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Sustainability science as if the world mattered: sketching an art contribution by comparison

Michael H Pröpper, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Hamburg


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Here, I investigate some of the potential contributions of art to the emerging field of sustainability science. First, the involvement of sustainability thinking in art is massively increasing. Second, there is a line of interactions between art and science that do not necessarily take sustainability as their content, at least in an ecological sense. Third, there are a considerable number of examples of sustainability science projects that are intended to link knowledge to social action without involving art. I exemplarily compare these different combinations to gain a concise overview of and differentiate between current activities and to identify some shortcomings and potentials of various contributions. The utilitarian and rather pragmatic question I ask is: What does art have to offer to sustainability science that the latter currently lacks? This question is asked from my own anthropological viewpoint, that of cultural and social science, partaking in sustainability science. I use empirical insights from sustainability projects in Africa that I took part in, which specifically dealt with sustainable land management. I blend these findings with results from a broad literature review and a comparison of multiple existing art projects. I show that a sustainability science that aims to matter to people and that takes its core tenet of linking the produced knowledge to sustainable social action seriously while facing an existing crisis of agency and knowledge would strongly benefit from opening to an experimental and experiential approach to knowledge production that explicitly includes processual, affective, and sensory types of knowledge, imaginative agency, and conceptual forms of interaction.

Key words

Africa, agency, art, comparison, imagination, knowledge production, sustainability science

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087