Anthropology and Environment Society
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken between 2016 and 2019 in two sites of environmental conflict: a resettlement site for people displaced by Tehri Dam in Uttarakhand, India and the industrially polluted South Durban Basin in South Africa. By combining school-based research into the state-sanctioned conceptualisations of ‘sustainability’ and immersive fieldwork with local environmental movements aimed at understanding activist counter-narratives and re-imaginations of sustainable societies, the paper explores the interface of education, activism and intergenerational knowledge transfer. It asks, What are the ‘horizons of the possible’ (Ricoeur) young people see for themselves in these communities? How do they understand ‘the political’ (Arendt) and which forces shape this understanding?
By applying an analytical approach rooted in phenomenology, hermeneutics and postcolonial theory, the paper seeks to make sense of the contradictions inherent in the concept of ‘sustainability’ and the ‘friction’ (Tsing) between global agendas of educational development and localised struggles for environmental justice. In order to illuminate young people’s understanding of their relationship to their natural environments, and accordant utopian/dystopian imagination of future worlds, the paper relies on visual data generated through participatory film-making workshops (loosely modelled on David MacDougall’s Children and Modernity films) undertaken in both sites. This visual data allows for an exploration of a ‘poetics of sustainability’ reflected in young people’s visions for the future—visions that seek to counter the ‘slow violence’ (Nixon) of environmental destruction.