30th June – 3rd July 2014
In this section:
About: About the Conference
Through the Building Sustainable Societies project, the University of Leeds is pioneering a new research agenda into Social Sustainability. Social sustainability is the least developed of the ‘three dimensions of sustainability’ (environmental, economic and social) and the relative lack of understanding of the social dimension provided us with a tremendous opportunity for academics, practitioners, students, business, and policy-makers to contribute to better understanding this emerging idea.
The Building Sustainable Societies conference brought together a global network of academics with policy makers and practitioners, all to play a part in this first step. During the three day conference the multiple meanings and interpretations of the concept of ‘sustainability’ were the subject of much scrutiny and reflection. At the centre of this debate, three questions were repeatedly raised: What do we want to sustain? Why do we want to sustain it? And who do we want to sustain it for?
Sustainable Education: Sustainable Education
This session was held in order to fulfil two objectives, one theoretical and one practical. On the theoretical side, it was designed to establish what ‘sustainable education’ might mean and to debate the extent to which it might be useful conceptually. On the practical side – slightly more self-interestedly – it was designed as a platform to generate ideas about what Roundhouse, as a fledgling alternative education group, ought to be and ought to do, in order to act according to its constitutional refusal of the precarious and individualistic ‘student-as-consumer‘ model so prevalent in higher education.
The first paper of the day, entitled Social sustainability, mass intellectuality, and the idea of the university, was delivered by Richard Hall. Reflecting on the interconnections between critical pedagogy and the idea of mass intellectuality – that is, the genuinely democratic process of knowledge production at the level of society – Hall situated the current ‘crisis’ of higher education in the context of the historical crisis of capitalism, or the systemic inability of capitalism to reassert stable forms of accumulation.
The notion of a student-centred and –led curriculum design was at the centre of Adam Elliot – Cooper’s paper, the second of the afternoon, entitled We are here because you were there: post-colonial Britain’s academic future. In this discussion the question is not so much about ‘sustaining’ a particular, Eurocentric form of education as rethinking and reinventing it.
Martin McQuillan, in the final paper of the day entitled To speculate: on Higher Education, acknowledged the university’s historical identification with the elite. Not more than a century ago, he stated, the university was ‘akin to the opera house’. McQuillan thus set out to address three questions, each of which were answered rather pessimistically: Where are we now? (in an enormous mess) How did we get here? (through idiotic and short-sighted financial mismanagement/ideological restructuring) And where are we going? (who knows, with more of the same).
Sustainable Cities: Sustainable Cities
In association with the Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology at La Trobe University, Melbourne, the final day of the conference explored what might be understood by a ‘sustainable city’ from a comparative international perspective.
Through the sociological impressionism of Ivan Vladislavic’s travel writings around South Africa, to an inspired exploration of the public-private dialectic in Melbourne, Manila, and Instanbul, the concept of sustainability was interrogated by Professors Peter Beilharz, Trevor Hogan, and Dr Sian Supski from La Trobe University. We were told that a sociological understanding of sustainability was of great importance, as the Malthusian temptation in much natural and environmental science literature is better resisted. Crucial, also, is the question of what is it about our global cities that we want to ‘sustain’, as increasing similarities between cities does not stop at the many Starbucks and Macdonald’s restaurants, but also includes a growing segregation and polarisation of rich and poor neighbourhoods. Cities can be laboratories of creativity and experimentation with different forms of human cohabitation, but they can be crucibles of panic, violence and poverty also. What kind of cities do we want, how do we create them, and how do we sustain them for the greater good of people and planet?
The second-part of the day moved the discussion into a theoretical space with presentations from postgraduate students at La Trobe. Tim Andrews spoke about the precariousness of modernity and the tension between a dynamic and transformative movement of history and an urgent search for stability, certainty and sustainability. Andrew Gilbert offered a thoughtful critique of ‘crisis-talk’, noting that there are now no areas of social life that do not claim to be in some form of crisis. Crisis-talk legitimates certain forms of intervention and presupposes a state of balance, order and equilibrium can be reached, in spite of the fact it has eluded human societies until now. George Jose, also a fellow at National University of Singapore and currently studying at Kings College London, interrogated the notion of progress within mega-cities, using the case of Sopara/Mumbai to highlight our historical naivety in believing that we move only from less-developed to more-developed cities. Finally, Nguyen Khai Huyen Truong offered an interesting account of motorcycle culture in Ho Chi Minh City and how this shapes both the topography of the city’s architecture and how it is experienced by its diverse groups of residents.
The day closed with two outstanding keynote presentations from our guests of honour. Professor Amita Baviskar (Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi) analysed the distinction between ‘bourgeois environmentalism’ and ‘environmentalism of the poor’ within modern Indian cities and critiqued the idea of ‘normal city life’ as a basis for sustainability. Professor Jyoti Hosagrahar of Sustainable Urbanism International, Bangalore and resident of Columbia University, New York provided a thought-provoking analysis of sustainable urbanism and highlighted the importance of culture within discourses of sustainability, noting the value of local heritage when thinking about sustainable futures for our first and second order cities around the world.
Sustainable Money: Sustainable Money
Sustainable Money – Building Sustainable Societies through Financial Innovation?
This roundtable session brings together leading figures from business, civil society, government, and academia to interrogate the idea of sustainable money and will be of interest to anyone working in the field of alternative finance. The purpose of the day is to identify key opportunities and obstacles in thought, policy and practice to building more sustainable societies through financial innovation.
More details to follow…