I've been away from this blog for a little while, as I prepare a keynote address for the symposium on cultural sustainability, which is to take place in Craftsbury Common, Vermont, at the end of this week, August 15-18, on the campus of Sterling College, a small, liberal arts college emphasizing conservation ecology.
The symposium is open to the public: general information may be found here:
and the schedule of presentations here:
The convergence of college and place, conservation ecology and commons, ought to inspire us all and I'm very much looking forward to meeting new colleagues and re-connecting with old ones there. Among those who will be presenting at the conference is Mary Hufford, an old acquaintance whose work on commons in the Appalachian forest was (and is) very important to my own thinking in this area. We met in the 1980s when she was working at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. She was one of a few scholars back then who was interested in my research into the Appalachian mountain farming ecology, a community worldview based in family, farming, and religious tradition, united by the concept of husbandry, which was an early version of what I now think of as stewardship. She asked me to write about that for the Encycopedia of Appalachia, which I did, and we had many interesting talks in the next decade, as she developed her research into forest commons and shared resources. At that time my research site had shifted south within Appalachia from Virginia to Kentucky, and to Old Regular Baptists, where I found the same ideas of husbandry and a mountain farm ecology. I also found the Lilley Cornett Woods, a preserved old-growth forest that one of the mountain patriarchs (Lilley Cornett) had stubbornly refused to sell out to the timber companies who were clear-cutting the forests in the early 20th century. Today the Lilley Cornett Woods is maintained by the University of Kentucky, and it is the only old-growth forest in the state. Cornett himself was quite a character, and I've mentioned him here before (see the blog entry for Feb. 7, 2011); but he and his forest deserve a separate entry, which I hope to make soon. At any rate, I recall speaking with Mary Hufford, who was at that time doing research into Appalachian forest ecology, and the "falling forest," very excitedly about the Lilley Cornett Woods and what it represented, in terms of resistance to the timber and coal corporations that were just beginning their cultural, economic, and environmental genocide in the region.
For the conference keynote, I sent in the following abstract: "How may we contribute to the struggle for cultural sustainability in the face of increasing environmental, economic, and social injustice? Resilience thinking—today’s fashionable replacement for sustainability—puts us in a defensive posture that by itself is ultimately unsustainable. Nor will a greater reliance on Western economic reason lift all boats on a rising tide. On the contrary, economic reason, based on neoclassical assumptions about 'economic man,' has only exacerbated the current crises. Sustainable alternatives to economic rationality may be found in folklore’s emphases on commonality and orality. Commonality: folklore is not owned, but shared in a cultural commons. Cultural memory sequesters tradition by keeping it available; folklore is preserved by giving it away. Orality: sound vibrates us into co-presence with other living beings. Sound bundles human beings into relationships; economic man isolates individuals. Both commonality and orality may be observed at work in nature as well as culture. An enlightened cultural policy would borrow four principles from conservation biology: diversity, interdependence, limits to growth, and stewardship. But the relationship between culture and the environment goes beyond analogy. The commonwealth of culture is entwined directly with social, environmental, and economic justice. It is impossible to contribute effectively to one without working for all." I'm scheduled to stand and deliver it Friday morning at 9:30 to open the conference, and am very much looking forward to it, and to continuing the conversation about commons, conservation ecology, and cultural sustainability.