Alternative imaginaries of sustainable futures

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group
Organizers: Kira Sullivan-Wiley, Laura Sauls, Alicia Harley
Chairs: Kira Sullivan-Wiley


What does sustainable development mean for an era of a changing climate, mounting inequality, polarizing politics, and continuing oppression? And what do our various visions of sustainability mean for the development pathways we pursue into an uncertain future?
Around the world, from local to global scales, different actors are in the process of articulating their own imaginaries for sustainable development. While high-level international policy processes aim to enhance human well-being across the globe, they often fail to grapple with the tensions, and even contradictions, inherent in the policies and initiatives they engender (Silvey and Rankin 2011; Carant 2017). Yet a shared imaginary is necessary, or at least implicit, in guiding investment, policy, and measurements of progress in local and global efforts to manage transitions toward sustainability (Beckert and Bronk 2019; Schot and Kanger 2018). We are interested in understanding the variety of emerging imaginaries for sustainable development across scales and geographies (Jasanoff and Kim 2015).
Critical scholars have highlighted the problems of conventional approaches to sustainable development, and emerging literatures on just transitions, community economies, degrowth, and buen vivir, pivot towards alternative visions of sustainability and development (Gibson-Graham 2005; Gudynas 2011; Beling et al. 2017). Emerging policy processes across scales take up these alternatives to varying degrees (the Green New Deal in the U.S. as a contemporary and high-profile example); however, much of the academic and policy discussion of sustainable development rests on imaginaries and corresponding logics embedded in more mainstream visions. To what extent are these different kinds of imaginaries complementary or contentious? Who wins and who loses from different imaginaries for sustainable development? How do alternative imaginaries emerge, take root, and shift priorities for action?
With these questions in mind, we are interested in abstracts that address:
• People and place: How are people embedded in a particular time and place imagining their own sustainable futures? How is this manifest in the informal or "mundane" in their lives? Or in formal processes or action?
• Articulating imaginaries: How are people formulating, solidifying, and communicating their imaginaries of a sustainable future?
• Contestations of alternate imaginaries: How do different imaginaries of sustainability negotiate contradictory assumptions related to race, gender, economies, livelihoods, and other axes of power and relation?


Type Details Minutes
Presenter Laura Sauls*, College of the Holy Cross, Imagining Development Alternatives from Central American Territory 15
Presenter Alicia Harley*, Harvard University, Sustainability and Coal: Conflicts over future Imaginaries in Coal Country Appalachia 15

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