It is contradictory that a conference on political ecology, named “Undisciplined environments”, should take place inside the walls of an institution. Inside the walls of anything, for that matter – the best place to have talks on undisciplined environments should, I think, be outside – to let us humans discipline ourselves to the environment and not the other way around, for a change.
But, alas, such is the Swedish weather situation in the month of March that such an arrangement would not be the least agreeable, less to say even possible. And I guess that as academics we also have to succumb to such worldly things as practical technicalities as well. And in that sense – spending time with dedicated political ecologists from all over Europe and the globe is among the most interesting things you can do within four walls!
The conference Undisciplined environments was arranged by the European ENTITLE network for political ecology and took place at KTH – Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, March 20-24. It brought together around 500 participants, who had the privilege to choose from a wide (perhaps too wide for my taste) array of seminars during the four days at KTH campus. The seminars treated themes ranging from post-capitalistic conservation, rethinking environmental conflicts and the enclosure of maritime space to affective ecologies, more-than-humans in the commons and the queering of political ecology. On top of this, every day started off with keynote speeches from some of the academic superstars present. Nancy Peluso, Kim Tallbear and Alf Hornborg all gave very inspiring presentations about feminizing landscapes, decolonizing political ecology, and about a post-capitalist ecology not circulating around money.
Some reflections I bring with me from the days of Undisciplined environments are:
– From an environmental humanities point of view, the conference was surprisingly anthropocentric in its focus. Although I must admit I did not attend any seminar with a “more-than-human” theme, I was disappointed to see how few they were. And also at how the issue of justice for other-than-humans or the rights of nature was sadly absent in the discussions. But political ecology is, however, just that: the anthropocentric politics and ecology in combination. Perhaps it is too much to ask for more ecocentric and more-than-human perspectives?
– The need to decolonize – not only political ecology as a discipline (which was one theme of the conference), but academia in general, as well as our minds. This is probably a life-long process and something one needs to be constantly aware about in one’s own work. Kim Tallbear, indigenous scholar and assistant professor at the Faculty of Native Studies at University of Alberta, reminded us in her keynote speech about how what anglosaxic academia has named new materialism really isn’t all that new, but bears a lot of similarities to what she calls “an indigenous metaphysics”, which is networked sets of social-material relations. Indigenous thinkers have lots to contribute to the academic discussions, of course not only regarding new materialisms but in all fields, and the academia needs to open up to these worldviews and ideas and to critically examine and reexamine its own colonizing patterns – and constantly work to combat and reverse them.
– The very interesting, and important, concept of affective ecology: How affects and emotions can help explain the relationship of human beings and human societies to the biosphere, as well as how this relationship can become ethical. Neera Singh from University of Toronto talked about this, and about the need to do “emotional political ecology” and learn to be affected – in Neera’s words, to “bring together the poetics and politics of acting responsibly in this world”.
All in all, it was inspiring to see the multitude of debates going on within the field of political ecology at the moment. To meet with the many scholar-activists present and to hope for something better, something beyond the capitalist-extractivist-anthropocentric, and to do it together.