rethinking the role of human life in the ecosphere, highlighting the interconnectedness between the social and the ecosphere and posing new ethical questions. In our panel, we invite studies on the relation between ecological challenges and social change.

Long Abstract

Currently, various approaches are engaged in rethinking the role of human life in the ecosphere, indicating increasing attention being paid by practitioners, researchers, and philosophers to the interconnectedness between the social, the ecological, and the spiritual sphere. At the same time, problems of environmental justice and/or public conversation policies often become a contested ethical issue between local communities and other major political forces, shaping both social lives and places through a range of different power relations. At the same time, anthropological research on new forms of environmental activism related to concepts such as bioregionalism, permaculture principles, 'degrowth' (Latouche) and 'deep ecology' (Naess) gives new inputs on global ethical challenges and progressively gains more visibility within the discipline.

In our panel, we invite studies that discuss practices of environmental justice and engage with creative alternatives that rethink the complex relations between social and ecological life. We want to reflect both on the effects, strategies and implications of environmental activism and on cases where there seems to be a clash between what people do with their places and general ecological and ethical concerns. How are conventional conversation policies (such the management of nature parks) affecting social life? How are they contested? How can environmental justice activism (such as in ecovillages) mobilize new social forces? To what extent can new forms of environmental activism (such as the movement for degrowth) produce social change? How can scholars position themselves toward environmental activism, often caught in an ambivalent relation of academic distance and more or less openly expressed sympathy for the causes?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Tales of the whale: climate change, sense of place, and Açoreanidade (Azorean cultural identity)

Author: Chie Sakakibara (Appalachian State University )  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores the growth of sense of place/cultural identity among the Azorean islanders in response to climate change.

Long Abstract

This is a study in human geography that explores how the people in the Azores of Portugal, particularly those on the Pico and Faial Islands, maintain their cultural pride and heritage as People of the Whales in the face of climate change, altered whale behaviors, and new human relationships with the sea and place. Exploring Azorean views of sense of place, cultural transformation and environmental change, I compare their efforts with those of the indigenous Iñupiaq people of Arctic Alaska, many of whom are descents of the Azorean whalers. As the effects of climate change take hold among rural Azorean and Alaskan communities, the role and place of whales in sustaining ethnic identities becomes greater, and among the Iñupiaq provides the cornerstone of cultural resilience that people embrace to imagine a hopeful future. Cultural response among the Azoreans is both similar and different to the extent that their understanding of the whale is different from the Iñupiaq example, and further understanding on the Azorean cultural identity—Açoreanidade (Azoreanness)—will be a key to interpret the unforeseeable future among the islanders. The peoples of the Azores and Arctic Alaska are both Peoples of the Whales whose identities are inseparable from their relationship with cetaceans, yet this relationship is also intricately entangled with any historical, political, and environmental change. Highlighting the current growth of Açoreanidade, this study explains how abstract and modeled notions of climate change impact livelihoods and cultural identity among real peoples and places.

Neglected landscapes in Sardinia

Author: Franco Lai (University of Sassari)  email
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Short Abstract

Social and economic changes in Europe are evident in the landscape: abandoned areas in rural and in urban and industrial areas. Social change caused ecological change.

Long Abstract

In Italy neglected landscapes are the product of social, economic and demographic processes that took place during the last fifty years throughout Europe.

This paper is about Sardinian landscapes. It shows how views of neglected land can be interpreted as signs of different forms of social and economic organisation. In my paper I follow Gilles Clément and his concept of "third landscape" (tiers paysage), abandoned spaces in rural and urban areas. I have gathered a collection of photographs taken along roads, in marginal urban areas, on the coast and in the countryside. All the images show examples of "third landscapes".

During the modern age, travel literature often established a connection between culture and landscape. From Montaigne to Goethe and to Guido Piovene the idea of "travelling in Italy" evokes a close link among societies, cultures and landscapes. Landscapes seem the mirror - or the metaphor - of Italian peoples' moral character.

Even today, our glance is not neutral: for example, we tend to interpret untended lands in aesthetic and moral terms. Some travel books describe abandoned places: ruins tell stories, following the example of William Least Heat-Moon (USA), David Byrne (USA and other countries), Wu Ming 2 (Italy).

In Sardinian fringe areas illegal behaviours gain ground, as waste abandonment along the roads; but sometimes neglected landscapes become "lieux de mémoire" or parks or "greenways".

Universalism vs localism: exploring conflicts about nature conservation practices in Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, Italy

Author: Sandro Piermattei (Università degli Studi di Perugia)  email
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Short Abstract

Italian nature protection policies acknowledge the role of local communities. Nevertheless struggles remain between parks' managers and local populations. Research in Sibillini mountains reveals how professional ecologists conceive a universalistic policy of conservation excluding local knowledge.

Long Abstract

During the past five decades Italian mountains have been highly depopulated. The environmental abandonment and the erosion of traditional landscapes resulted in so severe hydrogeological risks that national and European regulations about nature protection, accordingly to concepts as community-based conservation and sustainable development, tend to enhance the ecological role of local communities and their traditional environmental knowledge. Nevertheless, cultural and social struggles remain between protected areas managers and local populations. Exploring the conflict in Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, a protected area in the Central Apennines, the research focused in this presentation has revealed how professional ecology and biology, as political practices, seems to conceive a public, universalistic form of possession and management of nature excluding local traditional uses. The attitude of park managers consists in forms of nature protection which appears bureaucratized and insensitive to local communities needs and expectations; as a result depopulation still increase as well as populations' feelings of disillusion and hostility towards the park as a tool for sustainable development. Thus the emerging question is whether to conserve a nature—as always managed by local populations—or produce a new, idealized model of nature to satisfy the expectations of tourists and ecologists.

Ecological exploitation on indigenous peoples' land

Author: Rosa Enn (University of Vienna)  email
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Short Abstract

Environmental exploitation and ecological colonialism are global issues of environmental injustice. In particular indigenous people are concerned by that degrading treatment. In some cases reparation and compensation are paid, but unfortunately the damage caused by contamination isn't irreversible.

Long Abstract

Indigenous peoples' land seems to be very attractive to economic enterprises and political actors. There are a number of reasons for this. On the one hand, these lands are in several cases rich of ecological resources, such as teak, water, oil, gas, minerals and other natural resources. On the other hand, the land is inhabited by indigenous people who, in many cases, don't enjoy the same political, social and civil rights as the majority does and is therefore in weaker position to resist exploitation of their territory.

Environmental pollution caused by dumping of toxic waste, which is produced by industrial activities can be defined as ecological exploitation. Often indigenous people, exposed to exploitation and environmental pollution don't have political means to defend theirselves and to improve their living conditions. However, there are also examples of successful activism and empowerment by the indigenous themselves. For example, on Taiwanese Orchid Island, the indigenous Dao didn't accept the dumping of nuclear waste onto their homeland. They mobilized themselves and took action successfully against unjust policies. Consequently, Taiwan's Government and major companies are today paying compensation for the Dao.

Other examples of ecological colonialism include gas and oil exploitation on arctic indigenous territories, exploitation of indigenous lands in the Amazon regions, pollution caused by mining systems all around the world, etc. The unjust exploitation of environment and ecological colonialism are global issues that need to be tackled. Long lasting ecological exploitation with its negative influence on indigenous cultures and the contamination of nature cannot simply be solved with compensation payments.

Openly spoken words and the conspiracy of silence: discourses about leukemia in Sicily

Author: Gaetano Mangiameli (Università degli Studi di Milano)  email
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Short Abstract

A complex intertwining of the social and the ecological spheres underlies the incidence of leukemia in Eastern Sicily, a case in which global, national and regional factors are used to provide explanations of health-disease processes involving actors as various as farmers, the Mafia and the NATO.

Long Abstract

The ethnography of health-disease processes is an effective tool for exploring how the social and the ecological spheres are intertwined. Debates about environmental justice are dramatically relevant when they involve the ecological dimension of health, which, in turn, is related to political and economic factors at different levels (global, national, local). My paper will deal with the case of a town in Eastern Sicily where, according to official sources, the incidence of leukemia is far higher than the Italian national average. In recent years, an enduring campaign carried on by local activists has created a complex scenario for the understanding of this phenomenon, providing multiple explanations which are connected to how people use or modify their environment: the incidence of leukemia might depend on the use of pesticides in local agriculture, on the presence of nuclear weapons in the NATO base of Sigonella, or rather on the management of toxic waste by the Mafia. If, in general terms, "people make places", here the question is, more precisely, "which people make which places, and how?". By discussing this issue in the public arena, local activists have certainly broken the conspiracy of silence that is at the core of the stereotypes about Sicily, especially when death, business and criminality are at stake. Nevertheless, the outcomes of these "openly spoken words" seem not to be different from the outcomes of silence, with important implications about the perception of democracy and the meaning attributed to active political participation in Italy.

On the production of localities in the degrowth movement

Author: Ana Flavia Badue (Universidade de São Paulo)  email
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Short Abstract

“An infinite growth in a finite world is impossible”, claim degrowth activists. The solutions, they say, must be played locally, but alternatives can be found all around the world. The aim of this speech is to analyze how localities (such as North and South) are created and actualized by degrowth ideas and actions.

Long Abstract

Environment has become an important issue in political and economical debates around the world. In Europe, mainly in France, some social movements and also academic theories have been debating the perspective of "degrowth". In general, the debates are pervaded by considerations on economic and political growth and the main argument is "infinite growth in a finite world is impossible". According to degrowth activists, to avoid a future catastrophe, economical and political transformations should occur mainly in rich countries because the consumption habits in wealthy nations are more harmful than in the poorer ones.

These ideas circulate throughout many militant groups in France (but also in Spain, Italy, Canada). These groups are organized in many different ways and arranged in various spatialities: collectives focused on urban composting, on bicycles and on advertisement, academic groups, newspaper and magazine, political parties, ecological products stores.

An ethnographic approach to French degrowth enlightens not only daily lives and militants' experiences but also the social configuration of localities. Terms such as North and South, rich and poor countries, countryside and big cities, permeate degrowth debates and practices. Some policies and social movements from the South (for example the "MST" in Brazil) are conceived as interesting ways of resistance to economic growth. At the same time, political and economic changes are supposed to be local, once great displacements may be ecologically dangerous. This speech aims to map some of these distinctions and to show how they are built by and within degrowth ideas and practices.

Challenges of Muslim environmental organizations in the Middle East

Author: Laura Wickström (Åbo Akademi University)  email
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Short Abstract

During the last twenty years an increasing number of environmental organizations have been established in the Arab and Muslim world. These organizations operate seldom in a vacuum from the political mainstream ideologies and they face a number of both political and social challenges.

Long Abstract

Concurrently with the increasing awareness of climate change and ecological questions, an increasing number of environmental organizations have been established during the last twenty years throughout the world, including the Arab and Muslim world. As most religious traditions, Islam attempts to restore environmental and ecological values in the religious tradition to retort the present ecological crisis. Most of the Muslim intellectuals are engaged in other than ecological or environmental questions such as local and regional politics, equality questions or the role of religion in society. This has led to environmental questions playing a marginal role, if they are observed at all. This might give the impression that environmental discourse is less developed within the contemporary Islamic tradition than among most other major religious traditions. In spite of this there is an increasing number of Muslim scholars and Muslim environmental organizations that occupy themselves with environmental issues. Environmental organizations working in predominantly Muslim societies operate seldom in a vacuum from the political mainstream ideologies and they face a number of both political and social challenges. The purpose of this paper is to present some of the Muslim environmental organizations working in the Middle East and to discuss their purposes and operational possibilities.

Climate change and social change

Author: Ann Sofie Thorhauge (University of Copenhagen)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper discusses how the ecological challenge as conveyed to us by climate researchers requires and shapes social change. It discusses how climate change produces social change as it is taken up in geopolitical assemblies and in local urban settings.

Long Abstract

This paper juxtaposes fieldwork experiences from two sites where different actors are actively working to produce social change in the wake of human induced global warming.

The much criticized UN Cop-meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009, is analyzed as a geopolitical site in which state formation processes reshape and is reshaped by the threat of global climate change. This geopolitical site is juxtaposed to a small neighborhood in Copenhagen where local authorities have set up climate change as a locus for an urban renewal project.

As global climate change highlights the need for social change as well as the interconnections of global and local practices, it calls for analytical frameworks that articulate these interconnections within a theory of social change. The analytical framework of Norbert Elias´ provides such a frame, and revisiting his theory of the Civilization Process this paper discusses the uses of climate change in global processes of state formation. Following the interconnections of global and local practices this paper also discusses how climate change can be analyzed as halting or escalating civilizing processes of globally interdependent individuals.

Will the electric car pacify the world? Ecological mobility, urbanism and sustainable economy...

Author: Alexandru Balasescu (SNSPA Bucharest)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores the agency of the electric vehicle. It argues that changing in the combustion for mobility objects brings changes both in subjectivities and in the relation with the environment, and explores these new possible subjectivities and emerging discourses on electric cars, environment and economy.

Long Abstract

As "environment preservation" becomes more and more present on the agenda of global actors and "sustainability" is a THE buzzword in business strategies, the materiality, shapes and ways of functioning of the objects of mobility will change. These innovations will be paralleled by changes in the way we define our gendered selves and our relation with the environment. Their social integration will push for deep cultural transformation, and new types of sexualities, subjectivities and normativities will appear and will modify urban forms and legal frames in which we live.

The electric vehicle, heralded by some as the ecological future of individual mobility, generates a series of contradictory discourses and new ways of thinking about our environment. While the pollution factor of the vehicle appears to be reduced (or only hidden from the user), the object itself, through its form and functionality, perpetuates non-ecological behavior and urban forms, patriarchal power structures or hegemonic discourses of both economic growth and neo-liberal individualism.

This paper proposes an overview of the multilayered discourses around the alternative combustion car and the transformations at individual and social levels it may bring.

Street-by-street energy efficiency roll-out schemes: a practical alternative for fighting climate change with social fairness?

Author: Sophie Nemoz (University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines)  email
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Short Abstract

The talk addresses a creative alternative for fighting climate change with social fairness. The project consists in street-by-street energy efficiency roll-out schemes and the conditions of implementation will be deepened in Belgium. The core of discussion deals with the social and environmental implications of such a new measure.

Long Abstract

Climate change has risen to the top of the policy-making agenda with the debate focusing on what targets should be set for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the measures need to meet those targets. Far less attention has been paid to the implications of these measures for different groups in European societies. In Brussels, the King Baudouin Foundation has launched a unique project which developped an approach which combines effective measures to fight climate change with social fairness in Europe. At the close of these days of talks, street-by-street energy-efficiency roll out schemes are promoted as a practical way of negotiating the relation between the social and the ecological sphere, and the University of Brussels has charge of analysing the drivers and the barriers in Belgium.

The talk questions the interest in this creative alternative. To take up the environmental challenge, the energy efficiency of buildings has been a major focus in recent years, and most promotion schemes are targeted at individual consumers and households. Whilst this can be effective, it can be more efficient to treat the energy efficiency upgrading of buildings as a local infrastructure problem. Furthermore, focusing on a community-wide approach can help to create incentive for people to work together to improve efficiency, as well as building common awareness of the importance of climate change mitigation efforts. With this case study, I also hope to show the ethical concerns and the potential clashes raised by such a political project and to what extent they could be overcome.

Human ecology and the ecosystem perspective: from a disciplinary to a pluri-disciplinary perspective

Authors: Inês Vieira (FCSH-UNL)  email
Magda Pinto (Universidade de Brasilia)  email
Iva Pires (Faculdade Ciências Sociais e Humanas - UNL)  email
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Short Abstract

The aim of our paper is to address some epistemological foundations, from a disciplinary/fragmented/limited approach to an ecosystem one, with the complex/nonlinear reflection on the contemporary ecological problems. We highlight human ecology as a field guide due to its pluridisciplinary matrix.

Long Abstract

Social and technological development, as well as the scale and intensity of human interventions on the ecosystems, offer increasingly complex problems. Furthermore, the globalization of the environmental problems becomes more obvious and the uncertainty on the economic, social and environmental aspects increases. Complex problems call for complex solutions and new interdisciplinary knowledge and co-operation between social and natural sciences.

As we face an urgent environmental challenge we need a science that is more integrative, that can assess the complex reality from a more comprehensive perspective.

In this sense, human ecology is one of the few areas of scientific knowledge that has developed over the last forty years a truly multidisciplinary approach, where there are intense reflections on not only the ecological issue, but mainly on integrating the ecological and the human systems, overcoming in some ways the Cartesian paradigm, compartmentalized and disciplinary. The understanding of complex and dynamic interactions between social, economic and environmental processes has defined the pluridisciplinary matrix that differentiates human ecology from other research areas and that arrives from its roots both in Ecology and in social sciences, namely in sociology and geography.

In this paper we intend to describe the epistemological basis that has been used by human ecology and the emergence of an ecosystem paradigm to support the transition from a disciplinary to a multidisciplinary approach.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.