Planetary Utilization of Sustainability Strategies (PLUS) SouthernAfrican Regional Conference, Postgraduate Workshop andInternationalisation Day 2023

Conference Title: Land, Landscape, Local Knowledge, and the pursuit of sustainable ontologies

Venue: North-West University, Mahikeng Campus (South Africa)
Date: 11-14 September 2023
Conference Fee: R1 500,00

The colonial history of Southern Africa established an extractive political economy in which capital was able to loot from pre- or extra-colonial economies, ecosystems, and cultural achievements in pursuit of metropolitan wealth. To the extent that colonial capitalism depended, and continues to depend, on this brutal extractivism, the resulting economies have been among the most unequal and unsustainable globally.

Mbembe (2005) has argued that such extractive structures rest on three kinds of violence. First, the violence of conquest. The seizing of land is a good example of the outcome of this sort of violence. Second, the symbolic violence of legitimation deployed by colonial authorities to recast their conquest as legitimate. The domination of local epistemologies is implied in this as colonial hegemons worked to show that colonialism would bring with it rational goods able to replace the destructive superstitions of local populations. Finally, the violence of reiteration. This describes that set of symbolic enactments that renamed the colonized world in terms of the colonial order such that the conquered would, at every turn, be reminded, through place names, landmarks, and statues, that they are conquered.

Engaging sustainability from an epistemic, political, and geographic context fundamentally shaped by these three types of violence requires recognizing that the world emerged from these violences as extractive, rather than sustainable and that transitioning from the extractive to the sustainable requires directly engaging these three areas of violence. The question of sustainability in Southern Africa cannot be divorced from the conversation about how both the environmental crisis and available responses are features of

the colonially ordered extractive world that rests upon the three violences outlined above, and further, that sustainability itself may be yet another form of legitimizing violence by which the global north is able to dictate policy in its own image. Stealing land; redefining landscape in terms of settler belonging; and undermining local knowledge systems are, thus three processes and areas that we have identified as lenses through which many of our contemporary crises are most acutely expressed.

We are thus inviting abstracts for papers and panels engaging three key areas of our colonial legacy pertaining to sustainability. The first is land and the question of land restitution and land use to redress inequities deriving from colonial conquest. The second is landscape and the question of symbolic restitution to respond to the construction of lived realities as unfolding against the backdrop of what Mognolo has termed the second nomos of the earth, where all places are somehow versions of a European original. The third is local knowledge and the question of epistemic restitution such that we can articulate a local foundation in terms of which to imagine and pursue an emergent sustainability from within the ruins of colonial extractivism.

Paper and Panel abstracts can be submitted to before 30 June 2023. Abstracts should be no more than 200 words, and panel applications should please include a panel abstract and a list of presenters who will make up the panel. Presentations should be planned to not exceed 20 minutes to afford ample time for discussion from the floor.The abstracts will be considered by a multi-institutional conference team and authors will receive feedback by 14 July.

Strengthening capacity of the next generation of African Social Scientists

Venue: North-West University, Mahikeng Campus (South Africa)
Registration fee: R500,00
Postgraduate Workshop Date: 11 September 2023

Across the globe, post graduate students and their supervisors face increased pressure from university administrations, via such mechanisms as postgraduate output targets, to complete research projects in record time. Mhlahlo (2020) argues that this pressure falls on a rather isolated student/supervisor dyad. Bartlet and Mercer (2000), and Heydenrych (2009) have respectively argued that students and supervisors are aware of these power relations and that the relation stems from the nature of the supervisory relationship. The supervision relationship is one within which the supervisor is cast as gate keeper and expert, while the student is cast as novice. This framing bestows power on supervisors, whose sole authority determines where students are praised for their work and where they are criticized; where they move forward, and where they are held back. Within this isolated frame, and against the background of the power asymmetries that characterize the relationship, students often feel pressured to unquestioningly obey supervisory suggestions.

A second source of pressure faced by this dyad are the twin expectations, first, that postgraduate research is a space for creativity and curiosity, and second, that theses produced in this space are critical tools in the knowledge economy for addressing our most urgent social challenges. These two pressures are at odds with each other and are amplified in contexts of inequality, within which the contingencies of everyday life interrupt plans and make it difficult to either
effectively balance the intense requirements of postgraduate work, or to pursue the creative curiosity that motivated them to study further and that underpin the value of post graduate research for social change of the sort being pursued within the SDG+ network.

With these two sources of pressure standing at odds, it becomes clear that we need to empower postgraduate students along at least two axes. First, we need to attend to the skills of managing research and balancing that against the contingent flows of everyday life. Second, we need to intervene upon the relative isolation of the student/supervisor dyad, to temper the power relations and thereby defend the importance of student voice in their own research.

Conti, Hewson and Isken (2001) contend that in response to these pressures, students ought to empower themselves through reading and consulting rigorously around the research problem. While this is clearly essential, such activity does not resolve the problem of isolation within which power relations play out. It also does not necessarily resolve the challenges of student voice. To better support students and supervisors to manage these pressures in their own relationship, the SDG+ regional conference will be accompanied by a postgraduate day aimed at affording students a safe environment in which to present their research to peers in the interest of establishing an SDG+ regional post graduate network that can militate against the isolation and its negative effects on power in the relationship and also nurture the creativity and curiosity that characterize und underpin the value of postgraduate research.

We thus invite post graduate students in the SDG+ network to submit abstracts and join us to participate in a postgraduate networking day in advance of the SDG+ regional conference. During this event, students will present their work and engage around it with peers, community organisations, and researchers who bring practical and scholarly experience and can serve as sounding boards for the creative ideas displayed in each other’s work. This is a platform to share critical methodological, theoretical, and epistemological experiences. This will enable them to assert their voice more strongly in their research and writing as co-creators of knowledge because robust networks like the one envisaged here will break the isolation and enable future social scientists to network with researchers, practitioners, and community structures from Southern Africa.

Paper and Panel abstracts can be submitted to before 30 June 2023. Abstracts should be no more than 200 words, and panel applications should please include a panel abstract and a list of presenters who will make up the panel. Presentations should be planned to not exceed 20 minutes to afford ample time for discussion from the floor. The abstracts will be considered by a multi-institutional conference team and authors will receive feedback by 14 July.


International networking day: 14 September 2023
Venue: North-West University, Mahikeng Campus (South Africa)
Registration: Free

The 2023 PLUS network regional conference is intended in part as an opportunity to grow the network into the community level where SDGs encounter lived realities, shifting contexts and ongoing funding struggles. To address this, we will make use of the final conference day as an international networking day. Our aim is to afford regional and PLUS network partners the opportunity to forge new relationships with local communities as potential civil society partners in ongoing and new projects around the SDGs. The relationships built in this space are meant to continue beyond the conference as it is expected participants will link each other to the means of support within the PLUS networks and beyond. We therefore invite all participating scholars, students, and others to join us for a day of networking that we feel is an essential step in ensuring that our scholarly visions and projects ultimately intersect with lived realities.

Confirm your participation by sending an email to by no later than 30 July 2023.