Keynote abstracts

Ashish Kothari

Eco-Swaraj: Towards a Radical Ecological Democracy

As multiple crises engulf humanity and the rest of life, we are groping for ways out. How can we tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, the abysmal chasm between rich and poor, the continued deprivation of a billion people from dignified life, and geopolitical conflicts that threaten to annihilate life on earth?

Even as these and other issues seem to be unsurmountable, quiet work across the world is showing that they are not. ‘Ordinary’ people are finding pathways towards sustainability, equality, justice, through means and visions that have the potential to be truly transformatory. They are not content with band-aids like ‘green economy’ and ‘sustainable development’, but are challenging concentration of power manifested in patriarchy, capitalism, statism, racism, and other forms of exploitation and discrimination that are currently dominant. From the re-assertion of indigenous worldviews like buen vivir to the emergence of more recent alternatives like ecofeminism and degrowth, from new interpretations of leftist/Marxist revolution to Gandhian concepts like swaraj, and much else, we are slowly finding answers.

In a grounded way, many of these are finding more equitable and sustainable ways of securing food, water, energy and housing, or of creating conditions for greater equality and fairness, or of more democratic monetary and non-monetised exchange, or of producers taking back control over production, or of community-led alternative health and learning, or many other such practical and conceptual initiatives. This presentation will focus on alternative practices and visions emerging from the South Asian context, the contexts and reasons for their emergence, the challenges they face, and what kind of links can be made with resistance and alternative movements elsewhere.

This presentation will focus on alternative practices and visions emerging from the South Asian context, the contexts and reasons for their emergence, the challenges they face, and what kind of links can be made with resistance and alternative movements elsewhere.

For further reference, please check out the book Alternative Futures: India Unshackled and Radical Ecological Democracy.  Ashish Kothari also has a forthcoming book called Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary.

Giles Mohan

Below the belt? Territory and power in China’s internationalisation

China’s internationalisation has been heralded by some as a new era of South-South cooperation. On one hand, some have greeted this as an opportunity to break from Western, hegemonic theories and practices of development. The ‘Southern-ness’ of these relationships potentially aligns development needs more equally and appropriately. On the other hand, some see China as offering nothing new for countries in the global South and many go so far as to accuse China of a new imperialism. In this discourse, ‘South-South’ cooperation is simply a smokescreen for business-as-usual exploitation.

Rather than evaluating these contending ‘China = good’ vs ‘China = bad’ claims I want to explore what this framing of ‘The South’ means for development theory and practice. These framings of ‘South-South’ cooperation are pitched at an abstract and diffuse space of ‘The South’ which conceals more than it reveals. Practically speaking China’s engagement with other countries of the global South has been through bilateral, that is state-to-state, ventures. As such the spatial ontology of ‘South-South’ cooperation is at odds with practices on the ground, where the development outcomes are negotiated.

What we need is a more fine-grained understanding of how political territories and processes are imagined and produced through China’s internationalisation. While bilateralism may have been (and arguably still is) the dominant mode of engagement by China with other global South countries it is also changing and becoming more multi-scaled which requires us to re-think how we understand the relationships between scale, power and territory. What is more, China is heading ‘Westwards’ through the Belt and Road Initiative which means that questions of ‘cooperation’ become equally pressing for countries and peoples beyond the global South.

Rosalba Icaza Garza

What does it mean to decolonize development?

The notion of development cannot be separated from the history of Western modernity. Development has functioned at one and the same time as representation and articulation of the modern/colonial divide. The division between the human and the savage, between civilization and nature, linger behind the notion of development. It belongs to the epistemic tradition of the West that has arrogated to itself the authority to classify the diversity of the earth as nature and the diversity of peoples of the world as “others“.

In other words: development belongs to a Eurocentric and anthropocentric epistemology whose identity as the geographical center and historical “now” of humanity depended on the externalization of earth and the peoples of the world as otherness.

Development as an expression of this genealogy of an anthropocentric Eurocentrism has functioned as a mediation that marks the border between today’s standard of humanity: the consumer and alterity; the poor, the dispossessed and earth.

In this presentation, I will introduce the ideas developed with Rolando Vazquez to explore the notion of development precisely in its function in articulating the separation between the consumer and the lives of the peoples and earth that are being incorporated, dispossessed, extracted and consumed.

Can the notion of development respond to the possibility of an ethical life that is not structurally implicated with the suffering and the consumption of life of earth and others?