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Green Identities

Green Identities






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  • Previous research and participation in environmental direct action (or EDA)… At Twyford Down, Newbury Bypass, Ashton Court in Bristol amongst others. There was, for example, protests against road building, and then people drive home in their 4x4s. There seemed to be an unsaid conflict, juxtaposition, even hypocrisy about these actions, but no one really seemed to acknowledge them, let alone admit to them, or comment on them. And it wasn’t as if I was immune to this tendency either. Whilst I was doing ethnography for my phd on activism, I had these two personalities – as a researcher and as an activist, and how did I reconcile these two different positions? I wanted to stop these roads these quarries, for example, but I still had a car and ran it. I still got on planes. I still wore trainers produced in sweat shop conditions. Still bank with HSBC, still shop at Tescos. How could I have these env-politics and act on a day to day basis the way I did? Doesn’t really seem to make sense. So I wanted to find out why I did it, why it doesn’t make sense, how do others (literature-wise) think about these things, how do others (in practice) go about managing these issues.
  • In other words: My initial project at CAT seeks to explore the key tensions experienced by those who wish to experiment with more sustainable and ecological lifestyles within the reality of living in an industrial society. Even if citizens become active in a range of environmental practices (including specialised consumption, local voluntary activity, and radical direct action), collectively they remain tied into the structures of an unsustainable society. Whether they like it or not, many have no choice but to shop at supermarkets, drive cars, or invest in pensions. Its not really possible to cut yourself off from it completely, not wholly realistic [socially conscious gas guzzler] so what do people do, and how do they think about? How, as academic’s, should we try to understand this process, what ethical implications does the situation have for how we think about good practices, authenticity, identity and the good citizen, and what does it mean for the practicality of sustainability in (post)modern society?  ‘ Being Ecological? Managing Multiple Identities through Environmental Action.’
  • Drawing on the work of Jameson (1991), Featherstone has noted that the concept of identity has become decentred, with the sense of a coherent, essentialised identity giving way to the notion of fragmented, malleable and often ‘multi-phrenic’ identities (1995:44). Echoing Keenan, Featherstone argues that the way we understand identity has changed from, “being something unified and consistent”, to something, “conceived as a bundle of conflicting ‘quasi-selves’, a random and contingent assemblage of experiences” (1995:45). Thus the postmodern conception self can be thought of as a notion that accepts that me, myself and I is not a unified, singular entity, rather a strategic and increasingly fractured one – or many, multiply constructed across intersecting, and often antagonistic, discourses and practices (after Hall, 1996:4).
  • Postmodern understandings of identity therefore lead us to conceive of the self not as a singular article but rather as situated and positional entities/processes (following Harvey, 1996:49). Indeed, the relation between these entities/processes is an intriguing one. Living in a world where boundary crossing of all kinds is increasingly prevalent (see Reed-Danahay, 1997:3), identity is becoming a “contact zone”, an arena in which, “disparate [entities/processes] meet, clash, and grapple with each other” (after Pratt, 1992:4). In such scenarios identities of self are inevitably influenced to differing degrees by the different places we inhabit, as Casey observes, we can be ‘subject to place’, we can “alter ourselves… as a function of having been in a certain place” (2001:688), and as de Botton offers, We are concerned here therefore with the exploration of the relation between place- and self-identity, on focusing on how who you are is dependent on where you are. In Massey’s words we are concerned with, “joining the cultural politics of place to those of identity” (in Moore, 1997:88).
  • This process of managing multiple identities is what Beck has identified as the exercise of ‘individualization’ (after Beck, 1994). Forming part of his ‘reflexive modernization’ thesis, individualization occurs as the contours of industrial society begin to dissolve under the dynamism of its rapid success. As ecological problems evolve into “a profound institutional crisis of industrial society” (1994:8), Beck argues that individuals begin to dis-embed themselves from conventional identity positions of class, employment and family, and “produce, stage and cobble together” new identities through the course of turbulent and risky practices (1994:13). The case of environmental concern and action gives us key insights into this process of individualization. Through the take-up and practice of environmental concern and action, individuals become explicitly aware of the ties that bind them into industrial society, and the wish for alternatives. How do aspirations to ‘be ecological’ take political form? How do conceptualisations of identity change when individuals ‘step into’ alternative political spaces? What is the effect on identity when individuals return to industrial society? The case of environmental action also offers the opportunity to explore the personal reflexive strategies used by individuals to reconcile their conflicting identities. Are conflicting identities acknowledged? Are they kept apart, practised only in discrete social spaces, or, are new ‘ecological’ identities taken into all sites of action, subverting and influencing the meanings of these sites themselves?
  • SO: what I did? Thought about where I could operationalise this research. A place where people had thought about their identity and aspirations, and tried practically to do something about it. CAT! What is CAT? This is to be focused at a site established specifically to experiment with, practice, and develop ecological aspects of identity and lifestyle: The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), Machynlleth, Powys. CAT is an environmental charity aiming to 'inspire, inform, and enable' people to live more sustainably. Through its resident community and work organisation, CAT is committed to the implementation of co-operative principles and best achievable environmental practices in a range of areas. Established in 1973 by Gerard Morgan-Grenville, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) began as a response to a society that was seen as imperilled by ecological instability, consumer profligacy, and the atomic bomb; it was an attempt to “head[…] off to the hills in search of arcadia, safety and the Good Life” (CAT 1995 6). CAT became, “dedicated to eco-friendly principles and a ‘test bed’ for new ideas and technologies” (CAT 2007a no page) was opened in 1975 and since then CAT has become the self-styled ‘leading eco-centre’ in Europe (CAT 2007b no page). The research focused around 3 months participant observation within CAT’s resident community and work organisation, with the author undertaking 30 in-depth interviews with a range of volunteers, employees and long-term residents of the Centre.
  • In a way CAT can be configured as an ECOTOPIA: Resonating strongly with hook’s conception of ‘homeplace’ (if taken literally from the Greek homeplace translates as oikos , or Eco (home) and topos , or topia (place)), ecotopia are ecologically and environmentally idealised alternatives to the mainstream. There are many contemporary examples of such alternatives: some of them may be transitory (in the true sense of the TAZ, for example eco-flash mobbing, protest camps, or rallies), others may be periodic or annual (for example gatherings or summer festivals), whilst many may be more durable in their nature, including eco-villages, low-impact developments, cafes, squatted centres, community facilities, or other communes. The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) is one such durable ecotopia.
  • The internal and external spaces of the ecotopian site of the Centre for Alternative Technology coalesced around a political critique of the industrial society of the 1970s. Inspired by the improvised hippy communes of the United States, CAT sought to translate the politics of the growing environmental movement into a sustainable residential community, as founder Gerard Morgan-Grenville outlines, “ About 22 years ago I took a sabbatical and went to America. I studied groups who were trying alternatives, mostly hippies. Many of them were attempting some of the technologies that CAT went on to demonstrate, but not very successfully. They were mostly muddled and disorganised, fragile. Most failed, but the important thing was they had opted out of mainstream life in order to find a way of living which respected the environment in which they lived. They also rejected Authority in principle. I found myself in sympathy with both aims” (CAT 1995 4). Contemporary publications such as The Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth (1973) and The Ecologist’s Blueprint for Survival (1972) warned of the unsustainable outcomes of the industrial-military complex that championed atomic power, hard energy, and environmental exploitation. Alternatives were configured around the vague notion of a ‘non-industrial society’, as CAT’s publication ‘Crazy Idealists’ states, “The [answer] seemed to be a non-industrial society, whatever that might mean” (1995 6). With a “hearty distrust of faceless, mass society and its mega-technologies” (ibid. 4) CAT sought to experiment with substitutes under the rubric of ‘alternative technology’:
  • In terms of practical infrastructure, the residents also benefit from more strategic decisions made by the CAT collective. The provision of low-cost housing itself – particularly beneficial due to the lower-than-average wages on offer at CAT - is a direct benefit, whilst these houses are serviced by off-grid heating and power that reduces the need for reliance on fossil fuel energies: Coupled to housing and energy provision, CAT also provides a car pooling scheme for local and regional transportation. Several cars are available for short-term use by residents and employees, negating the need for individual car purchase and use. Strategic provision of this infrastructure enables more ecological practices and performances to be enacted by the residential community. Although they may be minded to initiate these practices anyway, the structural availability of these services make their environmental values and affiliation less relevant as the use of these utilities is ‘normal’ practice, regardless of environmental politics.
  • In effect, what CAT has introduced is a ‘new green architecture’ in its technologies and services (following Horton 2003). This ecotopia has “assembled ...multiple materialities, times and spaces which call forth green practices” (ibid. 75), they have provided the “materials, times and spaces which… afford the performance of a green identity” (ibid). However, as outlined by one participant (above) alternative technology (or ‘green architecture’) is not solely about services, devices and facilities, it is also about relationships and community. Coupled to the availability of ecological infrastructure, the presence of like-minded others within the resident and work community also provide synergistic encouragement to introduce and maintain more environmentally-benign lifestyles.
  • “ It was much easier, much easier really to take that radical step, because if I was living with people that I had taken my degree with or living on a housing estate in the middle of London it would not be as easy to do that kind of thing I don’t think. Yes it is relatively painless and I think that CAT is more than a whole but wider than a community really, supportive and healing and forgiving really” (Lee, CAT Staff Interview). “ The thing about CAT is that it is just easier because you are in a supportive community and no-one thinks that you are a weirdo, and not that I think that people are weirdo’s, but people buy new and don’t go to charity shops, and say what do you mean you were living without a fridge, and they think that you are completely bonkers. So it is easier to live that way, and there are other things like car share scheme in town and that is great” (Alan, CAT Staff Interview). Thus the combination and mutual reciprocity of the internal and the external spaces of CAT creates an ecotopian culture; it produces, to use Nelson et al’s definition, “a way of life – encompassing ideas, attitudes, practices, institutions and structures of power – and a whole range of cultural practices” (1992 5, cited in Mitchell, 2000 14), that facilitate the performance of a green identity.
  • CAT’s ecotopia is not, however, without its problems. The particular way in which CAT’s ecotopian space is constituted and maintained renders it susceptible to a number of tensions. Self sufficient – what relations to the ‘real world’? Centre for Alternative Technology (1995) Crazy Idealists? The CAT Story. Centre for Alternative Technology: Machnylleth. Originally, CAT was not intended to be open to the public. The idea was more of an experimental, largely self-sufficient community. …The whole idea was to be a separate as possible, hence the emphasis on self-sufficiency and a kind of anti-industrial primitivism. However: need for money, to be economically viable, to pay (subsistence) wages… couldn’t be remote.
  • Diary notes: Inspiring and frustrating at the same time Im sure some people are just here for entertainment since it feels just so abstracted from real life, its almost set up to ensure that: mid Wales, up a water lift, holiday destination {see Crazy Idealists on nuke shelter; see poster of cloud cuckoo land!}, off the wall philosophy, people come to visit, not a way of life. People in café talking about the other places they wish to go and see. Get a good sense that it’s a functioning community/theme park/ education place, but not that it seeks to change the world. It has its own value action gap then really doesn’t it, it educates without providing the means. It provides the books, yes, but if I feel somewhat frustrated then what about other people? A beautiful escape, inherently selfish though… different with courses? …why not sell light bulbs etc [they do btw]? got to get people into it, you’re not making the connections that they say is important ‘ All good sense, but how do you get the urban housewife in a semi to follow it?’ (Comment from energy efficient house guest book) Being hardline at CAT is good cos it makes a stand, absolutist, purist to a degree, but is it actually alienating people too? Alt tech – tech in the widest possible sense, wisdom, practice, community: it’s a centre for al lthis, its alt ie diff from the mainstream, that its very definition! So does it try to connect or not? This is where we’re at, this is what we stand for. That’s it.
  • What is CAT there to do? “ The centre's original strategy was precisely to create a workable model of a sustainable community and its supporting technologies to prove it could be done…. However, It seemed as if doing the real thing might be incompatible with demonstrating it. This dilemma has dogged us ever since, some arguing that we should press ahead with our particular experiment, others that this was far too narrow, and that we should switch to being an education and demonstration centre focused on wider issues. And we’re still arguing. Instead of resolving the dilemma, the ended up doing both. So the site has become a weird mixture of real functional installations that we actually use; stage sets containing educational toys; and endless signs. 33 Does it work? It's really hard to say. We have big "tickets" with space the comments and invite visitors to return them when they leave. We get remarks like: "pathetic, incoherent, scruffy. My nine year old son could have done better. And coffee was revolting!" Or was this punter having a bad day? The very next form might contain “Brilliant! Well thought out and excellently presented. Love the coffee." On the whole, visitors seem to appreciate our efforts, but will this butter any parsnips? Although the essential message is one of the dematerialisation, are we in danger of actually reinforcing the consumerist bias towards products, gadgets, hardware? Good link to my experiences…
  • Maybe the is a good reason for this (and links to why they are heavy handed with staff (see later) Linking ideas of autonomy, nature, freedom, top down control… If green is like religion, then you have evangelising Christians who go knocking on doors, saying hallelujah, and basically being annoying bible bashers. They are self-defeating. It’s the same for greenies. Who wants to be lectured on what to do? Who wants to be told what to do by people? By their government, by Jesus, by anyone? {interesting idea though about sheep, shepherds, shepherd’s boss etc} So, since I think green ideas are better than most, that’s a start. But since I don’t want to harp on about it all the time, perhaps this is why I don’t want to get involved in the local FoE etc, I don’t want to spend my life campaigning against things, or telling people what they should do. However, I wouldn’t mind just getting on and doing it in my own life. That is a good example, people don’t want to be told, but they do want to be shown that its possible. Okay. So it would be good to be part of a network/community of people who just do this. Abit like, I suppose, a church congregation who don’t go and evangelise, they just do what they believe in and don’t want to bother others or be bothered by them. Are there networks like that for greenies? Perhaps CAT is one? {so you shouldn’t have a go at CAT if that’s what they do, but of course, you do need to make those connections. You can have obstacles to make people think, oh, I couldn’t do that, those people aren’t like me. So that’s the trade off that was mentioned in relation to the ecoWISE thing, it has to be well designed and not look like its hippy
  • CAT’s form of political organisation does not dictate or enforce any particular ‘green code or script’ of practice. Rather it favours the creation of a broader culture and architecture to suggest and encourage particular behaviours, as one participant describes: “It is not that sort of place where you feel pressured into doing something because it is environmental choice. I think there is much more discussion around things, people will justify or discuss their reasons quite a lot, or it seems like that to me anyway. There doesn’t seem to be the pressure to conform to their ideal but then I am very interested in that ideal anyway” (Rod, CAT Staff Interview). During interviews the issue of carbon emissions and the personal choice to travel by aeroplane was discussed. Although CAT as a collective minimises air travel for business use and does not endorse carbon offsetting, individuals are free to take their own position on the issue. Although many have debated and discussed the pros and cons, despite the environmental effects the majority opt to fly; the following comments are illustrative of many [1] , This tension between the luxuries and conveniences of mainstream society and the culture of alternative technology encouraged by CAT thus becomes manifest at the individual level. The presence of individual freedom and the lack of central enforcement enable individuals to opt for the alternative choice wherever possible, but also to revert to the mainstream choice if they prefer. In this way, the alternative message of the Centre is at risk of being dissipated and diluted, with mainstream habits along with their negative environmental consequences contaminating the site. [1] There are notable exceptions amongst the CAT collective, those who have never flown and others who go to excessive lengths to take alternative transportation methods or minimise travel completely.
  • It is clear therefore that the ‘drawbridge’ between CAT and mainstream society is far from raised. Due to the form of political organisation at the site, individuals and the collective itself are encouraged to adopt and perpetuate an alternative culture, but it is not isolated nor insulated from the pressures, appetites and attractions of mainstream society. In practice, therefore, CAT is not an independent autonomous space discrete from hegemonic society; it is not a true escape. Due to a range of human (and non-human) interactions, CAT has to forge a sense of alternative identity within a network of interdependency. So youre off to CAT: what do YOU think? Empowering? Alienating? How will it effect your behaviour? Field diary/reflexive journal your thoughts... We will discuss in focus groups next week.

Green Identities Green Identities Presentation Transcript

  • Sustainability in Practice: Green Identities Dr Jon Anderson [email_address]
  • Lecture Outline
    • Green Identity & Action
    • Theory: Identity, Individualisation
    • Practice: CAT
      • Ecotopia & Green Identities
  • … intriguing problem
  • How do you be ecological in an industrial society?
  • Identity
    • Identity as:
      • coherent, essentialised, unified, consistent, authentic?
      • “ modern society created a life-script...within the context of certain structuring parameters (Hetherington 1998:22)
      • e.g. class; sexuality; political affiliation, religion; nationality
    • Or - Identity as:
      • random, inconsistent, fractured, antagonistic, hypocritical?
    • Identity is becoming a “contact zone”, an arena in which, “disparate [entities/processes] meet, clash, and grapple with each other” (Pratt, 1992:4)
    • “ Our identities are to a greater or lesser extent malleable, we change according to whom – and sometimes what – we are with. …move B to another environment and his [identity] will subtly shift in relation to a new interlocuter” (de Botton, 2002:147).
  • Beck’s Individualisation thesis (1994)
    • individualization occurs as the contours of industrial society begin to dissolve under the dynamism of its rapid success
    • individuals begin to dis-embed themselves from conventional identity positions of class, employment and family, and “produce, stage and cobble together” new identities through the course of turbulent and risky practices (1994:13).
    • Founded 1973 by Gerard Morgan-Grenville
    • “ head[…] off to the hills in search of arcadia, safety and the Good Life” (CAT 1995 6).
    • “ dedicated to eco-friendly principles and a ‘test bed’ for new ideas and technologies” (CAT 2007: no page)
    Centre for Alternative Technology
    • An ecotopia?
      • ‘ homeplace’ (hooks, 1991)
      • oikos , or Eco (home)
      • topos , or topia (place)
      • ecotopia are ecologically and environmentally idealised alternatives to the mainstream.
    Centre for Alternative Technology
    • “ To those trapped in the stress and ugliness of modern cities, musing about [ecotopia]... pressed all sorts of buttons; visions of nature, nostalgia for a golden past, the simple life, release from the banality of consumer culture. Just the bare idea had a delicious ring to it.” (CAT 1995: 6).
    Centre for Alternative Technology
    • “ For me the CAT thing is about the simplicity side of things really, I know the technology side is fantastic but I like the simplicity and it’s the stripping down to the bare bones in the simplest, greenest way possible way you can… it is doing everything with the smallest impact possible on everything that is around you really for me. Only doing what you have to do and not what you can do” (Verity, CAT Staff Interview).
    Centre for Alternative Technology
    • “ It is much easier if you live here. When I think about the first year and I was living in town there are several things that you don’t have control over. Like if you are renting a place you don’t have control over how the house is heated or how you source your energy. Living here is much easier because in winter the electricity comes from wind turbines and water comes from solar panels and so we are a bit spoilt and I haven’t had to set that up in anyway” (Joanne, CAT Staff Interview).
    Eco-living in Ecotopia?
  • CAT’s ‘new green architecture’
    • “ ...multiple materialities, times and spaces which call forth green practices” (Horton, 2003:75)
    • “ materials, times and spaces which… afford the performance of a green identity” (ibid).
  • ‘ Cause Communities’
    • “ I suppose I probably didn’t think about it as much. I would recycle and do some environmental things and not think about it that much before I came here. It definitely helps having a cause community” (Rob, CAT Staff Interview).
  • Crazy Idealists?
    • “ There was always a tension between those who wanted to raise a drawbridge to the outside world and those who believed that what they were doing was primarily to serve others” (Richard St George)
  • Diary…
    • Initial impressions:
      • Inspiring and frustrating at the same time, even alienating?
      • ‘ All good sense, but how do you get the urban housewife in a semi to follow it?’
  • “ my God, it's just a bunch of hippies!"
    • Working prototype or education?
    • Does it work?
      • "pathetic, incoherent, scruffy. My nine year old son could have done better. And coffee was revolting!"
      • “ Brilliant! Well thought out and excellently presented. Love the coffee."
  • ‘ what an interesting place… so many of us know what we should do but we are selfish and lazy’
    • ‘ inspired me to go home and reevaluate my whole lifestyle. We do grow our own fruit and veggies but i now see how much more i can do’
  • “ I can’t see how you can work here and not live, or at least try to live, in a particular way”
    • “ We did joke about it [not flying on vacation] but I said ‘I am not stopping going on my holidays!’” (Cal, CAT Staff Interview).
    • “ I flew to Australia and Thailand, but now I would think about it and if I could go differently I would. Last year I did get the train from here to Paris instead of flying... But this year I have flown twice, once to go skiing and once to Spain...” (Holly, CAT Staff Interview).
  • Your impressions of CAT...
    • Location
    • Style and presentation
    • Installations and devices
      • Inspiring?
      • Frustrating?
      • Alienating?
    • Alternatives?
    • Anderson, J. (2007) Elusive Escapes: Everyday Life and Ecotopias. Ecopolitics Online. 1. 1. 64 – 82
    • Anderson, J. forthcoming. From ‘Zombies’ to ‘Coyotes’: Environmentalism where we are. Environmental Politics.
    • Anderson, J. 2004 The Ties that Bind? Self- and Place-Identity in Environmental Direct Action. Ethics, Place & Environment. Forthcoming.
    • Bauman, Z. 2001 On mass, individuals, and peg communities. In Lee, N. Munro, R. eds. The Consumption of Mass. Blackwell: Oxford. 102-113
    • Beck, U. 1994 The Reinvention of Politics: Towards a Theory of Reflexive Modernization. In Beck, U. Giddens, A. Lash, S. Reflexive modernization: politics, tradition and aesthetics in the modern social order. Polity Press: London. 1-55.
    • Beck, U. Beck-Gernsheim, E. 2002 Individualization. Sage: London.
    • Featherstone, M. 1995 Undoing Culture. London: Sage.
    • Grove-White, R. Szerszynski, B. (1992), ‘Getting Behind Environmental Ethics’, Environmental Values, 1 285–96
    • Hetherington, K. 1998 Expressions of Identity. Space, Performance, Politics. Sage: London.
    • Hickman, L. 2005 A Life Stripped Bare. Tiptoeing through the Ethical Minefield. Eden Project Books / The Guardian: London.
    • Hobson, K. 2001 Sustainable Lifestyles: Rethinking Barriers and Behavioural Change. In Cohen, M. Murphy, J. eds. Exploring Sustainable Consumption. Environmental Policy and the Social Sciences. Pergamon: London. 191-209
    • Horton, D. Green distinctions: the performance of identity among environmental activists. In Szersynski, B. Heim, W. Waterton, C. eds. 2003 Nature Performed. Environment, Culture and Performance. Blackwell: Oxford. 63-77