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Workshop (September 2011)

Environmental Citizenship, Ecological Politics and Global Justice Workshop

A workshop was held at UCC on 22nd September 2011, on a theme which constitutes one of the research priority areas developed early in 2011 as part of the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences (CACSSS) response to a FORFAS initiative designed to develop a new strategic research programme.  Conceived as part of the CACSSS Research Showcase month, the workshop was nevertheless designed as a platform to facilitate conversation across disciplinary boundaries within the university and identify potential areas for research collaboration. The day began with a series of invited presentations designed to ‘set the scene’ and to ‘unpack’ the notion of environmental citizenship. These were then followed, interspersed with significant and fruitful discussion, by a series of ‘Lightening Talks’ – short and condensed summaries of current research themes and activities. What follows is a brief account of some of the key highlights from the day.

The first speaker, who was invited to give a keynote introduction, was Dr John Barry from Queen’s University Belfast. John has extensive experience in working around the theme of environmental citizenship from collaborations in the UK, and his presentation, ‘Citizenship for the transition from unsustainability: resistance, responsibility and resilience’ was rich with vital concepts that will need to become part of our vocabulary. John’s observation that we need to begin from a full appreciation that we currently live in a condition of unsustainability (and injustice) means that our road map must begin from where we are, not from some idealised future place or state of being.  In this regard John was clear that environmental citizenship presupposes a degree of engagement: a willingness to resist dominant modes of thinking; a responsibility to acknowledge our ecological debt and to work toward reducing inequality; and effort to build greater resilience in our communities.

Dr Ger Mullally then addressed the pressing matter of climate change and the complexities associated with citizen participation. His presentation reflected upon the task of building a capacity to act in the context of powerful media discourses and path dependencies that shape behaviours other than those that might be regarded as the most strategically important responses. Prof Graham Parkes’ presentation, ‘All inter-depending’, highlighted the overwhelming importance of values that underpin both the ostensibly objective scientific process as well as the process of policy-making by politicians. Finally, in the last of the ‘scene-setting’ papers, Dr Colin Sage spoke about the role of food as a potentially vital site for social mobilisation and environmental citizenship.

Kicking off the series of lightening talks, Prof David Sheehan from the Department of Biochemistry explained the significance of nanomaterials and their potential environmental toxicity. This is of considerable concern given the extraordinarily wide range of applications to which nanotechnology might be applied. Alerting us to the need for greater vigilance and scrutiny amongst both regulators and the public was usefully followed by a presentation on the role of science shops. Dr Catherine O’Mahony explained that these are designed to make available the research capacity of a university to the wider community, especially groups of concerned citizens and civil society organisations that might be working together on a particular local environmental problem. Working with local communities and better understanding their stake in the management of neighbouring coastal resources was the theme of Dr Cathal O’Mahony’s (CMRC) talk. He was followed by Dr Edmond Byrne (Dept of Process and Chemical Engineering) who made a powerful case for the decommissioning of disciplinary silos if we are to make progress toward a better understanding of social and environmental systems and their interactions.

Following lunch, further lightening talks were provided by Dr Own McIntyre and Dr Fiona Donson both from the Faculty of Law, on the changing legal status of the ‘environmental citizen’ and on the tenuous status of protest in law, respectively. They were followed by Dr Cara Nine who spoke of her research on territorial rights and ecological refugees. Dr Seamus O’Tuama (Dept of Government) then closed the formal part of proceedings with a valiant effort at drawing together and teasing out key themes from the wide-ranging presentations. This helped to stimulate further discussion, particularly around the significance of resilience, a term which is rapidly becoming the ‘new sustainability’ as a benchmark for imagining community responses to environmental risks.There was general consensus at the close that the workshop had proven to be an extremely productive event, enabling us to share ideas and begin the process of dialogue that will hopefully lead toward a process of genuine research collaboration. A follow up meeting will be held before the end of the autumn term.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF