/ (ænˈθrɒpəˌsiːn) /: the Anthropocene a proposed term for the present geological epoch (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards), during which humanity has begun to have a significant impact on the environment
Authors David Carlin and Nicole Walker’s Mini-Syllabus does more than introduce readers to the literature on the Anthropocene. The authors suggest that some hope for success in addressing climate change can be found in drawing from the push and pull between humanity and the forces of nature — and they have created a resource to help others do the same.
“Writers map this world from what we like to imagine is the pristine pastoral. They map the world from the gritty city. Rarely, do these two worlds overlap. But in this course, we will read authors whose work explores how these maps overlap, how the impact of humans affects every corner of the natural world and also how the natural world never abandoned the human one. Nature is everywhere. [So are humans. Humans write about themselves as much as humans make the world temperatures serve their comfort needs.] But, since humans are the only ones who read what humans write, we are going to read and write about the way humans pushed nature into their special comfort zone—and the way nature is pushing back.”
Carlin and Walker make a moving observation: “Here is the thing about the Anthropocene: Our imaginations brought us here. Perhaps there is hope that imagination, or stubbornness, that will get us out of here. “ So said, so done.
Carlin and Walker’s syllabus includes a diverse set of literature which effectively bridges the divide between academic and non-academic ways of thinking. Doing so helps them speak to the issues of despair and hope in Anthropocene.
The syllabus includes nonfiction works by Donna Haraway’s, such as Staying with the Trouble and Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, both of which are also included in the Radical Hope Syllabus. (See Patrick Reed’s Expecting the Unexpected, Damian White’s Design, Hybridity and Just Transitions, Tania Katzscher’s Looking at the Ordinary).
They also include works of fiction such as Tana French’s In the Woods, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, and Terese Svoboda’s Great American Desert. Suggested poetry includes newly appointed U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and Jake Skeet’s Eyes Bottle dark with a mouthful of flowers.
The syllabus is itself a creative and academic project, and its readings are both approachable and honest. “The texts combine despair with imagination because at rock bottom, and that’s when, supposedly, you build yourself back up,” the authors say. “We will read across genre because in the Anthropocene, we need every tool of the imagination to document it, elegize it, learn from it, undo it and build something less anthrocentric back up.”
This is a wonderful project that would pair nicely with the Radical Hope Syllabus and we thank the authors for their work.
(*Featured image: CTG. Ship Breaking 06. Photo by Naquib Hossain [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr)
This summer, I went on a field trip to Alang-Sosiya in the northwestern state of Gujarat, India, where geriatric vessels are anchored in the shipbreaking yards for their not-so-respectful funeral rights. They are taken apart bolt by bolt, rivet by rivet, down to their very last ounce of valuable metal. This place is infamously known as the “world’s largest graveyard for ships.” Despite the fact that this “recycling” is making use of vast amounts of material, the negative impacts on the environment unleashed through improper shipbreaking are substantial. Most ships are not properly cleaned of residue oils and fuel before they are sent, and they need to be meticulously dismantled in order to prevent oil spills and other toxins leaching into the environment. As I prepared for my journey, I wondered: Why is India voluntarily involved in this trade of hazardous waste? Is there an end in sight to the export of toxic waste appealingly disguised as “recycling” from the Global North to the Global South? What about the workers who survive by earning their daily living from scrapping these dead ships? As the complexity of these questions drew me towards scholarly despair and narratives of complete declensionism, I stumbled across some hopeful news: Dutch shippers had been sentenced for having demolished ships on an Indian beach. This news made me reconsider my doomy fears and instilled an idea in my head: perhaps it is possible to navigate the Indian shipbreaking industry with a vision of hope.
On 15 March 2018, the Rotterdam District Court in the Netherlands convicted Seatrade, the Groningen based shipping operator and the largest reefer operator in the world, for the illegal export of several 1984-built reefer vessels, namely: Spring Bear, Spring Bob, Spring Panda, and Spring Deli. The ships were exported for scrapping on the beaches of India, Bangladesh, and Turkey in order to save money, due to the lax environmental and safety regulations in these places. This illegal act violated the international laws governing the export of hazardous waste as well as the EU Waste Shipment Regulations (EWSR). According to these regulations, EU member states are generally prohibited from exporting hazardous waste to countries outside the membership of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and must acquire prior consent for any such exports. The company has been imposed with fines ranging between EUR 500,000 and EUR 750,000. Furthermore, two of its executives have been banned from working for any shipping company (in any capacity) for one year. A third director has been acquitted. Prison charges were waived by the judges due to the novelty of the case.
In a recent report, NGO Shipbreaking Platform stated that 835 large ocean-going commercial vessels were sold to scrap yards in 2017 alone, 543 of which were broken down on the beaches of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. In the light of these disturbing yet revealing data, Ingvild Jenssen, founder and director of NGO Shipbreaking Platform, welcomed “this groundbreaking judgment that sets a European-wide precedent for holding ship owners accountable for knowingly selling vessels, via shady cash-buyers, for dirty and dangerous breaking in order to maximize profits.”
What is it that makes illegal shipbreaking so dangerous to the environment? First of all, the scale of the operations. The importance of ships is often invisible to us in our day-to-day lives, yet the International Maritime Organization (IMO) statesthat “maritime transport is essential to the world’s economy as over 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move en masse goods and raw materials around the world.” But the connections between ships and toxicity are still not always obvious. What makes these floating vessels hazardous to both humans and the environment is their deaths at the substandard shipyards of the Global South, which emanate toxicity. Their rebirth is facilitated by the destructive labor forces of the shipyards through the recycling of their valuable materials, like ferrous and nonferrous components, wood, heavy machinery, and technological items in good, reusable condition. However, ships, especially those built before 1992, also contain huge quantities of toxic asbestos: a thermal insulating and fire-resistant material used in engine rooms, corridors, exhaust pipes, fireproof doors, as well as in many other places. In addition, many products on board the vessels, such as insulating materials, batteries, and electrical compounds, contain heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in both solid and liquid forms, and Tributyltin (TBT), which is present in anti-fouling paints. Added to this expanding list of toxic materials are mineral oils, bilge, and ballast water. These polluting and hazardous contaminants become all the more life threatening when a ship is demolished—they leach into the environment and come into close contact with workers in the shipyards.
The refrigerated Spring class vessels that Seatrade exported for demolition were used for carrying both refrigerated and dry cargo and therefore contained high amounts of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), along with other commonly present hazardous substances. The court determined that Seatrade’s motive for selling the vessels for demolition via a cash buyer, rather than recycling the ships in a safe and clean manner, was purely financial. The district court judge said: “It is common knowledge that beaching a ship and demolishing it at the spot pollutes water and air, while untrained workers lack the expertise to deal with dangerous materials . . . These practices cause multiple deaths a year.”
To better understand the proceedings of this case, it is important to underline how waste and recycling are understood in the international laws governing the export of hazardous waste. According to EU Waste Shipment Regulations (EWSR), waste means any substance or object that a holder discards, intends to discard or is required to discard. Recycling, on the other hand, means a recovery of materials—in our case primarily steel—without endangering human health and without using processes or methods that could harm the environment. Now, the point of contestation between Seatrade and the public prosecutors was that one party claimed that they had exported the ships for recycling, while the other party charged them for exporting ships for demolition—that is, as hazardous waste. One action is legal, while the other is not.
After evaluating the prosecution’s charges, the district court judges determined that the refrigerated vessels had already been intended for demolition when they left the ports of Rotterdam and Hamburg in 2012, which would categorize the ships as waste despite the fact that they were still seaworthy, certified, insured, and operational. In Seatrade’s defense, executives claimed that the ships were sent to South Asia for “recycling.” The prosecutors countered the defense by stating that substantial quantities of hazardous waste were also exported, including at least asbestos and HCFCs, making recycling impossible given the substandard operations in place at the Indian, Bangladeshi, and Turkish shipyards.
Today, Seatrade still disagrees with the court’s judgment that “fully certified, a seaworthy vessel should be considered waste within the meaning of European Waste Shipment Regulations (EWSR) since the ships were operational till the very last moment and represented millions of euros in value at the time of sale.” The company therefore plans to proceed to the Hague Court of Appeal for acquittal from the criminal charges levied against it.
What will change with this hopeful court verdict? Authorities in Norway, Belgium, and the UK have been paying close attention to the court proceedings and the final verdict, as they are currently investigating similar cases. Seatrade’s conviction has underlined the realization by courts of law, investors, and major shipping banks that better ship recycling practices are needed and should be strictly enforced. Moreover, ship owners should be held accountable for their intentional and misinformed actions in the murky world of the international shipping industry. For me, the penalization of the shipping company has helped me to shake my doomful fears and to rethink the issue. It has helped me find hope—hope that the inhabited territories of Alang will not always be treated as a graveyard for toxic ships; hope that one day, workers will not die from slow poisoning as they dissect vessels bolt by bolt, piece by piece, with the help of only the most basic technology. If international ship owners are driven to take prior decontamination seriously, then the concept of recycling—that is the recovery of materials without harming the individuals and their environment—will become possible.
In this research, two case studies coming from the mid 1970s are considered. One on the development of medium scale wind turbines in Denmark and another on the development of small wind turbines in Scotland. These represent two distinct yet key episodes in the development of modern electricity-producing wind turbines. Both stories are triggered, directly or indirectly, by the oil crisis of 1973-74, and consider the consequent development of wind energy from emerging environmental and anti-nuclear movements, as a response and a critique to the industrial-capitalist mode of production and its need for seemingly limitless growth in a finite natural environment. The grassroots technological networks described in the case studies, display not only the creativity and ingenuity of their actors, but also their courage and vision for a radically different future, inviting us to learn and be inspired by their stories, while looking ahead at what still needs to be done.
How do you define radical hope? Locally manufactured windmills flow out of a radical co-production between precarious wind patterns, self-built tools, home-brewed experiments, recycled and up-cycled materials, basic electricity needs and the unique design styles, repair strategies and temperaments of different builders. It is within this fluidity that radical hope shifts what is static into a dynamic multitude of infinite possibilities.
How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?As one reads these inspiring stories about the different development paths of windmills, several aspects of the narrative provide striking implications for moments in human history when our societies face radical changes. One aspect is how quickly and effectively people can act in response to a crisis. In a bit more than five years, many Danes became wind turbine designers and many others were using the wind to power their homes and feed electricity in the utility grid, while the anti-nuclear movement could showcase the largest operating electricity producing wind turbine in the world, providing electricity and heat for the Tvind schools, which was actually designed and manufactured to a large extend by the teachers and students of the schools. If they could do it, anyone could do it! Similarly in the Scottish peninsula of Scoraig, after almost a year of experimentation, Hugh Piggott and his neighbor Bev managed to light up their homes during long and windy winter nights, by reusing car parts they found in the scrap yard to put together precarious, yet functioning, small wind-electric systems. In less than five years, most of the crofts on the peninsula had a small windmill in their garden that provided small yet valuable amounts of electricity. In both cases the machines were not perfect, but they worked; and apart from producing electricity, they also proved in practice that it can be done, that there are always alternatives as long as people put their hearts and minds to it. Then the only thing left to do is wait for the wind to blow. And the wind of change always comes.
Maegaard P., Krenz A. and Palz W., Wind Power for the World: The Rise of Modern Wind Energy (Pan Stanford, 2013)
Radjou N., Prabhu J., and Ahuja S., Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth (Jossey-Bass, 2012)
De Laet M. and Mol A. (2000) “The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology”, Social Studies of Science, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 225-263.
Usenyuk S., Hyysalo S. and Jack W. (2016) “Proximal Design: Users as Designers of Mobility in the Russian North”, Technology and Culture, Vol.57, No. 4, pp. 866-908
Harper P., Boyle G. and the editors of Undercurrents magazine, Radical Technology – Food and Shelter, Tools and Materials, Energy and Communications, Autonomy and Community (Undercurrent Books, 1977)
Kostakis V., Latoufis K., Liarokapis M. and Bauwens M. (2016) “The convergence of digital commons with local manufacturing from a degrowth perspective: Two illustrative cases”, Journal of Cleaner Production
Hyysalo S. and Usenyuk S. (2015) “The user dominated technology era: Dynamics of dispersed peer-innovation”, Research Policy, 2015, vol. 44, issue 3, 560-576
Brandes U., Stich S. and Wender M., Design by Use: The Everyday Metamorphosis of Things (Birkhäuser, 2009)
Hyysalo S., Jensen T., Oudshoorn N., The New Production of Users Changing Innovation Collectives and Involvement Strategies (Routledge, 2016)
Beck K., The Art of Truck Modding on the Nile (Sudan): An Attempt to Trace Creativity, in The Speed of Change: Motor Vehicles and People in Africa, 1890-2000. Edited by Gewald J., Luning S. and van WalravenK (Brill, 2009)
How do you define radical hope? I am a little wary of purely transcendental theories of hope since political hope is to a large degree context specific. Our sense of hope is heavily dependent on historical context, shifting events and empirical information, the prevailing ideologies of the time and the broader balance of forces in play. Hope is historical. It ebbs and it flows. Nevertheless, I do think it is vitally important for critical theory to militantly demand that other worlds are possible beyond a mode of fossil fueled neo-liberalism now hurtling towards climate chaos and authoritarian populisms. We presently face a very dangerous moment, where the forces of climate denialism and climate fatalism are both ascendant – particularly in the United States. And elsewhere, the only project that seems to be on the table is a form of green capitalism that sees the decarbonization of the status quo as the only game in town. Even amongst the many radical currents who seek to resist all these currents, there is a politics of low expectations that pervades virtually all climate discussions. We must of course decarbonize the status quo and urgently. But we must also retain our commitment to the emancipatory project and resist this politics of low expectations.
I think that one of the more useful ways to think about hope is in terms of political possiblism. Possibilism can be seen as an approach to critique that seeks to locate hope in the tension between what is and what could be. This is an approach to history that is very central to the thinking of social theorists like Henri Lefebvre, Andre Gorz, Murray Bookchin, Hannah Arendt and Donna Haraway. I would favor here a materialist account of history that is still alert to cracks, contingencies and turning points, openings and possibilities. A good deal of scholarship in feminist science studies, historical ecology as well as science and technology studies has continually emphasized that the current socio-technical world we inhabit was not given. There were all kinds of other routes that could have been taken. There is a lot to learn from this material because it suggests other routes may well still be open to us.
Possibilism argues for an account of agency which recognizes that the histories of subordinated groups in particular – workers, women, indigenous, racialized and colonized peoples – is often a tale of “getting things done under extraordinary circumstances”. It is an approach that suggests hope can emerge from being attentive to all kinds of cracks, crises and contradictions in our current system. Marx allows us to see the ways in which capitalism continually opens up all manner of opportunities for capital accumulation, exploitation, alienation and colonialization. But Marx always emphasized that capitalism was not simply a force for regression, it could also open up post-capitalist possibilities for other kinds of futures. Such an observation raises the question in what ways might new productive forces produced by green and digital capitalism thrown up new possibilities for a broader emancipatory project that might be delimited or tethered by existing social relations.
It is an approach that argues the future is not simply a story that is determined by fate, sinfulness or climate but that building futures is a political project that we enact, even if we enact futures not under social and ecological conditions of our own choosing. We need to be able to think about futures and we need to be continually alert to counter-trends and surprises.
Hope is vitally important because authoritarian populism and climate change are causing many thoughtful people to entirely loose hope. For some progressives and radical folk in the affluent world, a view of the future as the apocalyptic Anthropocene is increasingly sliding towards “it’s-too-late-o-cene.” This is a view of the world though that is entirely North centric, stunningly privileged and remarkably narcissistic. There is a big difference between acknowledging our current socio-environmental politics may have catastrophic outcomes if all things remain equal and a politics of catastrophism that presents all things remaining equal as the most likely outcome. We need to be alert to the ways in which Left-green fatalism and Left-green melancholy emerging out of the rich world could be as dangerous to political organization and mobilization as corporate-funded climate denialism.
A viable climate possibilism today must acknowledge the gravity and dangers of our current situation. We really are in deep trouble and we have to acknowledge that our future will take place on a radically altered, hybrid and restless planet. But climate possibilists today must also assert that our political lives and our socio-ecological futures are not determined. There are many ways, still, where we, as active citizens and socio-ecological subjects might build dynamic social ecologies that can mitigate our impact and adapt to the times ahead.
How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?A great deal of traditional environmental discourse has present human agency as a problem. I find a great deal of hope in the conversations occurring between design and socio-natural hybridity studies that are trying to think about how diverse kinds of labor can play a creative role in the web of life. These currents are important because they are historicizing our understandings of socio-ecological relations beyond the dualist and homeostatic accounts of 1970s ecology. They are discussions which reject the old deep ecological view of “humans as inherent environmental degraders” but they also resist the Promethean view that sees humanity as only capable of having instrumental and domineering relations with the natural world. In contrast, critical currents of design see to cultivate approaches to building post carbon futures which accent possibilities of co-creating and careful making of new kinds of social ecologies. This is a field that increasingly argues we should not and cannot settle for the proposition that the only options on the table are to embrace catastrophe or accept the need for a technocratic vision of “the good Anthropocene”. Rather, we need a new vision of our possible socio-ecological future that is far better than anything available in the Holocene, for communities, for workers, for all.
Critical design scholars such as Tony Fry, Ezio Manzini, Anne Marie Willis, İdil Gaziulusoy, Ramia Mazé, Gideon Kossoff, Cameron Tonkinwise and Terry Irvin have all argued in various places over the last decade that a re-conceptualized and expanded understanding of design as a socio-material, socio-ecological and socio-technical form of redirective practice for post carbon transitions operating from the spaces of everyday life to planetary ontologies – must become a central progressive imaginary for reconfiguring socio-environmental politics writ large.
In ways that are quite complementary to Haraway figurations –like the cyborg, and has overlap with Marx’s writing in the 1844 Manuscripts, Tony Fry and Anne Marie Willis posit the notion that the anthros cannot be understood through the old Eurocentric humanist lens. But we can usefully understand the anthros as a self-designing species. We prefigure our courses of action and making. We are in turn “designed by our designing and by that which we have designed (i.e., through our interactions with the structural and material specificities of our environments).” This results in a “double movement”, notably we are continually involved in the attempt to design our world but this world, is of course full of its own recalcitrance and agencies, it folds back on us and designs us.
From the perspective of critical design then, the Anthropocene requires us to acknowledge that we live in a hybrid world, a made world, indeed a (mal)designed world and that this is a world where, as Tony Fry says “Nature alone cannot sustain us: we are too many, we have done too much ecological damage and we have become too dependent on the artificial worlds that we have designed, fabricated and occupied”. But a credible ecopolitical imaginary must render this designed world visible rather than retreat into fatalist romantic environmentalism. But in contrast to Donna Haraway’s anxious view of political agency, Tony Fry argues that a viable climate politics we must center the idea of design as the act of making and remaking. If we understand design, at root as naming “…. our ability to prefigure what we create before the act of creation” this can open up a vision of creative labor and sustainable making and remaking that can move from the intimate sphere, to the household to the garden, the firm and the workplace, the garden and agriculture to architecture, planning, services, production and consumption to the urban future. Life in the Anthropocene then is not about doing less and being less. Rather, it will require that we systematically remake all aspects of our material culture. And this will require in turn that design must be politicized, generalized and transformed.
Design by definition draws into view the question of labour and the central role that the creative laboring subject must play in making and remaking survival futures in common. The project then that most gives me hope at the moment is the project to build a post carbon transition that connects the struggle of working people for just transitions with radical histories of vernacular making and past traditions of worker centered, participatory and community centered design. The Anthropocene is going to be a world that we make. We need to make this world in common with our fellow citizens and the species and lifeforms that we wish to share the planet with.
For introductions to the contribution design can contribute to post-carbon transition thinking whilst also increasing our capacities to live well see:
Murray Bookchin 1971 “Towards a Liberatory Technology” in Post Scarcity Anarchism. Black Rose Books.
Tony Fry. 2009 Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice. New York: Berg.
Ezio Manzini 2014 Design When Everyone Designs Oxford, OUP.
Anne Marie Willis “Ontological Designing” Design Philosophy Papers. Volume 3, 2005 – Issue 2.
Chris Wilbert and Damian White (eds) 2011. Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Reader. AK Press.
For the definitive popular surveys that capture the creative and problematic forces of human agency in historical ecology see:
Charles C. Mann (2005) 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Knopf and Charles C. Mann (2011) 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, Knopf.
William L. Balée and Clark L. Erickson(2006) Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology. Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands.. Columbia University Press.
And for still important accounts of socio-natural hybridity see:
Donna Haraway, 1991. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Routledge.
Donna Haraway (2016) Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene Duke University Press.
Richard Levins & Richards Lewontin(1985) The Dialectical Biologist Harvard University Press.
Lesley Head Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-conceptualising human–nature relations 2016 – Routledge
For important accounts of creative labor in the web of life see:
David Harvey 1996. Justice, Nature and the Politics of Difference. OUP.
Jason W. Moore (2015) Capitalism in the Web of Life, Verso.
New Knowledges for a New World:
MacKenzie Wark’s Molecular Red Verso, 2015 contains many interesting insights for thinking about the epistemological challenges posed by climate change and thinking climate futures through the lens of many knowledges. This interview with Wark is full of interesting and provocative insights:
McKenzie Wark & Petar Jandrić (2016) New knowledge for a new planet: critical pedagogy for the Anthropocene, Open Review of Educational Research, 3:1, 148-178,
For thinking about counterfactual histories and possible futures, I find the writings of Octavier Butler and Kim Stanley Robinson’s essential.
Butler’s Xenogenesis series Dawn (Warner, 1987), Adulthood Rites (Warner, 1988), Imago (Warner, 1989), Xenogenesis (Guild America Books, 1989) provides a stunning anticipation of debates in cyborg and hybrid ecologies. Her books Parable of the Sower (Four Walls, Eight Windows, 1993) and Parable of the Talents (Seven Stories Press 1998) could help us think beyond romantic ecosocialisms and left ecomodernism.
Robinson’s Mars trilogy Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), Blue Mars (1996) provides one of the best literary attempts to think about some of the central issues running through social ecology, deep ecology, eco-anarchism, eco-socialism and beyond. The Years of Rice and Salt (2002) is a stunningly ambitious post-Eurocentric counterfactual history.
For accounts of the contributions that trade unions and movements for gender and racial justice can make to the just transition see:
Dimitris Stevis and Romain Felli (2015): Global labour unions and just transition to a green economy; in: International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, vol. 15 (1), 29–43
Alyssa Battistoni (2017) “Green-Pink Collar Labour: Revaluing Social Reproduction for Just transitions”
Myles Lennon (2017) “Decolonizing energy: Black Lives Matter and technoscientific expertise amid solar transitions” Energy Research & Social Science 30 (2017) 18–27
Kyle Powys Whyte (2016)“Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene” in Heise, Ursula K. et al. (ed) Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities London, Routledge.
Finally, for my own attempt to bring the literatures on design and socio-natural hybridity together see:
Abstract: To approach something like hope–so potentially slippery and sentimental–I turn to love, perhaps an equally elusive horizon or abstraction. What might love mean in liberal democracies and forms of governmentality, which seek to organize phantasmatic forms of intimacy and relationality into legible taxonomies of identity? Why should we dare to generate a political concept of love? Perhaps love and hope feel impossible to theorize because they appear to be intuitive, ordinary matters of the gut. But as Kathleen Stewart argues, the effective forms which appear ordinary “are surging capacities.” Hope and love are among the energies we muster to encounter and reassemble the relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergencies of ordinary life. I propose we begin to think about property and land—forms and textures of everyday life—in terms of love, an effective decolonization. Settlement is the archetype of heteronormative love, the American romance narrative that prescribes cultivation, reproduction, privacy. That is, to settle down means to inhabit the tempos of heteroreproductivity: To marry, to buy property, to ‘have’ children. To express possession. To be possessed. Continue reading “On Love and Property”
Description This syllabus emerged from a conference course with one of the initial Radical Hope contributors and organizers, Dr. Erika Bsumek. Each week featured readings from already submitted syllabi now available on radicalhopesyllabus.com.
While it began with the intention to test the usefulness of each syllabus and case study across disciplines, I quickly found more and more overlap as the weeks progressed. Each author brought their own set of influences to the discussion of radical hope, the RH syllabi quickly formed a cohesive whole. My experience is a testament to both the usefulness of this tool and the importance of it being taught in classes wishing to touch on topics related to the environmental humanities.
My section of the syllabus is a result of the readings I’ve completed for this course, my own understanding of radical hope, and how I have come to understand the readings and individuals who contribute to the discussion of maintaining radical hopefulness accompanied by action, in the face of environmental degradation, catastrophe, and despair.
How do you define radical hope?I’d define radical hope as a conscious effort to acknowledge the degradation of culture or environment, secondly, a willingness to educate oneself and others, and finally, a belief in the humanity and the application of sustainable environmental practices. Radical hope requires some level of thinking beyond the present, acknowledging the failures and successes of the past, and being open to the action that knowledge demands.
Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope (2006) opens the door to the discussion of vulnerability and ethics in the face of cultural devastation. The vulnerability facing the Crow Nation featured in Lear’s work can be applied to broader discussions of environmental degradation and change that is often accompanied by despair. Rather than dwell in despair, Carsten Wergin suggests respectful and careful listening to others. I’d like to suggest turning our ears toward the Garifuna in Belize as the representation of radical hope and persistence.
How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study? The Garifuna are mixed-race descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak people. Persecution led them to island hop until they settled along the Caribbean Coast in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Facing persecution in the lands they now inhabit, and often bearing the brunt of environmental change, over fishing, and overpopulation, Garifuna peoples are also advocates of change (See Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective: Watina, “Net Loss: Are We Drowning our Future?”, Cayetano’s “Drums of My Fathers”)
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This section considers the practice of phytoremediation as both a model and source of inspiration for radical hope. It takes as a case study the city of Taranto, in southern Italy. Taranto has long been devastated by the effects of toxic emissions, including high levels of dioxins, from the massive Ilva steel plant. Classified as Persistent Organic Pollutants, dioxins and dioxin-like compounds are almost imperceptible, remaining largely undetected by the unaided human or animal body where they can lead to illnesses including cancer, digestive disease and thyroid imbalance. Dioxins travel by water and air, bioaccumulate in food chains and living tissues, and thus encourage a reckoning with trans-corporeality, the “material interconnections of human corporeality with the more-than-human world” (Alaimo, 2010: 2). In recent years residents, activists and artists have banded together in Taranto and surrounding areas to combat local dioxins with a very different and yet equally transmutable, potentially transcorporeal, organic substance: hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) Through both agricultural and artistic practice, Taranto’s contemporary narrators seek to convey the potential of hemp as a detoxifying salve and means of regeneration for land, artisanal community and local economy. They promote hemp as a natural tool for phytoremediation – the use of living plants to detoxify soil and water – and as an easily cultivated crop capable of providing fiber for textiles, ceramics and more, thus reinvigorating traditional forms of productive craftsmanship. In this they frame hemp as an anti-dioxin: purifying rather than toxic and so manifestly perceptible in its overt and multi-form physicality. Their work is profoundly hopeful, and radically simple, in its premise: that a plant can simultaneously diminish toxins within the soil on which so many lives depend, and that the fiber it produces might offer an alternative model for forward growth in a community and landscape otherwise devastated by large-scale industrial production.
How do you define radical hope?
I see “radical hope” as the purest type of hope: a deep and unshakeable belief that something positive can happen despite difficult circumstances. It is a dynamic hope often backed by actions that may run counter to apparent restrictions.
How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?
The current situation in Taranto regarding environment, health, and employment is brutal. The massive Ilva steelworks produces approximately 90% of Italy’s annual dioxin output; farmers can no longer cultivate crops or raise feed animals within 15 kilometers of the centrally located steelworks; residents face excessive rates of cancer, lung and digestive diseases, and perinatal illness; and many Ilva workers feel they have no choice but to trade unsafe working conditions and eventual illness for a paycheck. More and more area residents, current and former Ilva workers, and environmental health advocates are lobbying for permanent closure of the steelworks, but the Italian government continues to declare that Ilva will remain open.
Should you visit the waterfront city, you might notice a fine coating of red steel dust on stationary surfaces; the blast furnaces dominating the skyline just beyond the centrally located Tamburi neighborhood, where children have been forbidden to access playgrounds in recent years; significant abandon and disrepair in the historic old town; and talk of tumors and unemployment at local bars. But you will also encounter a nascent (re)generative energy: artists, folklorists, activists and cultural operators of all sorts have begun to re-occupy neglected spaces for their creative practices, often emphasizing natural materials from land and sea alongside local artisanal tradition. Many incorporate hemp – from the artist collective Ammostro, who use the fiber in their screen-printing studio, to the socially engaged artist Noel Gazzano, who planted hemp seeds as part of her 2016 performance piece “The Unbearable Condition,” to the Fornaro family, who cultivate the plant on their large family farm directly next to Ilva grounds, seeking to simultaneously detoxify the soil and provide sustainable fiber and grain. That they take on such initiatives in the face of a massive industrial giant, and a massive crisis of both environment and economy, demonstrates the deep faith, long-term vision and empowered agency inherent to radical hope.
Alaimo, Stacy. Bodily Natures: Science, Environment and the Material Self. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.
Barca, Stefania & Emanuele Leonardi. “Working-class ecology and union politics: a conceptual topology,” Globalizations, 15:4 (2018): 487-503.
Fisher-Lichte, Erika. The Transformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics. Translated by Saskya Iris Jain. London: Routledge, 2008.
Lucifora, A., Bianco, F., and Vagliasindi G.M. Environmental and corporate mis- compliance: A case study on the ILVA steel plant in Italy. Study in the framework of the research project. Catania: University of Catania, 2015.
Mitchell, WJT. Landscape and Power. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Rodrìguez, Àlvaro Ivàn Hernàndez, “Where Can Walking Be Taking Me?” in Sentient Performativities of Embodiment: Thinking Alongside the Human. Edited by Lynette Hunter, Elisabeth Krimmer and Peter Lichtenfels. London: Lexington, 2016. 195-204.
Seger, Monica. “Toxic Tales: On Representing Environmental Crisis in Puglia,” in Encounters With the Real in Contemporary Italian Literature and Cinema, Edited by Pasquale Verdicchio & Laura Di Martino. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017. 29-46.
Seger, Monica. “Thinking Through Taranto: Toxic Embodiment, Eco-catastrophe and the Power of Narrative.” In Landscapes, Natures, Ecologies: Italy and the Environmental Humanities, Enrico Cesaretti, Serenella Iovino and Elena Past, eds. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018. 184-193.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Can you imagine the collapse of a civilization? Smaller in scale, but perhaps more immediate, can you imagine the death of your own society? What attitudes and what skills are needed to do so? And, if you can do it, what can you do next to prevent the end from coming?
In 1962, during what can arguably be considered as the height of the Cold War, national security expert Herman Kahn encouraged “thinking about the unthinkable”: the use of thermonuclear weapons. That same year, peace activist Gunther Anders put forth the premise that society’s ability to fear was too small to match the magnitude of the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction. In response, he called on people to expand their imaginations and have, “the courage to fear.” Perhaps the fact that two such very different people called for creating the capacity to imagine existential scenarios indicates a fundamental challenge to our cognitive capabilities. But if envisioning potential horrors is necessary to understand our vulnerability, it is not, however, sufficient. Action must follow. Anders knew that in the face of fear, people may run for cover. He wanted people to take to the streets. Although Anders di not say so explicitly, the courage to fear must be complemented by “the courage to hope”—to also envision desired possibilities that demand action in order to become realities.
Today, the threat of nuclear war persists, but it is often overshadowed by concerns that the combination of population growth, planetary urbanization, economic globalization, and climate change will result in ecological collapse, social strife, and personal suffering. In this context, what does it mean to have the courage to fear? What could it mean to have the courage to hope?
How do you define radical hope?
An image of the world and a design of action that brings about a future which offers more choices for people than they have today.
How does radical hope emerge from my case study?
By analogy, from the perspective that communities and cities can be understood as living systems, with the hypothesis that understanding the causes and conditions of illness and the causes and conditions of wellness are complementary, and through the examination of extreme cases.
Anders, G. (1962) “Theses for the Atomic Age,” The Massachusetts Review 3(3):493–505.
Boulding, K.E. (1961) The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Boulding, K.E. (1989) Three Faces of Power. London: Sage.
Buzan, B., Waever, O., and de Wilde, J.. (1998) Security: A New Framework for Anaylsis. London: Reinner.
Liotta, P.H. and Shearer, Allan W. (2007) Gaia’s Revenge: Climate Change and Humanity’s Loss, Westport, CT: Praeger.
Morton, T. (2016) Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence, New York: Columbia University Press.
Norton, R.J. (2003) Feral Cities, Naval War College Review 55(4):97–106.
Shearer, A.W. and Liotta, P.H. (2010) Sustainability, Security, and States: Problems of Uncertainty, Paths of Action, in Wagner, C.G. (ed.) Strategies and Technologies for a Sustainable Future, 363–386, Bethesda, MD: WFS.
Shearer, A.W. (2015) “Abduction to Argument: A Framework of Design Thinking,”
Landscape Journal 34:2, pp. 127–138.
Solnit, R. Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, 3rd edition. Chicago: Haymarket Books.(2016)
Paper: “Artemisia’s Army: Environmental Education as Bioremediation” Abstract: The news these days feels relentlessly grim on nearly every issue, from economic security to human rights to the ecological health of the planet. On the political front, cynics and strongmen exult in their increased influence, dismantling longstanding social and environmental protections with ever-increasing boldness and thumbing their nose at all who object. Politics as usual seem inadequate, but so too does resistance at the scale necessary to make a difference. How, then to respond to the crises pressing in on all sides? The best bet, I contend in this section of the syllabus, is environmental education. My essay looks at four diverse approaches spanning from elementary and middle school to university-level, each created by women whose earlier careers led them to a common conclusion: that the only way to make a genuine and lasting difference is to nurture children’s curiosity and foster compassion for the natural world. Planting the seeds of environmental engagement in every child is not for the faint of heart – it requires painstaking effort and the patience of Job – but taken collectively, the impacts are enduring and powerful. Starting with my essay, this module invites students to consider the diverse motivations and methodologies of environmental education. Readings and other resources present different curricular approaches, while assignments (at the discretion of the instructor) should encourage students to explore the strengths and weaknesses of other models of environmental pedagogy. My aim is to encourage students to think about the ways education can enhance or proscribe our relationships with the natural world. How might more unorthodox approaches from early childhood on up inspire wonder, foster greater awareness of non-human environmental stakeholders, and encourage more sustainable forms of resource use in the long and short run? How do you define radical hope? The most radical expression of optimism is slow hope, to borrow Christof Mauch’s expression – in this case, the pursuit of a pedagogy committed to cultivating change from the ground up, with the aim of creating a society of individuals culturally, intellectually, spiritually, and materially committed to caring for all the elements of the earth, animate and inanimate alike. How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study? The case studies I explore in my essay are the living embodiment of radical hope, in each woman’s bold efforts to devise an ethical, invigorating, creative curriculum that encourages young people to shake off the status quo and devise a more ecologically viable vision for the future. Readings
Davis, Julie M. Young Children and the Environment: Early Education for Sustainability. 2nd ed. (Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Grant, Tim and Gail Littlejohn. Teaching Green: The Elementary Years: Hands-on Learning in Grades K-5 (Gabriola, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 2005).
Locke, Steven. “Environmental education for democracy and social justice in Costa Rica.” International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 18:2 (2009) 97-110.
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. (Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books, 2005).
O’Kane, Trish. “What the Sparrows Told Me.” New York Times, August 17, 2014, New York edition, page SR6.
Saylan, Charles, and Daniel T. Blumstein. The Failure of Environmental Education (and How We Can Fix It). (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
Sobel, David T. Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators. (Portland, Me., Stenhouse Publishers, 2008).
Wake, Lynn Overholt. “E.B. White’s Paean to Life: The Environmental Imagination of Charlotte’s Web,” in S.I. Dobrin and K.B. Kidd, eds. Wild Things: Children’s Culture and Ecocriticism. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004), 101-114.
Wattchow, Brian and Mike Brown. A Pedagogy of Place: Outdoor Education for a Changing World (Monash University Publishing, 2011). Websites:
Colleges of the Fenway (Massachusetts) Minor in Sustainability www.colleges-fenway.org/center-for-sustainability-and-the-environment
North American Association for Environmental Educators, https://naaee.org/ (see especially guidelines and workbooks for educators)
SEEQS, School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability, Honolulu, Hawai`i. “Essential questions” curriculum, http://www.seeqs.org/eqs-essential-question-of-sustainability.html
Is expanding consumption and use of limited resources and energy an inevitability, or are there alternative ways of living that might lead to a more sustainable world? History offers hopeful solutions, and in this section we consider past practices and ideas concerning material things that understood them in very different ways to those prevalent in the industrialized world today. As Karen Harvey explains in her chapter “The Language of Oeconomy”, early modern writers in sixteenth to eighteenth-century Europe championed “oeconomy” or household management, which valued “thrift” and “frugality” in managing everyday affairs. Thrift was not understood as saving money but as finding a balance between buying new and making the best use of what one already owned. It also combined material and moral concerns, looking after possessions and people were connected and equally important. Thomas Tusser’s book of household tips provides fascinating evidence of this wide meaning of “thrift” in early modern England, revealing its connection to the optimistic notion of “thriving”. Inherent in thrifty living was a form of experimentation and creativity shared by men and women, who sought to “make use” of things as best they could. This was the heart of oeconomy and it could be argued was a major impetus to the rise of experiment as a way of knowing about nature in the seventeenth century. The chemist and champion of experimental method Robert Boyle’s essay “Of Men’s Great Ignorance of the Uses of Natural Things” makes this apparent, as Boyle wrestled to find new uses for a variety of mundane items and waste products in the service of good oeconomy. Women also experimented, finding out the uses of herbs and minerals to make medicines, as Leong shows. Thrifty householders made good use of things, and making things endure helped achieve this. Repair work, maintenance, careful storage and recycling all contributed to extending the lives of goods, areas whose history has been little studied thus far, though some aspects of these practices are examined by Werrett, Oldenziel and Trischler, Fennetaux, Vasset and Junqua. Continuous reworking of possessions into new uses meant that early moderns understood material things to be open-ended or “incomplete objects” capable of constant revision, an idea explored in a contemporary setting by Karin Knorr-Cetina.
How do you define radical hope?
Thrift, understood in its early modern sense of being a path to thriving, offers an alternative to the seeking after endless growth and exploitation of resources characteristic of modern economies. What I call “Thrifty science” consists of a myriad of small-scale, manageable practices for changing everyday life, learned from history, which serve as an alternative to grand but unrealistic ideologies for global environmental transformation. Oeconomic thinking also offers hope. While today’s economics tries to erase the human from the circulation of money and resources, reducing it to measures and numbers, oeconomics reintroduces the human and moral to these flows, investing people and things with importance requiring preservation and care. Oeconomics is a radical path to thriving.
How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?
We don’t yet have even the beginnings of a science of oeconomics, but I have tried to begin exploring the idea in a paper entitled “Shiftspaces”. Shift is an early modern term for a clever improvisation, using what you have ready to hand to make something. It could be a scientific instrument made from coffee pots and clay pipes, or a container constructed from old china fragments or bottles. Shiftspaces, then, are places which are made from, and encourage the making of, shifts. They could be “maker spaces” or “hack spaces” of the kinds that have sprung up in recent decades, websites sharing knowledge, or repair shops, or just kitchens or sheds used for tinkering (see the links to Jugaad Innovation, Past Imperfect, the Library of Things, the Maintainers). Shiftspaces are laboratories for oeconomics, where radical hope emerges, where people and things learn to thrive.
Boyle, Robert, “Essay X. Of Men’s Great Ignorance of the Uses of Natural Things: or, That there is scarce any one Thing in Nature, wherof the Uses to human Life are yet thoroughly understood,”  in Robert Boyle, The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, 6 vols. (London, 1772), vol. 3, 470-94.
Fennetaux, Ariane; Sophie Vasset and Amélie Junqua, eds., The Afterlife of Used Things: Recycling in the Long Eighteenth Century (New York: Routledge, 2014).
Franklin, Benjamin. “The Way to Wealth.” In Anon. Miscellanies in Prose and Verse: Selected from Pope, Swift, Addison, Goldsmith, Sterne, Hume, Smollet, Gay, Shenstone, Prior, Murphy, and Brooke (Leominster, c. 1770), 61-72.
Harvey, Karen, The Little Republic: Masculinity and Domestic Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
Knorr-Cetina, Karin, “Objectual Practice.” In The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, edited by Theodore R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr-Cetina, Eike von Savigny (London: Routledge, 2001), 175-188.
Leong, Elaine, “Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household,” Centaurus 55 (2013): 81–103.
Oldenziel, Ruth, and Helmuth Trischler, eds., Cycling and Recycling: Histories of Sustainable Practices (New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2016).
Tusser, Thomas, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry As Well For the Champion or Open Countrey… and Besides the Book of Houswifery (London, 1672; 1812 edition); xviii-xxi (“The Ladder to Thrift”).
Van Driel, Joppe, “The Filthy and the Fat: Oeconomy, Chemistry and Resource Management in the Age of Revolutions.” PhD diss., University of Twente, 2016.
Werrett, Simon, “Recycling in Early Modern Science.” British Journal for the History of Science 46 (2013): 627-646.
Werrett, Simon, “Household Oeconomy and Chemical Inquiry.” In Compound Histories: Materials, Production, Governance, 1760-1840, edited by Lissa Roberts, Simon Werrett (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 35-56.
An introduction to Jugaad Innovation <<https://www.slideshare.net/giribiri/jugaad-innovation-34040028>>
Past Imperfect: The Art of Inventive Repair <<http://blog.andrewbaseman.com/>>
The Library of Things <<https://www.libraryofthings.co.uk/>>