Ecotopias: Imagining ecological communities

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Ecotopias: Imagining Ecological Futures is being organized as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences. The event will investigate the value of utopian thinking for creating ecological futures in the context of human-caused climate change. There is near-consensus amongst scientists that climate change is inevitable, and we are already experiencing its effects. The contemporary political environment is fraught with frightening news and dystopian projections about climate emergency, resource depletion, and mass extinction. While the problems are blindingly clear, it seems we are caught in a path dependency we cannot easily escape. The event will explore competing visions for the future and the role of the imagination in creating social change for ecological futures.

The half-day event will explore different perspectives on utopia and social change and facilitate participants to position themselves within these debates, and to articulate new visions. The topic is incredibly timely and important, evident in the prominence of debates on climate change in mainstream and social media and social movements such as Extinction Rebellion. While the problem is clear, there are various conflicting public discourses around how to approach the problem. These include moving towards more sustainable forms of capitalism in the form of a ‘Green New Deal,’ and technological fixes; or more radical alternatives such as ‘deep green’ social ecology, eco-socialism, eco-feminism and eco-anarchism, which all create visions for more localised, community-based production and living.

These positions all have different visions for what the future will look like, with some advocating a centrally planned economy, and others advocating decentralizing production, consumption and living to local communities. They also have different strategies and tactics for how we will get there, with some advocating top-down policy change, and others advocating grassroots social movements, community formation or lifestyle change.

The event will use ideas and debates from social science research to facilitate participants to navigate and re-shape debates which are recently entering mainstream consciousness. It will illustrate that social scientists do not always aim for technocratic and top-down solutions, but rather they are interested in creating conditions for democratic transformations by social movements.

The first part of the event will involve a panel discussion between academic social scientists and activists representing different positions. This will be followed by audience questions and small-group discussions. The second part will involve a participatory mapping session where participants are encouraged to individually visualise and then collectively negotiate their utopian desires for ecological futures.

Speakers and venue TBA.

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