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Sustainability: Concepts, Cultures and Practices

17th May 2012 2-5pm, Archaeology G06 LT followed by a drinks reception.



The UCL Environment Institute and Urban Laboratory are hosting a joint event on the theme of Sustainability: Concepts, Cultures and Practices, with the aim of bringing together staff working on sustainability issues from any discipline, including and especially from those with a focus on anthropological/sociological/ ethnographic/historical and cultural perspectives.

The conference will open with three 20 minute presentations from the following speakers:

Dr Sam Randalls: The Goals of Sustainability

Exhortations to live sustainably are usually accompanied with assumptions about the nature of the good outcome to be achieved: sustainability. But this good outcome is much harder to conceptualize and justify in practice, albeit we can note it is unlikely to be singular. In this short talk, I explore these debates within the context of climate change considering their source of legitimation (here it is instructive to consider precaution/pre-emption and the ‘rational’ basis for action) and their effects (here thinking particularly of the universality or not of the sustainable subject).

Professor CJ Lim: Science Fiction and Biblical Tales of Sustainability

Science fiction (SF) and constructs of biblical tales have often presented us with scenarios of sustainable futures. Imaginative SF often predicted the future, predates modern technology and cities, and is much more than the narrow pop culture definition. SF is often used to comment on the failings of the real world - Edward Bellamy's utopian socialism ‘Looking Backward’ and William Morris' ‘News from Nowhere’ questioned egalitarian wealth as well as bureaucracy. In Jack Vance’s ‘Rumfuddle’, a typical job is driving a bulldozer that shoves the detritus of industrial civilization through a portal into the oceans of a garbage world, restoring the earth to its pristineness. Adam and Eve did not have to go far for sustenance, for everything was aplenty in the Garden of Eden, where every type of tree, pleasing to the eye and good for food was planted. However, can the world ever achieve perfect sustainability credentials?

Dr Jerome Lewis: Competing Cultural Conceptions of Sustainability 

Pygmy hunter-gatherers conceptualize sustainability in terms of maintaining abundance through proper sharing. The talk will present and contrast these widespread indigenous cultural conceptions of sustainable resource use in the Congo Basin with dominant capitalist discourses that value goods according to their scarcity. Interestingly, emerging NGO sponsored sustainability programmes such as the Forest Stewardship Certificate have more cultural and structural similarity to indigenous conceptions than existing capitalist paradigms underpinning efforts to achieve sustainability. From this perspective internationally imposed top-down REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) programmes are unlikely to achieve their anticipated outcomes.

Call for Papers: CLOSED
UCL staff are working to build a more sustainable future in so many varied ways yet we rarely share our experiences. We want to hear about your work to share it with the UCL community and beyond. If you would like to take part, please submit up to 250 words by no later than 5pm on Friday 20th April 2012.

Selected presentations will join the open floor part of the event (4 – 5pm) and each is to be no more than 5 minutes. We hope that this will provide staff, working on issues of sustainability, an opportunity to learn about each other’s work, to get to know one another and to develop synergies and potential future research collaborations.

Proceedings from the day’s presentations will form the basis of a publication showcasing the range of research into sustainability happening at UCL, focusing particularly on anthropological/sociological/ ethnographic/historical, cultural, geographical, built environment, and urban studies perspectives.

Please email your submission to Marianne Knight 
For further information on the event please contact Jerome Lewis

Conference Organisers (in alphabetical order:)

Pushpa Arabindoo
Ben Campkin
Jerome Lewis
Marianne Knight
Yvonne Rydin




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Last updated: 20th November 2012