Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Reimagining Sustainable Cultures: Constitutions, Land and Art

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Reimagining Sustainable Cultures: Constitutions, Land and Art

Article excerpt

Introduction

Evidence of ancient human lifeways in silent landscapes inevitably raises questions, and many of the questions that have given life to this paper were formed in solitary observation of inuksuit on tundra, or standing stones on heaths; of caribou on rocky ridges or deer silhouetted against the sky and of reflections in tidal pools around a common ocean. Other questions challenging the contemporary debates of sustainability addressed here have had a more audible origin in discussions within remote communities, often in languages other than this one, and at the conference tables of international organisations. The crisis of appropriation of diversity, both biological and cultural, through the continuing processes of colonisation and its successor, globalisation, precipitates conflict in remote regions, and local communities in many places struggle with the costs and the benefits of modernity. This paper explores the interaction of culture, environment and globalisation with the intention of examining links between identity and discourses of sustainability, through reference to case studies at two sites: the Isle of Harris, Scotland and Cape Dorset in South Baffin Island.

Rethinking Sustainability

Sustainable development long ago became a catchall phrase, covering over incoherence, failure to think carefully, if not plain bad faith, in its implicit invocation of both virtue and necessity. Critics have long argued that sustainable development is a phrase that suggests sustaining development rather than trying anything more innovative. The phrase has become de rigueur in policy pronouncements, its efficacy in suggesting innovation evacuated by its sheer repetition. The combination of crises that led to the formulation of the term sustainable development in the first place, and its subsequent codification in the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), has, if anything, worsened. The need to rethink economic practices at a global scale in manners that reduce the throughput of resources, and the disruptions of ecosystems, while simultaneously reducing the misery and poverty of marginalised populations, the original logic of sustainable development before its appropriation y conventional economic policy making, remains a compelling agenda (Sachs et al. 1998). M'Gonnigle and Dempsey's (2003) suggestion that what needs to be done is to work on developing sustainability neatly inverts conventional formulation revealing the contradiction at the heart of the term. But, it also poses crucial questions of how to think and practice forms of life that minimise ecological disruption, but which are also sensitive to cultural traditions in specific places. Rather than one more set of universal claims related to the decontextualised imposition of environmental management policies from distant metropolitan centres, the possibilities of territorially specific modes of living and livelihood, which do not extensively disrupt natural systems, urgently need attention as a matter of political ecology.

The focus on the formulation of alternatives to government and corporation-defined policies of sustainable development has shifted to Porto Allegre and to the discussions in the World Social Forum on the one hand, and on the other to specific projects in particular places (Esteva and Prakesh 1998). In so doing, the emphasis here is on the term social, on sustainability as a matter of everyday life, social arrangements, matters of culture and the practices of living sensitively and sensibly. The local is emphasised without being fetishised as providing all the answers; global problems in specific contexts are discussed as matters involving much more than the reductionist reasoning of economics. The recognition of 'particularity' and 'contingency', the honouring of 'difference and otherness' and the 'cultivation of local capacity' create opportunities for re-envisioning the local, countering 'the meanings of globalisation that come to bear on social possibility' (Gibson-Graham 2003, 51). …

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