Workshop: Pluralizing the Transformation to Sustainability
“Transformation – what does it mean? The WBGU defines this major transformation as the global remodelling of economy and society towards sustainability. In order to overcome the barriers which currently stand in the way of the transformation, the process depends on societal shaping and support.” (WBGU 2011)
As the 21st century unfolds, the pitfalls and complexities of our contemporary global economic, political, and ecological inter-connectedness become now-here as visible and daunting as in key issues of the ‘transformation to sustainability’.
In Ecuador, after 10 years of legal dispute, the Constitutional Court gave way to a nationwide popular consultation on leaving the crude oil reserves located in the Yasuní National Park underground. The decision of the Constitutional Court is without a doubt historical for the country; it remains to be seen, however, if the outcome of the re-ferendum will mark the beginning of a post-oil era in the South American state or consolidate its extractivist development model.
In Germany, the hamlet of Lützerath be-came a public symbol of struggles against climate change when a broad social coalition contested the expansion of an open-cast coal mine. The eviction of Lützerath earlier this year was perceived as a betrayal of Germany’s climate mitigation ambitions by the ruling parties, particularly the Green Party.
In the DR Congo, the transformation to sustainability has led to the exploitation of the ‘transition mineral’ Cobalt. Amidst re-ports on environmental destruction and human rights abuses, corporations installed so-called responsible sourcing schemes. These schemes have been described as the out-sourcing of corporate responsibility (Calvão, Mcdonald and Bolay 2021).
Both in the Global South and North, social and environmental movements are engaged in a myriad of struggles accentuating the local conditions and particularities of this transformation, thereby revealing both the structural power dynamics, material re-alities, and circulating imaginaries that are shaping its sociopolitical dimensions (Dunlap and Riquito 2023; Brock, Sovacool and Hook 2021). This exposes the violent and toxic legacies of colonialism and imperialism (Povinelli 2016, 2021) and, through bringing processes of societal externalization into focus, questions the transformative character of proclaimed changes.
This constellation of the material realities, social praxes and imaginaries of global energy and socio-environmental crises (Folkers 2021; Heise 2016; Satgar 2018), discourses around the legacies of colonial-ism (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2018; Whyte 2018, 2020), and
and the current cycle of extractivism (Arboleda 2020; Shapiro and McNeish 2021) invites a series of further questions. It allows us to discuss the (ir)regularities of compar-able patterns, connecting affects and motives, as well as concurrent problems characterizing shifting geopolitical relations and environmental politics.
This workshop is thus situated at the intersections of trans-formations to sustainability, (de-/re-) politicization, and current expansions of circuits of extraction in the wake of the energy transition.
In various regards, the above-mentioned examples raise questions about the opportunities of politicization and plural-ization of the transformation to sustain-ability (Blythe et al. 2018; Langenohl 2021); but at the same time raise awareness of the perils of polarizations and frictions along lines of race, class, and gender. What are the implications of the notion of transformation (Ahrens 2022)? What are the obstacles of a normative, and hence political, agenda around pluralization? Who dominates social imaginaries and material praxes of socio-ecological transformations? How are the legacies of colonialism and the emergence of sacrifice zones linked to socioecological transformations? (How) Can dominant technoscientific models of ecological modernization be dismantled and pro-ductively appropriated in local contexts? And: How are these models already dismantled and appropriated?
The workshop is envisaged as a platform for dialogue, inter-weaving discussions on the responsibilities and response-abilities of the study of culture and attempts to help shaping the ´Great Transformation´ vis-á-vis uneven social, cultural, and economic geo-graphies. The politicization and pluralization of transformation research and practice is constitutive of a range of issues spanning the study of culture and transformation research:
i) past and present transformations as well as growing national and global inequalities,
ii) the entanglements of carbon democracies and depoliticizing narratives on ecological modernization,
iii) contestations of social imaginaries and material realities of contemporary iterations of modernization and cultural imaginations of viable futures.
- Ahrens J (2022) Transformation – Eine kultursoziologische Perspektive. In V Leppin and S Michels (eds) Reformation als Transformation? (pp 33–50): Mohr Siebeck.
- Arboleda M (2020) Planetary mine: Territories of extraction under late capitalism. London, New York: Verso.
- Blythe J, Silver J, Evans L, Armitage D, Bennett N J, Moore M-L, Morrison T H and Brown K (2018) The Dark Side of Transformation: Latent Risks in Contemporary Sustainability Discourse. Antipode 50(5):1206–1223. http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/anti.12405.
- Brock A, Sovacool B K and Hook A (2021) Volatile Photovoltaics: Green Industrialization, Sacrifice Zones, and the Political Ecology of Solar Energy in Germany. Annals of the American Association of Geographers:1–23 (last accessed 21 June 2023).
- Calvão F, Mcdonald C E A and Bolay M (2021) Cobalt mining and the corporate outsourcing of responsibility in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Extractive Industries and Society 8(4):100884.
- Dunlap A and Riquito M (2023) Social warfare for lithium extraction? Open-pit lithium mining, counterinsurgency tactics and enforcing green extractivism in northern Portugal. Energy Research & Social Science 95:1–2.
- Folkers A (2021) Fossil modernity: The materiality of acceleration, slow violence, and ecological futures. Time & Society 30(2):223–246.
- Heise U K (2016) Imagining Extinction: University of Chicago Press.
- Langenohl A (2021) Einführung. In P Eisenlohr, S Kramer and A Langenohl (eds) Parallaxen moderner Zeitlichkeit (pp 17–30). Hannover: Wehrhahn Verlag.
- Ndlovu-Gatsheni S J (2018) Epistemic freedom in Africa: deprovincialization and decolonization. London, New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
- Povinelli E A (2016) Geontologies: A requiem to late liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press.
- Povinelli E A (2021) Between Gaia and ground: Four axioms of existence and the ancestral catastrophe of late liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press.
- Satgar V (ed) (2018) The climate crisis: South African and global democratic eco-socialist alternatives. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
- Shapiro J and McNeish J A (eds) (2021) Our Extractive Age: Expressions of Violence and Resistance. Abingdon, Oxon, New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
- WBGU (2011) German Advisory Council on Global Change: The Transformation towards Sustainability. Factsheet No. 4/2011.
- Whyte K (2018) Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice. Environment and Society 9(1):125–144.
- Whyte K (2020) Too late for indigenous climate justice: Ecological and relational tipping points. WIREs Climate Change 11(1):1–7.