28 SES 17, Development Narratives as a Common Good? Knowledge Constraints on ‘Public’ Voice in Historically Subaltern Spaces
This paper reflects on the theoretical and methodological implications of a multi-sited ethnographic study of education for sustainable development conducted in 2016-17 in public primary schools in Pashulok, Uttarakhand, India and South Durban Industrial Basin, South Africa. Both of these communities have experienced on-going environmental threats, and have been historically endangered by what Rob Nixon has called the ‘slow violence’—‘a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space’ (Nixon, 2011, p. 2), and both communities embody collective memories and narratives of such violence. Utilising phenomenological interviewing, field observation, participatory ethnographic filmmaking and various other visual-anthropologic methods, the study examines the interface of the political and cultural tensions as well as activist movements associated with these narratives and education in these areas. In so doing, it challenges the notion of the ‘Global North’ as the usher of environmentalism and sustainability, putting into spotlight the ‘marginal’ public schools and grassroots movements of the ‘Global South.’ I argue these are precisely the modalities of education that ought to be placed at the centre of the development imagination of those concerned about educating future generations towards sustainability. Rather than seeing these, their resilience and adaptation can serve as a source of inspiration for sustainability education elsewhere, including in the ‘Global North,’ which is responsible for much of the planetary-scale environmental degradation. Findings of the study suggest that while both sites are marked by resilience to environmental threats in which education, both formal and informal, becomes an agent of ‘politicising’ the environment, several factors hamper this process. Cultural and political forces that direct the aspirations of young people in both sites towards environmentally destructive models of development, as well as the presence of ‘fast’ violence on a large scale in the South African site, put constraints on the intergenerational transmission of knowledge about environmental justice, as well as the agency of young people in re-imagining future worlds. These factors can be traced to the developmental predicaments of India and South Africa, which have their origins in histories of colonialism, exploitation and social stratification—the very factors that have contributed to the dominance of the ‘Global North’ in the production and dissemination of knowledge about environmentalism and sustainability. Yet, the articulations of these concepts in these sites, rooted in resilience to first-hand exposure to environmental threats, make it possible to challenge this dominance.
Barnett, C., & Scott, D. (2007). Spaces of Opposition: Activism and Deliberation in Post- Apartheid Environmental Politics. Environment and Planning, 39(11), 2612– 2631. https://doi.org/10.1068/a39200 Newton, J. (2008). Displacement and development: The Paradoxes of India’s Tehri dam. Geographical Bulletin - Gamma Theta Upsilon, 49(1), 19–32. Nixon, R. (2011). Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
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