The Centre for Human Ecology has just posted a video of Tim Ingold’s lecture.
Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’
Sustainability is an overused word. It is much diminished by its occurrence in too many documents purporting to suggest that transport, local government or how anything is sustainable following the end of grant funding. But we know that sustainability matters and thinking out of the current construction doesn’t happen nearly enough.
Tim Ingold’s lecture at the Centre for Human Ecology (Pearce Institute, Govan) on Saturday 10 September was entitled ‘The Sustainability of Everything’. This provocative phrase came from an invitation to talk at a previous event about sustainability in relation to art and science, citizenship and democracy, love and friendship.
Ingold used ‘everything’ including qualities and processes as a way to open up a trenchant criticism of not merely the usage of sustainability but more widely the turn in science to data and the atomisation of everything.
Tim Ingold is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. He is known for his distinctive, arts and humanities inflected approach to anthropology. He is currently leading ‘Knowing from the Inside’, a major European Research Council funded project involving anthropologists, archaeologists, architects and artists.
For Ingold the question of sustainability is not “How can we carry on doing what we are doing but with a bit less waste and impact?” but rather “What kind of world has a place for us and future generations?” “What does carrying on mean?” and more practically speaking “How do we make it happen?”
The key point is that everything in Ingold’s sense is not the collection of all the individual bits, but something different. His problem with current science and current constructions of sustainability are their reliance on isolating something to analyse it. Ingold comes at things looking for movement and entanglement rather than boundary. To make this point he uses examples where either you don’t know where one thing ends and another starts, or examples of things in motion. So he asks for instance whether the bird’s nest is part of the tree? Or whether the wind that has made the tree grow bent over is part of the tree? He asks if you can tell which part of the eddy in the stream is the ‘inside’ and which is the ‘outside’?
The importance of this approach is that it opens up new ways of experiencing and knowing which are more process oriented rather than object oriented. Artists in particular respond enthusiastically to this way of knowing.
Ingold further developed this through Lucretius’ idea that everything is in motion and when things bump into each other they form knots – clouds are knots of water and temperature and wind. Trees are complex knots. Ingold evolves the idea of knots by pointing out that rope stays together through a combination of twist and friction. He notes that harmony (eg polyphonic music) is exactly the same – a combination of elements that in themselves might initially appear to be in conflict but in relationship with each other are beautiful. Again he’s nodding to artists ways of knowing. In his terms everything is a “correspondence of parts” – not a totality but rather a carrying on.
Having set up this alternative way of understanding Ingold highlighted how current formulations of sustainability are underpinned by an assumption that the “entire earth is a standing reserve” and that we need to protect the earth in the way that a company protects its profits. He drew attention to the underlying corporate or management language implicit in these descriptions of sustainability and how this is true of conservation organisations as much as corporations and governments. Furthermore of course Paulo Friere provided a deep critique of the ‘banking’ model of education which is closely aligned with this accounting version of sustainability.
Having established what he meant by ‘everything’, Ingold went on to construct an idea of ‘carrying on’. To do this he referred to traditional ways of forestry in Japan where there is a dynamic relationship between the forester, the forest and the building of a house articulated in a 30 year cycle – trees take 30 years to grow and a house needs renewed every 30 years. Trees are planted, foresters learn to build houses, trees are cut to build houses, trees are planted. It is very different from the forms of plantation forestry and clear felling we experience across much of Scotland.
In conclusion Ingold came back to the themes of art and science, citizenship and democracy, peace and friendship. He suggested that science has reneged on its commitment to understanding the world in ways that are useful for life, and that in his view environmental arts do this more effectively now. He talked about the need for a politics of difference and the importance of embracing tension and agonism.
Reflecting on this talk there are a few key points that are worth teasing out of Ingold’s valuable line of argument.
Firstly, the construction of sustainability currently offered in ‘sustainable development’ and ‘ecosystems services’ is fundamentally human-centric and has lost any connection with the ‘existence value’ of the non-human as constructed by the likes of Arne Naess, Gregory Bateson and many others which were early inspirations of the environmental movement (and remain very influential on environmental arts). Ingold’s focus on entanglement and movement is a useful counter to ‘banking’ approaches. *
Secondly, we need to recognise that our current construction of sustainability is only one possible construction. It is in terms of conventional ethics basically a form of Utilitarianism – the greatest good for the greatest number. And in this respect it suffers from all the criticisms of Utilitarianism in being fundamentally subjective and in environmental terms challenging – if more than half the world’s population lives in cities then what is good for cities must be good for humans – that is a bizarre thought (although one often promoted by architects and urban planners)! But the point is that Ingold is providing an underpinning articulation of ‘being’ that asks for a different ethics – one which accepts the conflicts but accords value to the connectedness of everything and its motion. So he positively argued against the conservation of trees and in favour of the carrying on of planting and growing, felling and building as a cycle. Perhaps Ingold doesn’t go far enough – Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, eminent ecological artists, argue that we need to ‘put more back into ecological systems than we take out’ in our carrying on. By this they mean that our cycles need to be weighted to greater biodiversity and strengthening ecological cycles.
Finally Ingold’s construction, particularly of ‘knots’ is useful if we recognise that we humans are arch constructors of knots. Everything we make is some sort of knot whether it’s food or paths or roads or houses or nuclear power stations or mustard gas or satellites. And if we can imagine a knot then we will make it. If its been imagined then someone is trying to make it, somewhere. That’s an interesting problem. It’s prompted discussions around what ‘responsible innovation’ might be. How can we create knots that make for healthier places for all living things.
* I’m indebted to Dave Pritchard for elucidating this evolution through the sequence of major environmental summits starting in Stockholm in 1972 and progressing in 10 yearly intervals through to Rio+20 in 2012. He correlated this with the shift from an environmentalism of ‘existence value’ through to ‘ecosystems services’ and ‘sustainable development’. Each Summit sought to achieve greater policy impact and as a result reframed in terms of acceptable (human-centric) policy.
There was an interesting piece in the NY Times recently entitled Against Sustainability questioning the meaningfulness of ‘sustainability’ and offering a critique of the nostalgia-based version,
Talk about “sustaining” nature, or “preserving” it, only exacerbates this mourning and indulges our melancholia. Like the bereaved who must learn to speak of the dead in the past tense, if we are to move forward in our habitation of the planet, to face the future and not the past, to say “yes” to the anthropocene, we should change our language.
We will get a very different ‘take’ on this issue from Tim Ingold, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, activist for better universities, and author of numerous books including Line: A Brief History (2007), Being Alive (2011), Making (2013) and The Life of Lines (2015). Ingold’s anthropology is more humanities than social science and he is frequently cited by artists. His current European Research Council funded project Knowing from the Inside involves a number of artists.
Ingold will ask,
“What kind of world has a place for us and for everything else, both now and for future generations? What does it mean for such a world to carry on? How can we make it happen?”
Saturday 10th September, 11am
Fairfield Hall, The Pearce Institute, 840-860 Govan Rd, Glasgow G51 3UU
This public talk is free to attend, although we ask for donations towards the room rent and future CHE/GFU events. Please book your ticket here as places are limited: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2591625
Please spread the word by sharing the attached poster (The_Sustainability_of_Everything) among your relevant networks, or on social media. Thanks!
Event facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1104818026253422/
Counting Consciousness: the book tells the story of our journey of 15 months’ work exploring the edge between creativity and sustainability. The Artists Using Resources in the Community (ARC) project set out primarily to reduce carbon emissions by working with staff and students of the Glasgow School of Art and creative professionals from across the city to tackle climate change. It also worked to challenge social norms and normalise the sustainability conversation within the creative sector by providing opportunities for people to come together and explore the topic. While we achieved what was originally tasked of us, what came out of the project was so much more. Not only have we laid strong foundations for those interested in sustainability and creativity living and practicing in Glasgow, we have realised and proactively developed work around deep, values based action. Click the More link to take you to the book.
The 12×12 project grows out of the powerful story of a North Carolina pediatrician, Dr. Jackie Benton, who ten years ago gave up a luxurious home to live in a 12’ by 12’ off-the-grid house and permaculture farm. The World Policy Institute used this idea to develop a project with the Queens Botanic Gardens, which has grown to an international network.
A creative team, comprising well-known NYC-based architects and artists including Betsy Damon, David D’Ostilio, Simon Draper and Christy Rupp, decided that the project must include all the key substances of living lightly: water, energy, and food. After careful planning, they decided on the following: two 12’ x 12’ structures will take the form of a book-like house that consists of living walls based on the DNA double-helix weave-like design; a rain-collecting upside-down umbrella rooftop with a waterproof layer and root barrier; a moisture retention product (such as a rainwater collecting solar panel rooftop); a drainage system and filter fabric made of flow forms that channel rain water into a large container, to be used as the main water source; an erosion cloth; and a space inside the houses that will be open to the public during the daytime (to be securely locked during the park’s closed hours). Once erected, the space will encourage interaction through slide-out walls that will prompt participants to read/write/reflect about their individual houses and our planetary house and share their visions via daily web posts and social media. Readings from the book Twelve by Twelve and conversations will be held adjacent to the installation, where artists will facilitate interaction and imagination.
Check out the 12×12 project tumblr – in particular have a look at the ‘impact’ section.
TALK + Seminar – 14 January 2015 15.00-19.00 Reid Auditorium. Booking here
Alastair McIntosh is a writer, poet, speaker, researcher and activist. Originally from the Isle of Lewis he now lives on Govan near to the GalGael Trust, for which he is a founding trustee.
“ Most of my work is constellated by a passion for community… I see the lack of it, or damage to it, as a prime driver of the the lack of meaning, emptiness and loneliness that underlies many of the world’s most pressing problems. Human ecology is therefore central to my work because it is the study of, and participation in, human community in relation to the wider natural environment. It therefore encompasses the great issues of our times, including the roots of war, poverty, meaninglessness and climate change.
For me, community is much more than just another name for society. It has three pillars – relationship with one another, relationship with the natural world, and relationship with the psychospiritual underpinning of all life. “Soil, soul and society” are therefore themes that weave through all my work. Integrating these requires bringing about a rich connection between our inner and outer lives. As such, both action and reflection interlace through all that I do and in the ways that I work with others.”
Arlene Goldbard’s recent blog on aesthetics and sustainability is very refreshing. It acknowledges that we define sustainability by it’s negative, ie our current unsustainable lifestyles (and we can describe that unsustainability in myriad ways).
Arlene quotes Adrienne Goehler in sharply defining the challenge to move the idea of sustainability beyond “prohibition, asceticism, and morality” into the a relationship with, “new forms of learning. Aesthetic education means sensitive, perceptive, creative education, which, in the words of Hannah Arendt, culminates in creative action.”
If you are interested in thinking about sustainability then this is a good place to start. Sign up for her posts. They are always interesting.
Our friends and colleagues at Creative Carbon Scotland have a call out for artists to participate in a residency,
Mull is a multi-disciplinary weekend-long residency which explores the question, ‘What would it mean to be an artist working in a sustainable Scotland in 50 years’ time?’ through artistic practice and conversation. We’re looking for up to ten artists to apply their curiosity and unique skills to imagining what being an artist in a sustainable Scotland might look like in the future – what that would mean, how it would affect artistic content, what infrastructure it would require in order to function and how artists and the arts will have shaped a sustainable Scotland. More info here.
They have also been running a programme of Green Tea(se) in Glasgow to build up the discussion about what a sustainable city and cultural sector might look like. They’ve been blogging the outcomes of the events, and the next one is on Monday afternoon 24th Feb and they say there are still spaces. Green Teas(e) is part of a wider EU project called the Green Arts Lab Alliance. To find out more, click here.
If you want to contribute to imagining a more sustainable cultural sector, then come along and join the conversation.