Accepted Paper:

Which Sustainability? On Practicing the Future  


Emily Yates-Doerr (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

I unpack challenges surrounding the translation of sustainability across languages and practices. I offer the feminist, decolonial platform of multi-object ethnography as an experimental technique for coordinating across similarity and difference.

Paper long abstract:

The United Nations is debating how to translate "sustainability" - a key term of the current Sustainable Development Goals - into Spanish. This paper, which analyzes the execution of a UN-funded maternal supplementation intervention in a Mam-speaking community in Guatemala, takes a praxiographic approach to sustainability. In doing so, I show that while sustainability has become important for political and technoscientific agendas alike, it takes more forms than captured by English or Spanish definitions. For some researchers involved in the intervention, sustainability is an ethical prerequisite to grant approval in which they must demonstrate that the intervention can be maintained once they leave; for others it is a means of avoiding accountability by shifting targets into the future. For some, sustainability encourages a focus on long-term, structural conditions of inequality; others suggest it is a ruse, deflecting attention (and funds) away from existing inequalities. Meanwhile, those targeted by the intervention are engaged in many different - and sometimes opposing - aspirations for a "sustainable" future. While multi-sited ethnography has become common practice for those charting global transition, this paper offers the feminist, decolonial framework of multi-object ethnography as an "other means" for tracking the making of objects in practice. This shifts academic inquiry away from ontological questions to ethnographic questions: rather than seek to answer the question, "what is sustainability?" in definitive terms, it pushes the question, "what can sustainability be made to be?" What emerges is an experimental problem to world-making: what tools can we draw on for coordination across similarity and difference?

Panel T059
Making Worlds: Feminist STS and everyday technoscience