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One-Day Symposium at UCL – ‘Just Enough: Sufficiency and the Cultural Imagination’
Friday, 4 December 2009
Hosted by UCL’s Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities, UCL English Language & Literature and UCL Arts & Humanities
Our repertoire of ethical and political choices is always delimited by the scope of our cultural imagination. Any attempt to construct a new pattern of living that is different from that to which we have become accustomed will first have to address this problem of cultural mediation. The concrete changes that will facilitate any new pattern of living depend upon the facilitation of culture to enable them to proceed from being ‘planned’ to being ‘built’.
In terms of the challenge of making urbanised modern living sustainable – in a world of increasing competition for decreasing resources, and in which climate change threatens to make the pressing urban problems of today much more acute in the near future – this issue of cultural mediation is a crucial one, and one that has perhaps been neglected by those of a planning mindset. There may be stubbornly rooted cultural obstacles that cannot be wished away in the manner that bulldozers physically remove debris from their paths.
One slippery but absolutely crucial and pervasive idea that underpins discussions of sustainability is that of ‘sufficiency’ or ‘enough’. Enough water, enough food, enough space, sufficiently clean air, enough freedom, enough choice, sufficient employment, enough mobility, enough education – the list of different but related sufficiencies lies behind both technological and political visions of an habitable urban future.
The notion of ‘sufficiency’ absents itself from intellectual consideration, however, as though it were obvious: a matter of fact and not of debate, of nature and not of culture. The idea of ‘sufficiency’ needs to be considered properly, and its place in our current culture evaluated.
Do we have a complex enough vocabulary of ‘enough’, or is it an idea whose complexity has slipped out of our collective consciousness? Where is ‘enough’ represented in our culture, where is it held up to the light, proposed, dramatised, contested? Is there, indeed, a deficit of positive representations of ‘sufficiency’ in our culture, compared to those of other times and places? How might we reconstruct this sense of a ‘just enough’?
‘Just Enough: Sufficiency and the Cultural Imagination’
The symposium ‘Just Enough: Sufficiency and the Cultural Imagination’ will examine how different cultures and contexts (institutions, disciplines, places, periods) have characterised and fleshed out the idea of ‘enough’. We will hear from several academics at UCL and other universities about the particular resonances of the idea of ‘enough’ in their discipline or period, followed by roundtable discussions in which questions that emerge in response to short papers will be explored by panellists and audience members.
Members of UCL English Language & Literature will offer us part of a linguistic and cultural history of ‘enough’ as it has been manifested in Britain over the centuries, and will be joined by representatives of other disciplines, including history of medicine, history of architecture and social anthropology.
In the evening, representatives from the day’s symposium will be joined on a panel by non-academics working in the field of sustainability communication in Britain today for a larger roundtable discussion. Here the focus will be on thinking about the continual mediation of culture in our ethical and political decisions concerning sustainable living. What is general and what is particular about our own cultural moment in relation to other contexts? How does the current cultural framework shape our desires and limit our capacity for action?
One-Day Symposium – ‘Just Enough: Sufficiency and the Cultural Imagination’
Welcome and Introduction by symposium convenor Matthew Ingleby (UCL English Language and Literature) and Professor Susan Irvine (Head of Department, UCL English Language and Literature)
First Session - Chair: Professor Susan Irvine
Enough in Language and History
Dr Kathryn Allan (UCL English Language & Literature) – Sociolinguistics
Dr Hannah Skoda (Merton College Oxford, History) - Medieval Culture
Dr Eric Langley (UCL English Language & Literature) – Early Modern Culture
Second Session - Chair: Dr Matthew Beaumont (UCL English Language and Literature)
Enough: Styles and Life-Styles
Dr Paul Davis (UCL English Language & Literature) – 17th Century Culture
Hope Wolf (Kings College London and Imperial War Museum) – Remembering enough and the Great War
Dr Ben Campkin (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture) – Housing
Third Session - Chair: Dr Gregory Dart (UCL English Language and
Resourcefulness and Sufficiency
Professor Rachel Bowlby (UCL English Language & Literature) – Modern Consumer Culture
Dr Jerome Lewis (UCL Anthropology) – Abundance or Scarcity?
Dr James Wilson (UCL Centre for Philosophy, Justice and Health) - Philosophies of enough
Evening Event – ‘Just Enough Debate’
Introduction, followed by roundtable discussion - Chair: Matthew Ingleby
Academic representatives from the day’s symposium, as well as Nicola Baird, environmental journalist, Saamah Abdallah (New Economics Foundation), researcher, and Danny Chivers, slam poet and activist
Followed by a Drinks Reception
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