Thinking about temporality
The centre’s director, Graham Dawson got the day off to a good start by getting my brain ticking over the ways in which understandings of the past can be useful, not just interesting. Apparently this quote’s famous, but it was a first hearing for me: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ L. P Hartley: The Go Between (1953) – into which he interjected that the same could be said of the future. But how to do we ‘go’ to the past or future? These are key ponderances for me as I am thinking through the different temporalities my proposed case study sites invoke. Indeed climate change as an entity has time woven into it in every strand.
Bonnet also introduced a few figures from the past, which he suggests can be used to inspire action for change, figures who did not shy away from using appeals to memory and myth in setting out progressive visions for the future. One such figure was Thomas Spence (1750-1814) whose ideas have been largely buried and ignored. Despite his poverty, he developed numerous manifestos for land reform, spelling English phonetically, human rights and utopian visions, spreading his ideas through pamphlets and coin tokens.
Nostalgia and Environmental Campaigning
Organiser of the symposium, Rebecca Bramell started off a session focussing in on the nostalgic appeal of austerity from WW2; the ‘dig for victory’, ‘make do and mend’, ‘keep calm and carry on’ messages and their use today in calls to localism and sustainable transitions to lower carbon futures. She asked key interesting questions such as:
- What limitations does using such a discourse bring with it?
- Is it based on a history that is more myth than reality and does that matter?
- Climate change and other environmental problems are different threats to a world war, does that matter?
- How is its use changed and influenced by the government’s take-over of austerity – is it still radical?
Victoria Johnson of the New Economics Foundation (NEF) presented the reasoning behind using the WW2 analogy in a recent campaign. She observes that WW2 called for systemic change and rapid transition, it required people to take action, it was a ‘distant’ threat and that by sharing and rationing supplies there is enough to go around. All of these features match up well with the idea of carbon rationing. In practice, they found that the ‘Ration me up’ New Home Front project received interest and resonated well with people already in ‘the movement’, but it was less good at engaging those outside. It is also relevant only to allied nations from the war perhaps and the issue of time scales comes up again – the war meant short term change after which normality would be re-instated, climate change offers no such promise.
We discussed how the propaganda of rationing now doesn’t always match up with what we see – e.g. the shops are full of food, the lights are on… The aesthetics of such a campaign work, vintage IS undeniably fashionable. But we all know how fashions change: if I see one more ‘Keep calm and …’ poster I might go mad! Clothing and décor is one thing, but just how much do these trends (often newly produced to look the part) require us to think about the history behind their appeal?
Whilst environmental campaigning seems like more of an aspect of my past occupations, these discussions came at it from new angles completely and have challenged me to think more openly about how research and academic enquiry can play important roles in terms of creative and critical analysis of such issues. Indeed, that is something I hope my own research will contribute to.
Finally, Wendy Wheeler’s talk on biosemiotics brought me back firmly thinking about the relationships between humans, non-human life and the material world. Though we grilled poor Wendy for quite a while at the end of the day, I’m still not sure enough of what she was arguing to recite it here, only that I intend to look into biosemiotics in more depth later on!
Thinking about how the past and memories will be involved in the PhD, there are quite a few avenues to explore here. The history of Arctic exploration, discourses of the frontier, masculine strength, competition and sublime nature is something which can still have relevance today in how politics and management of natural resources are approached . Perhaps a critical approach to these pasts could be useful.
Thinking about seeds – they are at once a window to past agricultural practices, genetic manipulations, evolution, climate, and a potential future life form, food source, new breed for a changed climate. Whilst stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault right now, what are they?
The Russian coal mining communities, both active (Barentsburg) and abandoned (Pyramiden) can be seen as remnants of a past political era, yet are persistent in their presence. The haunting and decaying objects left in Pyramiden speak volumes. Having just read a fascinating book about this, I’ll leave that for now, until I write a review about it…
 Held 30th November 2012, University of Brighton, titles of the talks and full programme is available here: http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/research/centre-for-research-in-memory-narrative-and-histories/events/archive/symposium-history,-memory-and-green-imaginaries
 Weisburger, A. (2011) The Shadow of Historic Polar Exploration on Contemporary Arctic Affairs, The Arctic Institute – Center for Circumpolar Security Studies, available: http://www.thearcticinstitute.org/2011/12/shadow-of-historic-polar-exploration-on.html.