I first became interested in the interconnections between time and community while I was writing my undergraduate (honours) thesis on Donna Haraway’s work and its implications for feminist coalition building. Looking at both her and Gloria Anzaldua’s work on hybrid identities it seemed that attempts to rethink community in terms of hybridity also appeared to involve challenges to linear conceptions of time, involving for example, critiques of teleology, progress and assumptions about how change happens over time. I took up this problem in my PhD thesis in Philosophy. However I found it quite difficult to approach this problem in the way I wanted to from a solely continental philosophical framework, and was particularly inspired by Carol Greenhouse’s work to explore the way the time of social life can be understood as being produced through the negotiation of social conflict. As a result I ended up developing an interdisciplinary approach to ‘time and community’ that draws on anthropology, sociology, feminist philosophy as well as continental philosophy.
My current project builds on this work, in order to develop an account of the way both time and community are being transformed in the context of climate change and resource depletion. Taking inspiration from Donna Haraway’s account of figurations as ‘condensed maps of contested worlds’ (1997, 11), I will produce case studies of three figures that might instead serve as ‘condensed clocks of contested worlds’. Looking at atomic and molecular clocks, leather-back turtles on the verge of extinction and community-led attempts to build sustainable cities, I want to analyse how an attentiveness to each of these different sites opens up a view onto the complex temporalities and relationalities that are being mobilised. It is envisioned that these ‘condensed clocks’ may enable new ways of understanding the task of ‘telling the time’ in the current context. This work involves a variety of collaborations including with Transition Liverpool and other members of the Extinction Studies working group.
While completing my PhD I often felt a little lost in the wilderness, with very few guides for how to approach the problems of time and community together in the way that I wanted to – at least none that I could find at the time! While there is certainly some enjoyment in feeling this way, I’m very much looking forward to working with others at the workshop to start developing a more explicit framework for thinking through these intersections.
I’m a sociologist currently lecturing at Newcastle University. I have a background in cultural theory and an enduring interest in environmental utopianism. I’m particularly concerned with what utopian fiction can contribute to debates about better futures with nature. Seen as expressions of desire for something different and better, rather than simply structural blueprints, utopian narratives can open up critical and creative spaces for imagining otherness and social change.
The disruptive temporalities offered by utopian thinking are more necessary than ever in relation to contemporary environmental problems and politics. Dominant climate change discourses work with a limited set of temporal repertoires: rational modelling and prediction, popular catastrophism, individual techniques of carbon counting and self-discipline. In these contexts, the capacity to imagine and hope for better social-natural futures seems to be receding. The emphasis is on preserving existing social arrangements and relationships rather than responding to how notions of community might be generatively challenged by bringing nature into matters of ethics, politics and human well-being.
I hope this workshop will help develop my thinking about the powerful resources offered by utopianism, its capacity to critique the present and stimulate affective and experiential engagements with alternative temporalities and different kinds of community. And I hope to learn more about how these ideas might connect with diverse research on time and community, especially approaches that cross boundaries between the humanities and social sciences.
I stopped being a lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Glasgow in 2009 to continue my work with my local community resilience initiative, PEDAL, and the broader movement for resilience in Scotland through Holyrood 350, and to resume working with Central African communities for the Forest Peoples Programme. I am a research fellow in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, and a member of SASI (the St Andrews Sustainability Initiative). 'The title of my paper is Can Transition be in time? It looks at the kinds of time people in a transition initiative like PEDAL (Portobello Transition Town) have to negotiate between: - urgent 'war' time, and the sense of Imminent ecological collapse; - 'long' time, energy decent plans, community and resilience building; - 'clock' time, and the targets and deadlines set by government funding; - 'fantasy' time, especially in local newspaper coverage; - 'task' time and the immediacy of actions and relations in the present. Does Transition happen in time, or does it happen in place? Is Transition about recognising that mobilising place can vastly extend and deepen the quantity and quality of time available for making the transition?
I lecture in geography at the Open University. I have a long term interest in environmental issues that has gradually morphed into a concern with earth processes – and the question of how to live as best we can on an inherently volatile planet. My take on community always involves a working across difference, and I’m interested in the way that the dynamics of the earth are amongst the things that can make us different – or cause estrangement. Just as there is a great deal of mobility across the surface of the earth, I like to think about the way different groups or communities have made it through long and often turbulent environmental histories as a kind of journey through time. So that we might come to see all communities, one way or another, as bearing the trace of their tussles with a changeable earth, stretching all the way back into deep, geological time. But I’m also drawn to the very mundane, ordinary ways that people help each other in times of crisis. Put these two themes together, and I think there’s potential for rethinking community for times of rapid climate change – especially as we encounter 'others’ whose lives have been thrown off course by environmental stresses. So I’m interested in exploring ideas about how notions of belonging and hospitality towards others might be enlivened by a stronger sense of the way every community is always already a kind of sedimented set of struggles with earthly volatility. My talk is titled Community and the Time of the Earth: from Katrina to Climate Change
Nigel's Keynote Presentation