Additional academic publications (listed in reverse chronological order)

14 Jun 2019

Chapter by Sian Sullivan, in press for June 2019 in Barbagallo, C., Beuret, N. and Harvie, D. (eds.) Commoning with Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis. London: Pluto Press.

Abstract. In the 1990s the Secretary General of the 1992 UN ‘Earth Summit’ and initiator of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (Maurice Strong) asserted in a series of widely quoted lectures that ‘global sustainability’ could only be achieved through the principles of business: “Earth Incorporated” should thus be run ‘with a depreciation, amortization and maintenance account’. In the wake of this statement, the world has become awash with business-oriented solutions to environmental harm. The natural environment is now widely conceived as the provider of ‘ecosystem services’ that should be paid for; as a series of variously calculable, substitutable and exchangeable units of ecological and economic value; and as a ‘bank of natural capital’ that should be invested in and may be leveraged financially.

In this chapter I honour the role that Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch played for me as I sought to understand and respond critically to the world-making capacities of market-based approaches to the management of environmental health and harm (see, for example, Sullivan 2010, 2013). I will focus on three main matters of concern:

  • parallel and different dimensions of the visioning of the ‘reproductive capacities’ of the bodies of both women and the earth as labour that should be paid for, focusing in particular on implications of the commutation to money payments (pp. 28-29) effected by so-called ‘payments for ecosystem services’ discourse and practice;

  • innovations in associated techno-statistical divisions of nature as ‘the world’s body’ and the ways these are acting to facilitate the bonding of nature to capital in unforeseen ways;

  • the implications of the historical transition to capitalism as the unfortunate outcome of anti-feudal struggles for the possibility of a longer–lasting social programme for change linked with contemporary contestations over the capitalization of nature as ‘earth incorporated’.



Sullivan, S. 2010 The environmentality of 'Earth Incorporated': on contemporary primitive accumulation and the financialisation of environmental conservation Paper presented at the conference An Environmental History of Neoliberalism, Lund University, 6-8 May 2010.


Sullivan, S. 2013 Banking nature? The spectacular financialisation of environmental conservation. Antipode 45(1): 198-217.

03 Mar 2019

New publication in Journal of Arid Environments led by Richard F. Rohde and co-authored with M. TimmHoffman, Ian Durbach, Zander Venter and Sam Jack.


• Global change models predict Namibia becoming hotter leading to aridification.

• We used historical photos of the Pro-Namib and Namib Desert to test this forecast.

• Correlations between historical climate values and vegetation change were analysed.

• Contrary to expectations, woody plant cover has increased at most locations.

• Past trends of increased rainfall and fog predict environmental futures.


Abstract. This paper presents empirical evidence of historical vegetation and climate change in the arid Pro-Namib and hyper-arid Namib Desert spanning the late 19th century to the present based on one hundred archival landscape photographs that have been re-photographed or ‘matched’. Each photo site was evaluated for changes in woody cover and taken together serve as a proxy for how climate has changed in the region. Vegetation change was related to values for precipitation and temperature derived from the Global Land Data Assimilation System for the period 1948–2017 as well as the number of fog days expected at a site. The resulting analysis reveals a trend of increased vegetation cover associated with increased precipitation (fog and rain) in the coastal Fogbelt and the inland Savanna transition with a shrinking of the hyper-arid Minimum zone between the two. These findings accord with projected effects of global warming on the Benguela upwelling system but are at variance with regional climate model forecasts that project widespread aridification. In the absence of long-term climate data, the results of this research are an important contribution of evidence-based knowledge of past climate trends and their relationship to future climate change scenarios for the region.


Keywords. Desertification; Landscape photography; Long-term monitoring; Benguela upwelling system; Global change

Also see introduction to this research at our blog on Climate Change Complexity.

30 Dec 2018

Journal article by Sian Sullivan in New Formations: A Journal of Culture, Theory & Politics 95(3): 5-21

Abstract. In his Lectures on Biopolitics (1978-79) Foucault highlighted the contemporary intensification of neoliberal arts of government, by which economic incentive structures are designed to control human behaviour and ‘life itself ’ through market transactions framed as enhancing efficiency in the distribution of goods and bads. The human subject of this ‘truth game of the market’ seems critically disempowered: conceived as a machine-like agent, responding predictably to expert manipulations constructing a governmentality that simultaneously disavows the amplifications of inequity and ecological damage with which it is associated. In the last works of his life, especially The Hermeneutics of the Subject (1981-82) and The Courage of Truth (1983-84), Foucault turned again towards the possibility of seeking other rules of subjectification so as to play the games of power ‘with as little domination as possible’. His encouragement was to remember the philosophical strategy associated with Socrates, namely to attend to oneself through activating the soul’s contemplation of the actions of the self: thereby composing an ethical subject whose actions, through practices of freedom and truth-telling, are not enslaved by appetites; and whose ethos of care becomes extended through the conduct of relationships with others, including life (bios) itself. This paper extends Foucault’s expositions on ‘the care of the self ’ and ‘the courage of truth’ to affirm animist and affective activations of the soul silenced through the consolidated colonial universality of so-called western knowledge. In doing so, the paper advocates a refraction of the games of truth infusing practices of domination in socio-ecological relations and ‘biodiversity conservation’, as a gesture towards amplifying an ethics of consideration for both human and beyond-human others. 

Keywords. Foucault; affect; animism; ethics; governmentality; subjectivity; freedom; ontology; biodiversity conservation

27 Dec 2018

by M. Timm Hoffman, Rick F. Rohde and Lindsey Gillson

Abstract. Most projections of climate change for southern Africa describe a hotter and drier future with catastrophic consequences for the environment and socio-ecological sustainability of the region. This study investigated whether evidence of the projections for the climate and vegetation of the subcontinent is already evident. Analysis of the climate record indicate that the historical trend of increasing temperature is consistent with future projections for the region. Rainfall, however, apparently has not changed significantly. Results from analysis of 1321 repeat historical photographs indicate broad trends in vegetation trajectories in the major biomes of southern Africa. The Savanna biome has experienced a rapid increase in woody plant at rates un-anticipated by the models. Contrary to early projections for the Succulent Karoo biome, biomass and cover have increased, largely in response to changes in land-use practices. Cover in the fire-adapted Fynbos biome has remained stable or increased over time with unanticipated expansion of forest species, particularly in localities protected from fire for long periods. The shrub-dominated Nama-karoo biome has increased in grass cover. Rather than contracting, as suggested in the early models, the Grassland biome has apparently expanded westwards into former Nama-karoo biome sites. The Savanna biome has experienced a rapid increase in woody plants at rates not anticipated by the models. The broad trends in historical trajectories illustrate how land-use management has influenced vegetation change in the past. They also provide a useful context for evaluating future changes and developing mitigation strategies for some of the worst impacts of climate change in the future.

Keywords. Bioclimatic envelope models; Climate change impacts; Environmental change; Sustainability; Degradation; Desertification

14 Sep 2018

Sullivan, S. 2018 Making nature investable: from legibility to leverageability in fabricating ‘nature’ as ‘natural capital’. Science and Technology Studies 31(3): 47-76.

Abstract. In response to perceived valuation problems giving rise to global environmental crisis, ‘nature’ is being qualified, quantified and materialised as the new external(ised) ‘Nature-whole’ of ‘natural capital’. This paper problematises the increasing legibility, through numbering and (ac)counting practices, of natural capital as an apparently exterior ‘matter of fact’ that can be leveraged financially. Interconnected policy and technical texts, combined with observation as an academic participant in recent international environmental policy meetings, form the basis for a delineation of four connected and intensifying dimensions of articulation in fabricating ‘nature’ as ‘natural capital’: discursive, numerical-economic, material and institutional. Performative economic sociology approaches are drawn on to clarify the numbering and calculative practices making and performing indicators of nature health and harm as formally economic. These institutionalised fabrications are interpreted as attempts to enrol previously uncosted ‘standing natures’ in the forward-driving movement of capital.

Keywords. nature; natural capital; accounting

31 May 2018

New chapter by Mike Hannis and Sian Sullivan in, pp. 279-296 in Hartman, L.M. (ed.) That All May Flourish: Comparative Religious Environmental Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press,
also 'Dialogue', Hannis, M., Cottine, C. and Sullivan, pp. 297-300. 

Abstract. The chapter considers the environmental ethics underlying certain practices and beliefs observed in the course of field research with primarily ||Khao-a Dama people in west Namibia. ||Khao-a Dama perspectives embody a type of “relational environmental ethics” that refracts anthropocentric/ecocentric dichotomies, and is characterized by respect for, and reciprocity with, agency and intentionality as located in entities beyond the human (ancestors, spirits, animals, healing plants and rain). The chapter connects this worldview with contemporary environmental virtue ethics, arguing that it is compatible with a theoretical framework of “ecological eudaimonism” as a fitting response to a complex contemporary world of “wicked” environmental problems.


Keywords. ||Khao-a Dama; Namibia; Aristotle; environmental ethics; virtue ethics

25 Feb 2018

Invited commentary by Sian Sullivan on The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (2015) published in Dialogues in Human Geography 8(1): 69-72.

Intro. The Mushroom at the End of the World by anthropologist Anna Tsing is a heterogeneous ecosystem of a book tracking the socioecological presences of a multiplicitous entity, the matsutake mushroom (Tricholoma matsutake). The outcome of a collaborative ethnographic project, Mushroom is set to be a classic in the emerging genre of ‘multispecies ethnography’. This is a movement that embraces diverse interrelationships between humans and other-than-human natures, creating a much-needed decentring of human exceptionalism in understanding the necessarily ecological lives of social groups and individuals. Tsing’s emphasis on the entities and social practices with which matsutake is entangled pushes boundaries of thinking in multispecies endeavours beyond the familiarity of companion species more closely related to ourselves (e.g. Haraway, 2008). ...         Read more

Repeat landscape photography, historical ecology and the wonder of digital archives in Southern Africa

30 Nov 2017

Scott, SL, Rohde, RF and Hoffman, MT, paper in African Research & Documentation 131: 35-47.

Abstract. Environmental history projects using repeat photography often involve the acquisition of large collections of historical and current images, matching those images for comparative analysis, and then cataloguing and archiving the imagery for long-term storage and later use (Webb et al., 2010). When used in combination with other techniques, repeat photography is an excellent tool for documenting change (Gruell, 2010) and has been used in a variety of disciplines, including historical ecology, to determine changes in plant populations, soil erosion, climate trends and ecological processes to name a few. Historical photographs often provide greater temporal range to an analysis compared to, for example, satellite imagery and in many cases even aerial photography (Gruell, 2010). In addition to archival photographs, historical paintings, expedition notes and documents provide additional insights to the causes of change at specific repeat photo site locations and across regions as they can provide additional information on past environments, land use practices and changing social contexts (Webb et al., 2010). In this paper, we: 1) provide a brief history of photography and photographic archives in southern Africa; 2) discuss the use of historical photographs in environmental history research; and 3) highlight the value of involving citizen scientists in repeat photography projects.


Also see research blog on The Wonder of Digital Archives.

30 Oct 2017

Chapter co-authored by Sian Sullivan and Kathy Homeward called 'On non-equilibrium and nomadism: knowledge, diversity and global modernity in drylands' (pp. 115–168 in Pimbert, M. (ed.) 2017 Food Sovereignty, Agroecology and Biocultural Knowledge: Constructing and Contesting Knowledge. London: Routledge Studies in Food, Society and the Environment).


Abstract. Drylands worldwide, together with the variously nomadic peoples who live there, are associated with the incidence of poverty and environmental degradation. Corresponding assertions of pending social and ecological collapse have paved the way for hegemonic development and policy interventions focusing on the settlement of formerly mobile populations, reductions of livestock numbers, land privatisation and shifts towards commercial and tightly regulated production. Despite the wealth of expertise and monetary resources involved, however, these initiatives have rarely been successful, either in socio-economic or environmental terms. Our aim in this paper is to engage critically with the conceptual underpinnings and empirical consequences of a globalising modernity as these have played out in dryland environments, and in relation to practices of mobility amongst the peoples with whom such environments are associated. We draw on a debate that exists in ecology regarding the sources and types of dynamic behaviour driving ecological systems. Drylands have become a particular focus of this debate. In these environments extreme and unpredictable variability in rainfall are considered (by some) to confer non-equilibrium dynamics by continually disrupting the tight consumerresource relations that otherwise would pull the components of the system towards equilibrium. This implies that livestock grazing in drylands, widely thought to cause degradation and ‘desertification’ through detrimental management practices including mobility and the maximising of herd reproductive rates, in fact might not be causing irreversible ecological change. Or at least not through exceeding a density-dependent equilibrial relationship with forage availability. We attempt to extend discussion by thinking through the cultural and historical contexts leading to a particular ‘shoehorning’ of the dynamics associated with nonequilibrium and nomadism into a conceptual framework that emphasises the desirability of stability, equilibrium and predictability. In doing so, we draw on the explanatory power of theories of conceptual and ritual purification (associated with anthropologist Mary Douglas); of the empowered panopticon society with its requirements for diffuse and minutely controlled surveillance and regulation (cf. Foucault), and of the ideological differences between State and Nomad science as considered by philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.


Keywords. non-equilibrium; nomadism; globalisation; modernity; purification (Douglas); panopticon society (Foucault); State and Nomad science (Deleuze and Guattari); policy; gender; patriarchy; resistance

26 Sep 2017

Research paper by Sian Sullivan and Mike Hannis in Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal 30(7): 1459-1480, special issue on ‘Ecological accounts: making non-human worlds (in)visible during moments of socio-ecological transformation’, edited by Markus J. Milne, Shona L. Russell and Colin Dey.

Single Sentence Summary:

A comparison of different ways of using numbers to value aspects of nature-beyond-the-human through case analysis of ecological and natural capital accounting practices in the UK shows that notions of non-monetary value and associated practices are marginalised.



The purpose of this paper is to consider and compare different ways of using numbers to value aspects of nature-beyond-the-human through case analysis of ecological and natural capital accounting practices in the UK that create standardised numerical-economic values for beyond-human natures. In addition, to contrast underlying ontological and ethical assumptions of these arithmetical approaches in ecological accounting with those associated with Pythagorean nature-numbering practices and fractal geometry. In doing so, to draw out distinctions between arithmetical and geometrical ontologies of nature and their relevance for “valuing nature”.


Close reading and review of policy texts and associated calculations in: UK natural capital accounts for “opening stock” inventories in 2007 and 2014; and in the experimental implementation of biodiversity offsetting (BDO) in land-use planning in England. Tracking the iterative calculations of biodiversity offset requirements in a specific planning case. Conceptual review, drawing on and contrasting different numbering practices being applied so as to generate numerical-economic values for natures-beyond-the-human.


In the cases of ecological accounting practices analysed here, the natures thus numbered are valued and “accounted for” using arithmetical methodologies that create commensurability and facilitate appropriation of the values so created. Notions of non-monetary value, and associated practices, are marginalised. Instead of creating standardisation and clarity, however, the accounting practices considered here for natural capital accounts and BDO create nature-signalling numbers that are struggled over and contested.


This is the first critical engagement with the specific policy texts and case applications considered here, and, the authors believe, the first attempt to contrast arithmetical and geometrical numbering practices in their application to the understanding and valuing of natures-beyond-the-human.

Keywords. Value; Arithmetical and geometrical ontologies; Biodiversity offsetting; Natural capital accounting; Nature-beyond-the-human

30 Jun 2017

Short article by Sian Sullivan in the first issue of a new open access journal The Ecological Citizen (1: 5 –7 3).

Abstract. The contemporary moment of global ecological crisis is also a moment wherein ‘nature’ is being named and framed as ‘natural capital’. This article considers aspects of this fabrication of ‘natural capital’, drawing attention to three connected processes: [1] commensuration, through which different elements of the natural world are made to correspond to one another through applying a common measure; [2] aggregation, through which different aspects of the material world are conceptualized together, enabling calculations of a total or ‘net’ quantity; and [3] capitalization, through which conserved ‘standing natures’ can be financed and developed as capital assets. The article queries the social and environmental benefits claimed for these processes of fabrication, drawing attention to some of the justice implications of asserting natural capital valuations for nature. In considering whether the conservation of ‘natural capital’ is the same as the conservation of ‘nature’, the article emphasizes the constitutive (i.e. world-making) implications of the naming and framing of ‘nature’ as ‘natural capital’.

Keywords. conservation; natural capital; nature; values

30 Mar 2017

Open access article by Sian Sullivan in the Journal of Political Ecology, Special Section on 'Political Ecology, the Green Economy, and Alternative Sustainabilities' (2017, 24: 217-242).

Abstract. Contemporary market-based (i.e. neoliberal) 'green economy' approaches to environmental degradation emphasise exchanges whereby quantified units of environmental harm are traded or 'offset' for compensating units of environmental health. Also encouraged is a view that economic growth can be 'greened' through 'decoupling' economic value from material ecological realities. Such approaches tend to frame biophysical natures in terms of aggregates, such as an 'aggregate natural capital rule' and 'net zero carbon.' Naturesbeyond-the-human are thereby understood and enacted as calculable, exchangeable, substitutable and commensurable between different spatial and temporal sites, making up an 'aggregate' or 'net' value overall. This article uses a comparative cross-cultural engagement to problematize ontological assumptions regarding the nature of nature underscoring the rationality of these aggregating and offsetting 'solutions.' Drawing on literatures from environmental anthropology and environmental ethics, combined with ethnographic material from long-term field research in north-west Namibia, the article considers elements of alternative cultural ontologies and the ways these may give rise to a different array of practices with value for conceiving and generating 'sustainability.' It adheres to a critical political ecology perspective in understanding the ways that power structures the ontologies that become both privileged and occluded in neoliberal strategies for green economy governance. In doing so, the article argues that sensitivity to the ontological politics through which spaces and entities are defined and known and which thereby shape environmental conflicts, may be key to recognising with more depth the sometimes significantly different 'natures' being struggled over in such conflicts.


Key words. ontology; green economy; offsetting; decoupling; sustainability; value; natures-beyond-thehuman; neoliberalism; political ecology

05 Mar 2017

Invited Review Essay in Development and Change 48(2): 397-423, Currently Open Access.

Dieter Helm, Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet. London: Yale University Press, 2015. 277 pp. £20 hardback, £12.99 paperback.

Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet (2015) by economist Dieter Helm (Professor of Energy Policy, University of Oxford), makes accessible his work as Chairman of the UK's Natural Capital Committee, an independent advisory committee advising the UK government since 2012 ‘on the sustainable use of natural capital’.1 The book's dust cover claims the text is ‘the first real attempt to calibrate, measure, and value natural capital from an economic perspective’ so as ‘to outline a stable new framework for sustainable growth’. As such, and given the author's position at the helm (pun intended) of one of the most significant contemporary initiatives oriented around the idea of ‘natural capital’, the book is an important and timely intervention.

Helm's text promotes a ‘natural capitalism’ that aspires to incorporate all aspects of valued external nature within accounting practices compatible with contemporary market economy — to put ‘the environment at the heart of the economy’, as the preface states (p. vii). The book's key arguments are thus consistent with a ‘green growth’ development paradigm asserting the necessity of economic growth for environmental sustainability and vice versa (p. 244). As such, it is a resolutely ideological text, conforming to an instrumentalizing ethic that approaches ‘nature’ as a ‘set of assets’ that ‘can be valued in economic calculations’ (p. 6). Market frames are thereby privileged in which natural entities are conceptualized such that they can be counted, and thereby valued, in capitalist market economic terms (Ch. 4 and 6).                Read More

22 Oct 2016

Hanging on a Wire, edited by Future Pasts researcher Rick Rohde and Siona O’Connell of Cape Town's Centre for Curating the Archive, and including a foreword by Zoë Wicomb as well as essays by Rick Rohde, Virginia MacKenny, Timm Hoffman, Ben Cousins and Siona O’Connell, makes available a selection of striking images by a Namaqualand resident, Sophia Klaase. In 1999, Rick joined a long-term research project in the village of Paulshoek in Namaqualand, the aim of which was to understand and record the socio-economic and environmental history of the area. Some residents of Paulshoek were invited to contribute to the project through a photographic documentation of the life of the village, drawing on a previous participatory photography project initiated by Rick in the west Namibian village of Okombahe. One of the Paulshoek photographers was Sophia Klaase, whose striking images of her family and friends became the subject of an exhibition fourteen years later. Klaase’s images stood out for their intense and idiosyncratic representation of life in a materially impoverished community, and for their frank exploration of Klaase’s own relationship to her environment. Her photographs and this book demonstrate the intellectual and aesthetic rewards of sustained collaboration and investigation, and introduce a new name into the tradition of South African documentary and vernacular photography. Klaase’s work is the cornerstone of this richly layered study of Paulshoek and its environs. 

Visit here for a podcast of an interview with Rick's co-editor, Siona O'Connell, made a couple of days after the February 2017 book launch for Hanging on a Wire.

After development? In defence of sustainability.

04 Sep 2016

Paper by Mike Hannis, accepted for publication in Global Discourse vol. 7, special issue on 'After Sustainability' (early 2017).


The Paris Agreement was a success only for the carbon traders, sequestrators and geoengineers who are now expected to ‘balance emissions with removals’ by 2050, against a background of continued economic growth. If this is sustainable development, it is indeed discredited. But the problem is with the ‘sustainable development’ paradigm, not with the idea of sustainability. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals explicitly call for intensified economic growth, and are clearly incompatible with the allegedly overarching goal of ecological sustainability. To aim at this very different goal is simply to aim at living in a way that does not contain the seeds of its own destruction. Far from invalidating this objective, diagnoses of crisis make its pursuit more urgent than ever. ‘Why aim at sustainability?’ is an odd question to pose, but one that may nonetheless produce illuminating answers. One answer derives from intergenerational obligations, but this may not even be the most important. An orientation towards sustainability is also beneficial in its own right, since it is a key part of aiming at the good life.


Sustainability; Development; Sustainable Development; Climate Change; Anthropocene; Ecomodernism.

11 Aug 2016

Chapter by Sian Sullivan published in Kopnina, H. and Shoreman-Ouimet, E. (eds.) Routledge International Handbook of Environmental Anthropology. London: Routledge, pp. 155-169.

Abstract. Ontology as a form of enquiry asks questions regarding the nature of being, so as to make assertions regarding the nature of reality and how this can be known. Ontology denotes what entities can exist, into what categories they can be sorted, and by what practices and methods they can be known (i.e. epistemology). A cross-cultural perspective affirms that cultural and historical differences create the possibility for plural ontologies. It suggests the parallel existence of different ways of understanding how reality is constructed, how the world and its entities can be known, and what constitutes appropriate ethical praxis in relation to these entities. ‘Environmental anthropology’ seeks to understand, as far as possible, the internal or emic logic of specific culturenature practices and values. As such, the subdiscipline increasingly attends to ontological dimensions regarding assumptions about ‘the nature of nature’ and the culturally-inflected methods through which this can be known. This chapter explores dimensions of ontological diversity through highlighting aspects of animist as opposed to scientific assumptions regarding relationships with natures-beyond-the-human. In doing so it highlights ‘primal time and the cultural kinship of beings’, ‘agency beyond-the-human’, ‘reciprocity and the moral economy of sharing’, and ‘knowing “nature” through technologies of enchantment’.

Keywords. environmental anthropology; political ecology; ontology; animism; biocultural diversity; ethnography

Climate change sentinel or false prophet?

15 May 2016

Jack, S.L., Hoffman, M.T., Rohde, R.F. and Durbach, I. 2016 Climate change sentinel or false prophet? The case of Aloe dichotoma. Diversity and Distributions DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12438



Aim: Previous research suggests that equatorward populations of the iconic arborescent succulent Aloe dichotoma Masson are contracting in response to recent anthropogenic climate change (ACC) in southern Africa. However, previous studies did not account for small-scale spatial heterogeneity, latitudinal climatic disjunctions or when mortality occurred. We reassess A. dichotoma’s suitability as an indicator species and comment on pitfalls in the selection of species with similar life history characteristics.
Location: South-western Africa.
Methods: A 15,000 km distribution-wide roadside visual survey was conducted to capture demographic patterns and provide the means for extracting tightly coupled climate profiles for the species. Rainfall and temperature gradients were assessed for latitudinal discontinuities indicating distinct equatorward-poleward climate zones. Repeat photographs and reference individuals were used to develop an index for dating the approximate time-since-death of dead trees at 14 latitudinally spaced populations.
Results: The proportion of dead individuals was greatest within the southern third of the latitudinal distribution rather than at the equatorward range limit. The equatorward summer rainfall zone (SRZ) was significantly drier, rainfall more variable and temperatures hotter compared to the poleward winter rainfall zone (WRZ). This difference was associated with a generally greater proportion of dead individuals in the SRZ and greater proportion of juveniles in the WRZ. Furthermore, juveniles appeared more sensitive to drought stress while adults were more resilient. Most mortality occurred several decades ago, was not more recent at the equatorward limit and was drawn from the more drought resilient adult stage class.
Main conclusions: Aloe dichotoma mortality (and recruitment) patterns reflect prevailing differences in the SRZ and WRZ climate, while differing juvenile and adult drought stress tolerances and windthrow-mediated mortality reinforces this pattern. This and strong indications of non-recent death suggest that ACC is not responsible for observed mortality. An alternative hypothesis for current demographic patterns, which incorporates palaeoclimatic evidence and A. dichotoma life history characteristics is proposed. Long-term climate trends, recruitment-mortality dynamics and potential climatic discontinuities should be considered before advancing species as indicators of ACC.

Keywords: climate change; climatic discontinuities; demographic patterns; indicator species; range shifts; southern Africa.

Beyond the money shot; or how framing matters?

13 Sep 2016

Sullivan, S. 2016 Beyond the money shot; or how framing nature matters? Locating Green at Wildscreen. Journal of Environmental Communications. Special issue entitled ‘Spectacular Environmentalisms/Environments’.


Abstract. Natural history films use technological mediations to frame aspects of nature soas to communicate information, in part through engendering particular viewer affects. As an entertainment industry embedded in capitalist social relations and concerned with competition for finance and ratings, natural history film-makingis also a search for ‘the money shot’ – associated with extremes including rarity, sensational behaviour, and otherwise un(fore)seen views. I highlight this sensationalising impetus through ethnographic fieldwork conducted at the biannual Wildscreen film festival in 2010. Here, wildlife films were frequently presented as action dramas with a rhythm of anticipation, climax and satisfaction. I argue that, through generating significantly disconnective affects, such framing may work against composition of a caring ecocultural ethics that entwines human with more-than-human natures and futures, thus paralleling the similarly disconnecting effects documented for pornographic film. In contrast, I engage with the differently constructive frames guiding the low-budget, open access, activist film Green, which, perhaps paradoxically given the thrust of the natural history film industry, won the prestigious WWF Gold Panda Award at Wildscreen 2010. I follow framing theorist George Lakoff to emphasise that since cognition is both embodied and embedded in diverse inter-relationships, affective registers generating mimetic connection are as significant in communicating information regarding ‘the environment’ as the text and words by which nature might be framed. I conclude that attention to affective registers and embodied (dis)connections in natural history film may enhance a turning of capitalist spectacle against itself, so as to work for composition of abundant socionatural futures.


Keywords: Wildscreen; Green; natural history film; framing; mimesis; affect; pornography

(Re)embodying which body?

26 Jan 2016

Sullivan, S. 2016 (Re-)embodying which body? Philosophical, cross-cultural and personal reflections on corporeality, pp. 119-138 in Thomas-Pellicer, R., de Lucia, V. and Sullivan, S. (eds.) Contributions to Law, Philosophy and Ecology: Exploring Re-Embodiments. London: GlassHouse Books, Routledge Law, Justice and Ecology Series.


This chapter offers philosophical, cross-cultural and personal reflections on corporeality - the experience of embodiment. Following a theoretical section drawing in particular on post-structuralist philosophers Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari the chapter invokes some implications of understandings of 'the body' and healing learned through field research with Damara / ≠Nū Khoen people in west Namibia.


The edited collection in which the chapter appears is described by Routledge as follows:

'Contributions to Law, Philosophy and Ecology: Exploring Re-Embodiments is a preliminary contribution to the establishment of re-embodiments as a theoretical strand within legal and ecological theory and philosophy. Re-embodiments are all those contemporary practices and processes that exceed the epistemic horizon of modernity. As such, they offer a plurality of alternative modes of theory and practice that seek to counteract the ecocidal tendencies of the Anthropocene. The collection is comprised of eleven contributions approaching re-embodiments from a multiplicity of fields, including legal theory, eco-philosophy, eco-feminism and anthropology. The contributions are organized in three parts, ‘Beyond Modernity, ‘The Sacred Dimension’ and ‘The Legal Dimension’. The collection is opened by a comprehensive introduction that situates re-embodiments in theoretical context. Whilst closely bound with embodiment and new materialist theory, this book contributes a unique voice that echoes diverse political processes contemporaneous to our times. Written in an elegant and accessible language, the book will appeal to undergraduates, postgraduates and established scholars alike seeking to understand and take re-embodiments further, both politically and theoretically.'

Freedom and Environment

01 Jan 2016

Hannis, M. 2016 Freedom and Environment: Autonomy, Human Flourishing and the Political Philosophy of Sustainability. London: Routledge Research in Environmental Politics.


As detailed by Routledge:

'Must freedom be sacrificed to achieve ecological sustainability - or vice versa? Can we be genuinely free and live in sustainable societies? This book argues that we can, if we recognise and celebrate our ecological embeddedness, rather than seeking to transcend it. But this does not mean freedom can simply be redefined to fit within ecological limits. Addressing current unsustainability will involve significant restrictions, and hence will require political justification, not just scientific evidence. Drawing on material from perfectionist liberalism, capabilities approaches, human rights, relational ethics and virtue theory, Michael Hannis explores the relationship between freedom and sustainability, considering how each contributes to human flourishing. He argues that a substantive and ecologically literate conception of human flourishing can underpin both capability-based environmental rights and a eudaimonist ecological virtue ethics. With such a foundation in place, public authorities can act both to facilitate ecological virtue, and to remove structural incentives to ecological vice. Freedom and Environment is a lucid addition to existing literature in environmental politics and virtue ethics, and will be an excellent resource to those studying debates about freedom with debates about ecological sustainability.'

30 Sep 2015

Sullivan, S. and Hannis, M. 2015 Nets and frames, losses and gains: Value struggles in engagements with biodiversity offsetting policy in England. Ecosystem Services 15: 163-172 Special Issue on ‘Biodiversity Offsets as MBIs? From discourses to practice’, edited by Froger, G., Hrabanski, M. and Boisvert, V.


This paper provides a structured qualitative discourse analysis of a key emerging policy debate regarding biodiversity offsetting (BDO) in England. The development of BDO offsetting internationally is setting the scene institutionally, discursively and technically for the creation and materialisation of BDO policy, locations and units in the Namibian context. The paper focuses on disaggregating key issues, interests and concerns regarding the development of BDO policy, and finds significant, and possible intractable, ‘value struggles’ are arising between identifiable groups embracing and contesting this new conservation technology. 


Abstract: Biodiversity offsetting (BDO) is presented as capable of mitigating development-related harm to populations of species while simultaneously enhancing economic development. The technique involves constructing such harm as a result of market failures, which can be resolved through market solutions. BDO is contentious, attracting outspoken proponents and opponents in equal measure. We examine competing perspectives of interested non-governmental actors through a structured discourse analysis, using qualitative data coding, of 24 written evidence submissions to the UK Parliament׳s Environmental Audit Committee׳s 2013 Inquiry into Biodiversity Offsetting in England. Nuanced positions and areas of agreement notwithstanding, we find that there is a discernible oppositional pattern producing core polarities between organisations favouring and resisting BDO. In interpreting these oppositional dynamics we observe that it is unlikely that this impasse can be resolved since although the debate is framed in terms of differences of view regarding the effectiveness or desirability of specific technical aspects of BDO policy, these differences arise from fundamentally divergent value framings. Struggles over offsetting involve irresolvable value struggles, and negotiations over the assumed (ir)rationality of biodiversity offsetting are thus located firmly within political and ideological arenas.


Keywords: Biodiversity offsetting; No Net Loss; Discourse analysis; Value struggles; Framing

31 Mar 2015

Hannis, M. 2015 The virtues of acknowledged ecological dependence: sustainability, autonomy and human flourishing. Environmental Values 24: 145–164.


Abstract. An extension of Alasdair MacIntyre’s concept of ‘virtues of acknowledgeddependence’, to include relationships with the non-­human world, offers an or-­ganising principle for environmental virtue ethics. It situates ecological virtueamong more traditional virtues of inter-­human relationships, and may therebycontribute to an ethical reconciliation of policies aimed at encouraging ecolog-­ical virtue with those aimed at protecting the freedoms required for personalautonomy. Within this eudaimonist framework, ecological virtue may be un-­derstood and promoted as directly contributing to a good life.


Keywords: Environmental virtue ethics; sustainability; autonomy; eudaimonism; MacIntyre

01 Jun 2014

Sullivan, S. and Low, C. 2014 Shades of the rainbow serpent? A KhoeSān animal between myth and landscape in southern Africa – ethnographic contextualisations of rock art representations. The Arts 3(2), 215-244; doi:10.3390/arts3020215 special issue on World Rock Art

‘Shades of the rainbow serpent..’ deals with questions of how contemporary ethnographic representations can intersect with and contribute to constructions of KhoeSan pasts and presents as these are framed in scholarly analyses of rock art in the region. Through focusing on representations of natural history and mythical aspects of snakes in both KhoeSan ethnography and southern African rock art, the article finds a KhoeSan approach to environmental realities that emphasises diverse practices of attunement with unpredictable environmental dynamics and rich symbolic landscapes representing these.  


Abstract: The snake is a potent entity in many cultures across the world, and is a noticeable global theme in rock art and inscribed landscapes. We mobilise our long-term ethnographic research with southern African KhoeSan peoples to situate and interpret the presence of snake motifs in the region’s rock art. We contextualise the snake as a transformative ontological mediator between everyday and “entranced” KhoeSan worlds (those associated with “altered states of consciousness”), to weave together both mythological and shamanistic interpretations of southern African rock art. Ethnographic explorations of experiences of snakes as both an aspect of natural history and the physical environment, and as embodiments of multiplicitous and mythical meaning by which to live and understand life, shed light on the presence of snakes and associated snake-themes in southern African rock art. By drawing on ethnographic material, and in conjunction with review of literature, we highlight a dynamic assemblage of extant associations between snakes, rain, water, fertility, blood, fat, transformation, dance and healing. We suggest that these extant associations have explanatory potential for understanding the meaning of these themes in the rock art created by the ancestors of contemporary KhoeSan peoples. Our paper contributes to a live debate regarding the interpretive relevance of ethnography for understanding rock art representations from the past.


Keywords: KhoeSan; rock art; snakes; potency; rain; healing; dance; landscape; shamanism; ethnography; southern Africa

Blow me down: a new perspective on Aloe dichotoma mortality from windthrow.

01 Jan 2014

Jack, S.L., Hoffman, M.T., Rohde, R.F., Durbach, I. and Archibald, M.


Background: Windthrow, the uprooting of trees during storms associated with strong winds, is a well-established cause of mortality in temperate regions of the world, often with large ecological consequences. However, this phenomenon has received little attention within arid regions and is not well documented in southern Africa. Slow rates of post-disturbance recovery and projected increases in extreme weather events in arid areas mean that windthrow could be more common and have bigger impacts on these ecosystems in the future. This is of concern due to slow rates of post-disturbance recovery in arid systems and projected increases in extreme weather events in these areas. This study investigated the spatial pattern, magnitude and likely causes of windthrown mortality in relation to other forms of mortality in Aloe dichotoma, an iconic arid-adapted arborescent succulent and southern Africa climate change indicator species.
Results: We found that windthrown mortality was greatest within the equatorward summer rainfall zone (SRZ) of its distribution (mean = 31%, n = 11), and was derived almost exclusively from the larger adult age class. A logistic modelling exercise indicated that windthrown mortality was strongly associated with greater amounts of warm season (summer) rainfall in the SRZ, higher wind speeds, and leptosols. A statistically significant interaction term between higher summer rainfall and wind speeds further increased the odds of being windthrown. While these results would benefit from improvements in the resolution of wind and substrate data, they do support the hypothesised mechanism for windthrow in A. dichotoma. This involves powerful storm gusts associated with either the current or subsequent rainfall event, heavy convective rainfall, and an associated increase in soil malleability. Shallow rooting depths in gravel-rich soils and an inflexible, top-heavy canopy structure make individuals especially prone to windthrown mortality during storms.
Conclusions: Results highlight the importance of this previously unrecognised form of mortality in A. dichotoma, especially since it seems to disproportionately affect reproductively mature adult individuals in an infrequently recruiting species. Smaller, more geographically isolated and adult dominated populations in the summer rainfall zone are likely to be more vulnerable to localised extinction due to windthrow events.

Keywords: Aloe dichotoma, Arid environment, Convective rainfall, Indicator species, Mortality, Southern Africa, Wind speed, Windthrow

01 Jan 2013

Sullivan, S. 2013 After the green rush? Biodiversity offsets, uranium power and the ‘calculus of casualties’ in greening growth. Human Geography 6(1): 80-101. (This paper was published just before Future Pasts formally started. It analyses the emergence of biodiversity offsetting as a proposed conservation technology for mitigating environmental harms associated with expansionary uranium mining activity in west Namibia, and thus contributes analysis of these developments that are pertinent to our scope of research - see Future Pasts Working Paper 1).


Abstract. Biodiversity offsets are part of a new suite of biodiversity conservation instruments designed to mitigate the impacts of economic developments on species, habitats and ecosystems. Led by an international collaboration of representatives from companies, financial institutions, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) of the market-oriented Forest Trends group, has created a global framework through which principles and standards for biodiversity offsets are being established. These enable the apparently unavoidable harm caused by development to be exchanged for investment in conservation activities both at different geographical locations and in the future. Offsets can also be traded via bespoke markets for environmental conservation indicators. Given a globalizing ‘green economy’ discourse that conservation can be a profitable enterprise if guided by market-based mechanisms and the entwining of ecological with economic spheres, biodiversity offsets are becoming key to current entrepreneurial interest in biodiversity conservation. The ‘green rush’ of my title refers to both this interest in conservation activities that can be marketized, and to an associated appetite in business and financial sectors for incorporating biodiversity offsets as part of a strategy for ‘greening’ the environmental harm caused by developments. I illustrate the uses to which biodiversity offsets are being put, through a case study connecting the extraction of uranium in Namibia for the generation of nuclear power in the UK. Biodiversity offsets are invoked to satisfy requirements for off-site mitigation of environmental harm at points of both extraction and ‘consumption’ of uranium in this case. I highlight some of the (anti-)ecological assumptions guiding calculations of complex ecological assemblages so that they can become biodiversity offsets, and draw attention to the intensified distributions of new environmental values with which biodiversity offsets may be associated.


Key words: biodiversity offsets, uranium, nuclear power, Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP), Hinkley Point (UK), barbastelle bats, Namibia, Electricité de France Energy (EDF), Areva, calculative technologies, green growth

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© 2015-2019 by Future Pasts. Background image: grassland, Erongo Region, west Namibia, April 2008.