Political Ecology Network

CfP POLLEN18 – Intricacies of Prefiguration: Experiments in Human-Environment Relations in Eco-Projects

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Second Biannual Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN), POLLEN18: Political Ecology, the Green Economy, and Alternative Sustainabilities

Intricacies of Prefiguration: Experiments in Human-Environment Relations in Eco-Projects

Organizer: Elvira Wepfer (University of Manchester)

Eco-projects are civil society initiatives that consciously experiment with human-environment relations alternative to capitalist discourses of optimized utility and maximised resource extraction. Instead, they explore ways of relating to the natural environment along concepts of holistic sustainability, reciprocity, and regeneration, which extend to interpersonal human relations. Eco-projects thereby prioritize non-harmful, replenishing nature-culture relations and function as places of prefiguration for harmonious multispecies cohabitation. However, their positionality amidst and within a global capitalist system entails both ideological and practical intricacies.

Eco-projects encompass a diverse and creative array of initiatives ranging from eco-villages to food forests, and from leaning centres of sustainability to organic homesteading farms. Their commonalities lie in the conceptualization of sustainability as a holistic approach to human action encompassing social, cultural, ecological and economic aspects; and in the (partial) application and promotion of agricultural self-sufficiency through regenerative farming practices that include permaculture, biodynamic or natural farming methods. As such, eco-projects creatively critique capitalist exchange relations as they experiment with alternative forms of subsistence, labour, and relationality. Case studies of such initiatives, their outlook and their everyday practices, as well as their outreach and impact on the wider community form the basis of this panel’s enquiry.

At the same time, however, eco-projects’ endeavours are complicated by their embeddedness in and partial dependence on the very system whose exploitative relations these initiatives attempt to foreclose. Voluntary labour relations, struggles for integrity and the limits of sociability highlight some of the socio-cultural issues, while dependency on exploitative supply chains, debates over levels and meaning of environmental sustainability and the grappling with financial feasibility flag the ecological-economic intricacies that surround and permeate eco-projects in the global North and South. The interfaces on which these obstructions occur, the ways in which they are dealt with by eco-project members and participants, and the implications this has for the viability, relevance and performativity of eco-projects form the core of the panel’s focus.

More concretely, the panel invites the following considerations:

  • What are the ways in which eco-projects suggest, experiment with, and prefigure alternative human-environment relations, and how are the limits of these confronted?
  • What environmental strategies, financial solutions and social tools do eco-projects apply to balance the various demands posed by their embeddedness in an exploitative capitalist system?
  • How can we constructively theorize the intentions, everyday complexities, and limits of prefigurative attempts for socio-environmental change, and where do we locate their relevance for social sciences?

And, extending the scale of enquiry:

  • How can we as academics productively utilize the tensions between personal convictions and our scholarly critique as we observe eco-projects’ contradictions and limitations?

Please send abstracts of approximately 300 words to Elvira Wepfer (elvira.wepfer@gmail.com) by 15 December 2017.

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Author: Connor Joseph Cavanagh

Research Fellow, Faculty of Landscape and Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Contact: connor.cavanagh@nmbu.no

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