Restoration, Repair, Resilience: Forging Environmental Futures
To study the environment in the twenty-first century is to confront a fundamental tension: the environments of the future seem to embody both limitless potential and impending doom all at once.
On one hand, the planetary present is riddled with precarity and uncertainty. Nested realities of climate change, urbanization, biodiversity collapse, and the toxic legacies of modern techno-industrial growth return us again and again to experiences of collapse, death, and destruction. At the same time, the environment, and our relationship to it, continue to galvanize collective efforts to rethink mosaics of human and non-human life. From greener cities and agricultural practices to new economic modalities and thriving ecologies, the human experience of the twenty-first-century environment is also one marked by efforts to engage, revive, and repair.
The seminar addresses the environmental future through four concepts: restoration, repair, resilience, and accident. In each session, a contemporary case study provides grounds to explore the political work that accompanies the making and enactment of alternative environmental visions, and the subjectivities that individual agents bring to the praxis of ecological transformation. While projects of environmental restoration often prompt struggles over questions of “restoration to what?” and “for whom?”, projects of repair begin with the assumption of an irreversibly altered ecological present. Here, the present forms the baseline for efforts to plan and make an ecologically vital future. The idea of resilience often follows in the wake of experiences of environmental disaster, galvanizing social efforts to recover and, to use an example from New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, “build it back better.” Lastly, we will address accidental environmental futures, cases in which the byproducts of urban or industrial processes unexpectedly create conditions within which certain ecologies seem to proliferate and thrive. Each session will guide us toward new, and newly legitimated, social exclusions and boundary work, and each will prompt us to look for new, and newly legitimated, social and ecological affinities.