Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Sustainability Prism

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Sustainability Prism

Article excerpt

This special edition began with the working title 'Sustainable Development: Global Vision, Local Voices'. However, as it evolved and the articles came in, the focus on development fragmented and became much less about the category 'sustainable development' or even its 'global vision'. The focus turned instead on social and personal learning and the conversations around these open categories. As a result the category 'sustainability' became a prism through which to view how people and their institutions are addressing the emergent limits to our global/globalising civilisation. In this way 'sustainable development' became 'sustainable prism' while 'global vision and local voice' became much less definitive. To put it another way, the issue became much more tentative and shifted to explorations in the areas of sustainability and the languages that we use to describe our strivings in this area.

The fifteen articles and one poem presented here tell a story of diversity and innovation. The thinking is grounded in the realities for which and from which the writers speak. Having a global reach, much of the work comes from speakers whose mother tongues are other than English, the result is a diversity of expression and thought that challenged me to hold space for all contributors. This has taken me on multiple journeys in which the question of the authentic representation of ideas and also the idiomatic nature of plural-English is to be honoured and celebrated.

Thoughts on Authority

I have come to see this special issue metaphorically as a caravan carrying rich spices from many corners of the world. I have felt as if I were a customs official checking the 'baggage'. I am aware that generally customs officials are viewed with suspicion and even anxiety by travelers so I have worked at being a somewhat up-beat official who, rather than acting as gate keeper, has subverted this authoritarian role and taken on the persona of the cosmopolitan official (cosmofficial) welcoming the weary travelers to this special issue. In this I have picked up on a thread offered by Benjamin Laier in his reflection on TEDxCopenhagen where we meet the wonderful activist Lars AP who dresses up as a parking inspector in Copenhagen and gives people prizes for parking well. So I have been aware of the power of the editor and inverted the role to cosmofficial. In this all encounters have been welcomed and understood as enriching the overall texture of this issue of Social Alternatives. The articles and commentaries all attest to the autobiographical quality of academic work as each speaks from the author's place. They can be understood as stories that create patterns across and between geopolitical, cultural and temporal spaces. Each is a rhizomic extension of a personal journey towards sustainability.

Here I am thinking of Barry Lopez's reflections on story and voice. He is a writer keenly aware of the embodied nature of voice and of the play of voices intersecting one another in delightful Deleuzian play. Thus he observes that stories:

...offer... patterns of sound and association, of event and image. Suspended as listeners and readers in these patterns, we might reimagine lives. It is through story that we embrace the great breadth of memory, that we can distinguish what is true, and that we may glimpse, at least occasionally, how to live without despair in the midst of the horror that dogs and unhinges us (1998, 13).

When stories intersect we find the spaces amplified with possibilities denied to a singular. This plural convergence generates multiplicity and the alternatives associated with these. Alternatives can be a source of hope as encounters generate hybrid forms and open ended spaces. These forms reside not just in the linguistic and textual edifices each writer generates but also in the dynamic tensions that emerge between texts. Space is where something extra-linguistic resides. In fact each encounter across languages extends us and invites us to reflect on our own voicing of the world and how we embody this voice through our values and actions. …

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