Nature-Society Relations and the Global Environmental Crisis – Thinking on Climate Change and Sustainability from the Fields of Intersectional Theory and Transdisciplinary Gender Studies
Human-made climate change has been a subject for science and politics for decades – and is more and more becoming one for the law. Society’s relations to the natural world have changed so much since the start of industrialization that global survival and life on Earth are being called into question. As early as the 1970s, the report for the Club of Rome highlighted the “limits of growth” for humankind. Almost from the outset of such research, the organization of the capitalist economy was identified as driving the ecological crisis. Sociological analyses identified the process of societal modernization as being fundamental to the collapse of our environment. Feminist positions understand the gendered hierarchies underlying the relationship between humans and the more-than-human world as being both the basic cause and the concrete expression of the global environmental crisis. These hierarchies extend to climate policy and law. At the same time, feminist perspectives offer visions of how this relationship can be rethought.
Political processes at various scales, from global to local, have been attempting to politicize and regulate the environmental crisis for more than 30 years. From the 1992 Earth Summit, which established the international and legally binding United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to the Fridays for Future movement and the recent wave of climate litigation, there have been numerous efforts to recognize climate change as not only a scientific phenomenon, but also as a societal conflict that must be negotiated and regulated politically. There are many proposals for a solution, ranging from legal regulation according to the “polluter pays” principle and demands for sustainable development through to overthrowing the capitalist economy. In this context, decolonial perspectives are becoming increasingly important, since they highlight the global historical links between colonialism and climate change and their contemporary continuities, in order to demand global social and environmental justice. Seemingly neutral legal, political, and scientific tools and discourses are shaped by cultural assumptions and narratives, and these in turn shape questions around what is deemed worthy of protection and of course what is (and is not) deemed ‘nature’ and ‘natural.’
The conference “Nature-Society Relations and the Global Environmental Crisis – Thinking on Climate Change and Sustainability from the Fields of Intersectional Theory and Transdisciplinary Gender Studies” approaches the topic from sociological, legal, geographical, economic, political, and cultural studies perspectives. Here, theoretical analyses of the hierarchical relationship between humans and the more-than-human world and the potent gender order inscribed in it are complemented by empirical studies on sociological, legal, economic and political aspects of specific entanglements of human and non-human agency.
Topics and Perspectives
The production of knowledge in relation to climate change is still strongly influenced by the natural sciences. Accordingly, notions of political and legal regulation assume that better insight is all that is required to convert this knowledge into creative power.
- What counts as legitimate knowledge and which scientific systems shape this knowledge?
- Who is included in the production of knowledge? Who is excluded from it? What forms of knowledge are suppressed?
- Does the production and reception of knowledge (for example, in court proceedings) itself contribute to the problem of implementation?
- How can we deal with the complexity of the entangled layers of knowledge, power, and human and non-human agency in the governance of sustainability?
The translation of knowledge into action has long proved difficult in the field of environmental research. This can be justified by the complexity of societies’ relations with nature.
- Nonetheless, are there identifiable barriers to stagnation in environmental policy?
- What significance does symbolic masculinity have for such policy?
- Which legal norms imply gendered hierarchies?
- What potential does the law hold for acting against climate change? How can we assess new approaches such as rights of nature and legal subjectivity for animals, forests, and bodies of water? What notions of nature and gender do these entities encounter in legal discourse?
- What other images and narratives of the future – for example, from feminist science fiction or queer utopias – are necessary?
- How are literature and art able to capture the global environmental and biodiversity crisis?
At the same time, manifold forms of protest, resistance, and legal action have always been part of environmental policy and politics. The scope of each of these forms of action varies and is shaped by societal discourse and power relations.
- How can we break away from knowledge structures in practice? What forms of action hold promise, which actors engage in them and in what way, and what are their chances of success, and what successes have already been achieved?
- What challenges does the crisis in society-nature relations pose for transferring knowledge into practice?
- Which narrative, visual and performative strategies do activists, filmmakers, writers and artists pursue to bring global environmental change to the attention of the public?
In extreme cases, interactions between humans and the more-than-human world elude political control, as the coronavirus pandemic has clearly shown. Looking towards the future, the question of such interactions becomes more acute.
- What forms of anticipatory political regulation are conceivable and required?
- Which economic, social and legal provisions are urgent, considering the current crisis of nature-society relations?
- What exactly needs to change (for example, in the law) so that interactions between humans and the more-than-human world receive greater recognition, and is such change possible? Are there areas that are particularly suited to these adaptations?
We invite contributions from all fields of study, in particular those that take intersectional approaches and investigate the complexities of nature-society relations and the global environmental crisis. We welcome abstracts for papers of 20 minutes length. Abstracts should not exceed 400 words. Please also include a short biography (50-100 words) with your submission.
Please submit your abstract and short bio by August 29th, 2022 in English or German to: ztg-sekretariat[at]hu-berlin.de
Confirmed speakers: Seema Arora-Jonsson (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Sumudu Atapattu (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Stefania Barca (University of Santiago de Compostela), Barbara Holland-Cunz (Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen), Martin Hultman (Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg), Hyo Jeong Kim (Ewha Womans University, Seoul), Sherilyn MacGregor (The University of Manchester), Karen Morrow (Swansea University), Astrida Neimanis (The University of British Columbia), Kainyu Njeri (Tesifa Initiatives and Shakti Rising), Farhana Sultana (Syracuse University)
The organizing team
Christine Bauhardt, Suse Brettin, Meike Brückner, Gabriele Jähnert, Sandra Jasper, Petra Sußner, Ida Westphal