I attended the tenth Ceisal Conference arranged in Helsinki between 13-15 June 2022, excited to have my first on-site conference in a while and leave the mask at home.
Hundreds of Latin American specialists had arrived in Helsinki, and the University did a magnificent job pampering the guests with coffee, snacks, and reception at the Town Hall with its chandeliers and flamboyant architecture. Although at the beginning of the pandemic, the slogan “we won’t get back to normal, because normal was the problem” was in vogue, on the day, it seemed people do prefer the normal: socialising face-to-face, taking the plane, going to the after-party.
Yet there is something slightly uneasy in events that revolve around social and global injustices, as conferences centred around Latin America tend to. Many of them seem to deal with the same problems year after year. I know academics who do not attend conferences because of the sheer number of buzzwords appearing in calls for papers.
Although I was initially sceptical, the CEISAL conference was a pleasant surprise. It revived some of my old enthusiasm. On the first day, a panel on urban activism started with a decolonial reflection on how scientists often view our research subjects unnecessarily as victims. Instead, the panel talked about the autonomy of people conducting urban social projects like painting murals, doing educational gatherings and much more. The projects are not handed to the state to solidify and for the state bureaucrats to take credit for. Instead, they are led by the people and occur cyclically, drawing inspiration from another.
I began to think what a Helsinki with a similar kind of social life and organising on the streets would look like. Perhaps life would be more spontaneous, and there would be more interaction between strangers. That is something I miss from Latin America. The ease of exchanges with people you most likely will never see again.
Could our forms of interaction also be decolonising? An important question regarding decolonial practice from a panel focusing on buen vivir, sentipensar (feeling-thinking) and inequality was how we could learn the politics of listening in academia?
Observing the conference layout with the spectacles of an anthropologist, I ask, have we listened at all? The people hidden or present in the researchers’ papers have demands and questions, like the demand of Central American migrants to the US to have a dignified life. Some of the researchers presenting papers were keen to know in the informal chats around the coffee table, where exactly Finland gets its wealth from? Or more precisely, how may Finland be complicit in maintaining the oppression of global South countries, i.e, through ignoring the discussion on cheap prices of raw materials that enable much of the Finnish technological advances.
Today a pressing concern – among many – is the green transition of the North happening at the expense of the global South, where the minerals needed for the transition lay. Since extractivism was a recurrent theme of the panels, I would have gladly wished for some attribution from the Finnish academic community about what the implications of the critique could be for a country like Finland. What is the next step forward?
Admittedly, the question of “what does this mean for Finland” might be too simple. Yet, it would be a shame if conferences avoid simple and uncomfortable questions. Let’s be brave and try. What could there be to lose?
We are happy to announce to you that our colleague and friend Mariana Galvão Lyra will defend her doctoral dissertation next November 5th, 2021
Event location: Metria, M100, Joensuun kampus
“The thesis makes an important contribution to the analysis of social movements in Brazil through a case study of the anti-mining movement in Brazil between 2013 and 2017. This covers events which have not previously been analyzed in English. The research also contributes to the international comparative literature on the social and environmental impacts of mining. The geographic focus of the research is in Brazil and thus can also be viewed as a contribution to Brazilian studies. The sectoral focus is mining, and the research also makes a contribution to studies on mining history, sociology of mining, and mining policy.”
After a long break, we are resuming our special issue with Nadia Nava Contreras’ collaboration focusing on Cuba. So many things and events have had happened during 2020 regarding the pandemic since our latest post was published, therefore, we take the chance to invite all readers to our event related to the Covid-19 pandemic theme with environment, society and development issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, where Latinamericanist researchers in Finland will put together and make a balance on the situation during this year. The event will be on November 17, 2020, 4.00 – 6.00 p.m. (GMT+2:00 Helsinki time) via Zoom. More info here. Welcome! Bienvenidxs!
In this post, we have a report from ESDLA member Laura Kumpuniemi, about a summary of some discussions held in the most recent Development Days Conference in Helsinki, past 27.2-1.3. 2019.
Laura is a Ph.D. researcher in the doctoral programme of Social and Cultural Encounters at the University of Eastern Finland. Her research is about solidarity economy in Bolivia.
The Development Days conference is an annual event organised in Helsinki by the Finnish Society for Development Research. This year’s conference focused on development strategies suggested as alternatives to globalisation and the dominant development model that have been linked with pressing global inequalities, the ecological crisis, and the rise of extremism and populism.
In this summary, I will present some conference discussions that can be of interest to people dealing with development issues. These presented ideas were brought up by two of the key speakers of this year’s conference. Ashish Kothari is an environmentalist from India and is working on development, environment interface, biodiversity policy, and alternatives. Another keynote speaker was Rosalba Icaza Garza from the Erasmus University Rotterdam and she is interested in decolonial thinking and the ‘international’, academia’s role in the promotion of autonomy, learning as liberation/liberation of learning and plural feminisms for plural liberations.
The bulldozer of development and its bandages
According to Kothari, development has not been the best solution to the challenges it has tried to confront. He refers to development as a bulldozer that rather destroys what was there instead of building on things that already exist. The solutions offered through development, like the Sustainable Development Goals or the green economy, are just bandages and more radical (means to go to the roots) changes would be needed. The focus needs to be more on what makes us happy and what supports wellbeing instead of discussing what Kothari refers to as the “oxymoron of sustainable development”.
Icaza Garza focused on decolonial thinking in her speech. She painted a picture of development as an articulation of modernity’s movement of representation and appropriation and the tendency of dividing the world into opposite sides where the poor and the earth are seen as the other. According to Icaza Garza, development’s baseline has been the assumptions of anthropocentrism and the economy’s basis in growth through which nature has been and still is treated as an object and a resource.
Also, Icaza Garza pointed out that decolonisation will not take place through altering development. There has been a discussion about different modifications that try to tweak the system and create things like socially responsible capitalism, sustainable capitalism or capitalism with a human face. In a working group about alternatives to development, a Ph.D. researcher and activist Marta Musić pointed out that these modified versions of capitalism are not real alternatives. A thorough decolonialisation needs to deal with the ethnocentric and anthropocentric basis of development thinking. Decolonial approach to development is about unlearning modern colonial subjectivities, questioning dominance and the processes of negation of alterities. Icaza Garza suggests replacing the ways of working and learning resulting from modernity with practices of conviviality – learning together without teachers, professors, and disciplines. (More on conviviality, see The Convivialist Manifesto 2014.)
Alternatives to development
Kothari highlighted the many alternatives that are trying and creating more just and sustainable futures and confronting the structural roots of unsustainability and equity and different forms of oppression (capitalism, patriarchy, the concentration of power, racism, among others). Essentially, these are alternatives to development and, to a certain extent, to capitalism. As such, these alternatives are forms of resistance based on different worldviews and different ways of being mostly taking the form of grassroots movements that aim for structural change through practising contextually adequate measures for problems people and the environment are facing.
One of the examples, eco-swaraj, is an approach rooted in India and is based on radical ecological democracy. The aim of eco-swaraj is to achieve human well-being through empowering citizens and communities to participate in decision-making, ensuring socio-economic equity and justice and respecting the limits of the earth. In eco-swaraj, the community serves as the basic unit for organisation instead of the state or private corporations and responsibility for others is considered an essential element of community.
Kothari showed how the systemic alternatives (need to) consider five interlinked spheres of transformation: radical democracy, economic democracy, social justice and well-being, cultural knowledge diversity, and ecological resilience and wisdom including the rights of nature. One dimension in these alternatives is the radicalisation of people’s economic thinking to cover more than just the profit and competition as a basis for the economy. The alternatives also have common characteristics in the values they share from diversity, collectivity, and dignity to pursuit of happiness, and from autonomy, solidarity, enoughness, and ecoregionalism to non-violence.
Kothari also presented an interesting initiative, the global tapestries of alternatives, that is meant to gather together these different alternatives to discuss and act together, thus, creating a greater political mass. This is what is needed to bring about real change instead of fighting different fights in isolation from the other fronts.
Ending with self-care
At the closing ceremony of the conference, we heard recaps from many of the working groups that had taken place during the two days. One of the working groups had taken practical steps in the lines of Icaza Garza’s ideas to decolonise academia. The group had started their session with a meditation to encourage self-care and bringing the focus into the session at hand by trying to get out of the stress cycle that is present in many people’s lives constantly. It was interesting to hear that the academic world can let in some glimpses of other, less rigid ideas and approaches and embrace the idea of caring for the self. This is forgotten all too often and it would be welcome to also give more attention to other, alternative dimensions of the academic minds than just the intellectual. This could contribute to decolonising the academic practice through a healthier working environment in the pressure of competition and focus on achievement.
Erratum 1: [14.5.2019]
Reference on picture 1 has changed by request of the blog’s author:
Marta Musić showed an example of different versions of capitalism suggested as fake alternatives. Photo: Laura Kumpuniemi.
In the original text, the reference on picture 1 was:
Rosalba Icaza Garza showed an example of different versions of capitalism suggested as fake alternatives. Photo: Laura Kumpuniemi.
Erratum 2: [14.5.2019]
This part was changed by request of the blog’s author:
There has been a discussion about different modifications that try to tweak the system and create things like socially responsible capitalism, sustainable capitalism or capitalism with a human face. In a working group about alternatives to development, a Ph.D. researcher and activist Marta Musić pointed out that these modified versions of capitalism are not real alternatives.
In the original text, the reference to Marta Musić was missing:
There has been a discussion about different modifications that try to tweak the system and create things like socially responsible capitalism, sustainable capitalism or capitalism with a human face. These are not real alternatives, however. A thorough decolonialisation needs to deal with the ethnocentric and anthropocentric basis of development thinking.
Three keynotes were commissioned for the seminar. Maija Faehnle, senior researcher in the Programme for Sustainable Urbanisation at Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, opened the seminar with her presentation about solving complex problems where activism is seen as a challenge and opportunity for collaborative governance. The second keynote was on charge of PhD Mariana Walter, postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) in Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), who presented a perspective on radical transformations to sustainability, covering resistances, movements and alternatives, and related with the network of scholars and activists for environmental justice ACKnowl-EJ, including the Environmental Justice Atlas initiative. Finally, in the third keynote Marta Conde post-graduate research associate at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Associate Researcher in UAB, who presented experiences of counter-expertise and co-production of knowledge in the interface between science and activism. Likewise, there were held presentations covering experiences from Finland, Catalonia, France, and Bangladesh, which as such covered different intersections between science and activism. Members of the ESDLA group at UEF, Mariana Galvão Lyra and Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz, also took part with presentations in the seminar addressing the main topics of the event and related with their doctoral research projects, in Brazil and Colombia, respectively.
At the end of a long and intense two-day seminar, some of the participants took part in a “world café” on environmental collaboration and conflict resolution focus on young people was led by the ALL-YOUTH Strategic Research project team. In the third day, Mariana Walter and Marta Conde gave open lectures on the Mining, environment, and society –course at UEF, covering as well items such as The Environmental Justice Atlas as a tool for activism and research, and initiatives in resistance to mining projects. The seminar finished with a visit to Koli National Park, where participants had the chance to meet one of the most iconic Finnish national landscapes.
ESDLA group is hosting a session on Sosiologipäivät 2019 in Turku, the next March 29th. Postdoctoral researcher Tuula Teräväinen and Professor Juha Kotilainen are coordinating the Working Group #39: Environmental governance and social inequalities. Researcher and doctoral student, Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz, will be also there presenting. More information about the conference and working groups here: http://sosiologipaivat.fi/2019-annual-conference/working-groups/
This is our first post on ESDLA group’s blog, and we are hoping to stay posting each time we can. There is no better way to start our blog posting doing a short report about the participation of some of the group members in the 10th Nordic Latin American Research Network-NOLAN- Conference, in Oslo, Norway, the last October. In fact, the group organized a thematic panel called: “Environmental conflicts and socio-ecological transformations: identities, values, and practices in contemporary Latin America”. Although this conference held every two years is not explicitly about environmental issues, is by no means that there is no space to discuss such issues nor social, political, and cultural concerns are not environmental as well.
This 10th version of the NOLAN conference was framed in the topic “Epochal shifts in current Latin America” (for more info about the conference click here). Our panel had the “full house”, and about 20 attendants listened to our presentations, offering their insights and feedback. All the UEF members’ paper presentations were related to their ongoing doctoral projects in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia respectively: Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora (panel convener), Mariana Galvão Lyra, and Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz. The rest of the members of the panel were Anja Nygren (panel chair) and Anna Heikkinen from University of Helsinki, and Gard Frækaland Vangsnes who is an independent scholar from Norway.
Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Perú, were the countries in the panel. From territorial conflicts, mining, water vulnerability, and urban nature, the presentations in the panel fitted very well with the main ideas along the conference. Issues such as disputes, conflicts, identities, and democracy were in common along the presentations regardless of their different topics or approaches.
Latin American complex realities and experiences can also bring learnings to current planetary challenges on democracy, climate change, and humanitarian crisis. Although social justice claims in Latin America are nothing new, environment and climate change are mobilizing old and new struggles for life, dignity, and other ways of social and economic development. In such struggles, there is a pursuing desire on democracy, which such, at the same, it is at stake because of new forms of exploitation (rural and urban) driven by social and environmental injustices, corruption and crime, escalating violence, and the uprising of authoritarian regimes.
Unfortunately, Latin America is the deadliest region for environmental activists, and according to Global Witness almost four environmental defenders a week were killed in 2017. Despite this desolating panorama, the realities in every day tend to have more nuances that deserve a deep scrutiny from researchers and research activists. In so doing, it can provide not only denouncing social and environmental injustices but stories of hope and innovation towards sustainability transitions.
It is very important that research in such frame transcend its place of privilege, and that may be is the greatest learning from NOLAN. For instance, along the conference were highlighted concerns such as the new chapter in the history of dependency of the exploitation of natural resources in the region, the multiple obstacles and threats to peacebuilding in Colombia, humanitarian crisis faced by Venezuelan and Central American refugees, impunity of violence in Mexico, or the outcomes after “the marathon election” of this year in the region upon a recent weakening of left-wing and progressive forces.
In fact, participants signed a call for solidarity with democratic forces in Brazil at the eve of the last presidential elections, where the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro was finally elected as a new president on past October 28th.
In sum, the experience in NOLAN was fruitful for ESDLA group, and it is a fist but strong step to strengthen ties between and among researchers interested in Latin America and its democratic challenges, which are after all environmental.
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