Sayd Randle, Lauren Baker, Annie Claus, Chris Hebdon, Alder Keleman, and Michael R. Dove, “Unsustainability in Action: An Ethnographic Examination” in H. Kopnina and E. Shoreman-Ouimet eds, “Handbook of Environmental Anthropology” (Routledge, 2016)

May 13, 2016

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

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