Thursday 5 December 2013

Environmentalism Workshop - Department Of English

Date and Time: Nov. 22 (9-4 pm) and Nov.23 (9-1 pm), 2013
Resource Person: Abhishek K.R., Environmentalist
Place: Room No. 615, Central Block
Audience: MA in English with Communication Studies and BA Honours in English Studies students

Mr. Abhishek began the workshop began with a quick quiz based on current affairs, environmental issues and general facts which aroused the interest of all the students. He then ventured into his lecture, orienting the students towards the key issue in question - environmentalism.

By defining Environmentalism as a perspective which deifies nature and at the same time is protected for survival and preservation of the species, he questioned the gap between the “environment” and “human beings”. Should this gap be? If it already is, is this a binary?

Through motivated interaction with the students, Abhishek came up with reasons for this ‘othering’, the difference between the “natural” and the “human” such as - scientific ways of dealing with issues, socialization, illusion of control, human tendency towards self-preservation and looking at nature as a value-added product.

In the course of the lecture, he also addressed important issues and questions in the realm of Philosophy such as whether Environmentalism is an ideology, a kind of an orientation which shapes a particular kind of thought pattern in a group or a consciousness, and an alert reaction arising out of certain awareness. He also spoke about ownership/illusion of ownership and what defines it. Boundaries define ownership and the more we enter into the realm of language we move further away from nature. Human beings have a special ability - they can spatially manipulate, which differentiates them from animals and other species. This tendency to manipulate, predict, and anticipate (which emerges from thought) produces a sense of duty or guilt which again gives rise to an environmental consciousness. Even narratives of nature stem from perspectives - romantic, aesthetic, scientific, industrious and/or pragmatic.

He showed the students a documentary film on snakes and human encounters with them. Snakes are found in most places of remote human interaction. The illusion of spatial manipulation makes human beings feel as though what they do in human spaces does not affect the others but the human-nature connection is strengthened and enabled when the human is in a limited space. The documentary film showed the students how snakes shy away from humans and attack only as a last resort. Government guidelines and general information about snakes posits only venomous ones as those that they need to know about, where as information about non-venomous snakes is just as important for safety, identification and preservation. Even the given information is not adequate.

The post lunch session comprised an understanding of landscapes and “development” through reading maps. The questions he speculated here were: At what cost do we develop? Does development take landscape into account?, etc. The map exercise was to help the students understand how development, through analysis of a particular landmark in an area affects and changes the landscape and the ecology of the space. It was to enable an imagination of the space beyond the two dimensions of the map. The land use patterns (what it was used for and how it is being used) and implicit consumption patterns (kinds of waste and water consumption) often suggested the kind of development and shift in landscape.

The second day consisted of sessions on Aesthetics of Nature and developing eco-consciousness and group activities based on the lectures and concepts in the workshop. The discourse addressed notions of environmental consciousness which comes through experience with nature. Nature is often associated with a static temporality- not capable of change. Human vs. Non-Human is often synonymously associated with the Urban vs. Rural vs. Nature category. Does manipulation, consumption, adaptation and artifice what define a human space? If so, can we restore the balance that we cause with our lifestyles and habitat consumption? Do animals not have this sense of environmental consciousness that we often take for granted?

The session ended with each of the groups presenting on their respective topics which related problems of urban settlements to environmentalism. Each of the groups made an audio-visual presentation, which was followed by feedback and questions. The workshop ended with a vote of thanks and it gave us an opportunity to interact with an expert on the field and at the same time get newer insights and philosophies on ecological discourses. The sessions did not resolve or give definitive answers to the problems addressed but stimulated us to think on those lines and problematize simplified notions of activism, environmentalism and consciousness that are often given and subscribed to by us.


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