Unsustainability in Action

An ethnographic examination

Authored by: Sayd Randle , Lauren Baker , C. Anne Claus , Chris Hebdon , Alder Keleman , Michael R. Dove

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138782877
eBook ISBN: 9781315768946
Adobe ISBN: 9781317667964

10.4324/9781315768946.ch14

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Abstract

The concept of sustainability went mainstream some time ago, and it has drawn some interesting and rather diverse bedfellows together in the name of its articulation. As the concept has gained currency, an attendant body of critical sustainability literature has accumulated, interrogating the diversity of meanings and uses that have congealed around the notion. Our contribution proceeds from the recognition that sustainability’s ugly, dirty other—unsustainability—has received relatively little attention within this body of work. Our ethnographic research indicates that, on the ground, the notion of unsustainability is put to work in strange and sometimes surprising ways. In some cases, the “unsustainable” label is a weapon wielded by the state or ruling classes; in others, it is a tool of subaltern groups. It has been used to describe fossil fuel extraction in Peru, distributed energy production in Germany, and a coral festival in Okinawa. The sheer diversity within this small sample of “unsustainabilities” suggests the value in a deeper analysis, and raises the question: what is the concept doing in these contexts, for whom, and how (e.g. Kopnina and Shoreman-Ouimet 2015)?

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