Eco-Frictions: Heritagization, Energopolitics and Fantasies of Environmental Sustainability
Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association
November 29-December 3, 2017; Washington D.C.
Organizers: Mara Benadusi (University of Catania) and Filippo Zerilli (University of Cagliari)
Environmental crises and related concerns have increased enormously over the past few decades, creating disturbances for human and non-human life on a planetary scale. And yet, simultaneously, this trend is matched by an explosion of attempts to transform exploited sites into zones recovering from ecological disaster by any means necessary. Characterized by multiples and often conflicting moral regimes and economic systems, these ‘friction zones’ are progressively changing under the pressure of two main phenomena: one that entails a re-evaluation of (cultural/natural) ‘heritage’ producing rhetorical, pragmatic, and political manipulations of the past; the other that features sustainable environmental renewal, promoting an alternative use of natural resources. In cases where heritage status is granted, territories become ‘consecrated’ and conflicts over local politics of history and memory are disguised by a universalistic rhetoric of ‘common good’ for global collectivities. In the latter case, instead, the dimension of environmental ‘sustainability’ assumes a central position, encouraging eco-fantasies and planetary investment in and for the future. While both processes have been carefully scrutinized by recent anthropological literature, their intersections and articulations require further ethnographic as well as theoretical exploration. Heritagization, energopolitics and fantasies of environmental sustainability expose the fractures in neo-liberal economic practice, incorporating universal moral imperatives into their own discourse: in the first case encouraging the preservation of heritage, in the second imagining the safeguarding of the planet. But how do such discourses talk one to each other in actual practice, and how can we possibly grasp their often uneven, unpredictable and multi-scalar connections?
Taking inspiration from emerging ethnographic approaches to ‘global connections’ (A. Tsing), ‘assemblages’ (A. Ong & S. Collier) and strategies of ‘studying through’ (C. Shore & S. Wright), this panel proposes to scrutinize the zones of eco-friction that are formed in these spaces of collision and intersection between global and local pressures, of past and future predicaments, of commitments to protect and commitments to renew. How do politics of the past intersect and articulate with policy and politics of/for the future in these friction-ridden spaces? What specific cultural and historical paths contribute to forging ‘zones of awkward engagement’ with the environment in different ethnographic sites? And what kinds of economic and moral relations stem from the intersection between the entangled phenomena we have mentioned?
We welcome both theoretical and ethnographic contributions, specifically focusing on areas which have been object of intense environmental exploitation and are currently experiencing new forms of discursive and material investment inspired by projects and values of environmental sustainability, heritage conservation and energy-saving.