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Accepted Paper:

Blurred objects  
Chika Watanabe (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Looking at a Japanese sustainable development NGO across Japan, Myanmar and New York, I consider how ‘trees’ worked as objects that enabled collaborations but by blurring the details of association. I examine how collaborations might, counter-intuitively, depend on disconnects between communities.

Paper long abstract:

In one scene, Burmese children plant trees in their schoolyard as part of an environmental activity with a Japanese NGO. In another setting, Japanese supporters for the NGO discuss reforestation activities with a United Nations official in New York. In yet another vignette, a member of a Shinto-based new religion speaks about the NGO's reforestation projects in terms of the spiritual cry of trees in the desert. How are these disparate moments connected to each other? In this paper, drawing on the case of a Japanese NGO derived from a Shinto-based new religion, I explore how the collaborations among aid workers, supporters, UN officials, and religious actors that made the NGO's environmental and sustainable development activities possible were enabled through what I call 'blurred objects'. If, according to the panel abstract, collaboration is about methods whereby people combine diverse abilities and learning practices to face uncertain futures, the collaborations toward a sustainable future here depended on the parallel and separate existence of different worlds. I focus on 'trees' as the figure that allowed people to specify and yet blur the details of their association with others. While the concept of boundary objects shows how different interpretive communities come together, trees as blurred objects made collaborations for a sustainable future possible by enabling different worlds to exist side by side, at a distance. I examine how collaborations to face an ecologically uncertain future might sometimes depend on a disconnect between communities rather than their engagement.

Panel P053
The limits of collaboration
  Session 1