1. Future Pasts? Sustainabilities in west Namibia - a conceptual framework for research, 2nd edn.
Sian Sullivan, Mike Hannis, Angela Impey, Chris Low, and Rick F. Rohde
(December 2016, 2nd Edn, 1st Edn March 2016)
Abstract. Future Pasts is a cross-disciplinary project researching critical and cultural conjunctions between ‘sustainability’ and ‘environmental change’. Funded primarily through the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Care for the Future’ research theme, and developed in conjunction with our primary Namibian partner organisations (the National Museum of Namibia, Gobabeb Research and Training Centre, Save the Rhino Trust, and Mamokobo Film and Research), Future Pasts explores understandings and practices of ‘sustainability’ and ‘environmental change’ in west Namibia, where three of our UK academics have long-term field experience. Through combining methods and theoretical perspectives from social anthropology, cultural geography, environmental history, environmental ethics and ethnomusicology, we intend enquiry that is cross- and trans-disciplinary, drawing on a hybrid range of disciplinary and situated perspectives. This inaugural working paper in the Future Pasts Working Papers series introduces our research aims and orients our project in the historically globalised and diverse cultural landscapes of west Namibia. We note that concerns about ‘environmental crises’ also constitute opportunities for engagement, and highlight emergent ‘green economy’ responses through which the creation of markets for products arising from the production of sustainability is considered to ‘perform green’. We engage these market-based green performativities in juxtapositions with varied cultural histories, discourses, values and practices regarding socioecological phenomena, observing that the latter may be both delegitimised and/or capitalised through entanglements with modern technical and economic interventions. We acknowledge the range of cultural registers through which socio-environmental knowledges may also be transferred and mediated, emphasising combinations of songs, dances, poetic stories and memories. We note some ways in which these enactments and embodied knowledges may continue to ‘haunt’ the present, even as they are masked by currently hegemonic trajectories of economic development amidst contexts of environmental crisis. To further engage with narratives of environmental change in west Namibian contexts we introduce a comparative assessment of repeat images of west Namibian landscapes, as well as bringing varied sources of data - from samples of indicator species to audio recordings of places and landscapes - to bear in reconstructing historical ecologies of the Namib. We draw the different threads of our research together into a theoretical approach that asks questions of the ethical outcomes effected by different cultural understandings of sustainability and environmental change, and thus of assumptions regarding best practice in transferring socioecological value(s) forwards to the future. Our title ‘Future Pasts’ acknowledges that understandings of the past guide present recommendations for the future, while querying whose version of past values may become privileged in present productions of sustainability.
Keywords: cultural landscapes; sustainability; conservation; green economy; environmental change; biodiversity; heritage; memory; globalisation; justice; (ecocultural) ethics; cross- and trans-disciplinary analysis; west Namibia