Q&A: Betina Stoetzer on Envisioning a Habitable Future | MIT News

In an ongoing series, MIT faculty, students and alumni in the humanitarian fields share perspectives that will help address the economic, political, ethical and cultural dimensions of climate change, as well as reduce its myriad social and ecological impacts. are important for. Bettina Stoetzer is the Class of 1948 Career Development Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT; His research combines perspectives on ecology and environmental change with analyzes of migration, race and social justice. In this conversation with SHASS Communications, she shares insights from anthropology and her upcoming book, “Rudderal City: Ecology of Migration and Urban Life in Berlin” (Duke University Press, 2022).

Why: You research “rudderal” ecology—those that grow like weeds in hard-to-reach places like industrial areas. What does your work reveal about the relationship between humans and the environment, especially as climate change presents more challenges to human habitation?

a: The word rudder is derived from the Latin word “rudus”, which means “debris.” In urban ecology it refers to organisms that spontaneously inhabit inhospitable environments such as rubble sites, cracks in sidewalks, or spaces along train tracks and roads. As an anthropologist, I see Rudler as a useful lens for examining this historic moment, when environmental degradation, war, forced migration, economic inequality and rising nationalism made the world inaccessible to so many creatures. Is.

My book, “Ruderal City: Ecology of Migration and Urban Life in Berlin,” is inspired by insights from botany, ecology, as well as social justice struggles. During my fieldwork in Berlin, I visited diverse communities – botanists, environmentalists, public officials and other residents of Berlin, such as white German nature enthusiasts, Turkish expatriates who farm the city’s gardens, and East African refugees who live in the forest. Live in the edges of, associated with. Faridabad.

The botanists I spoke to researched the so-called “rudderal flora” that flourished in the bombed landscapes of the city after the end of World War II. Berlin’s rubble vegetation was abundant with plants that usually grew in more warm climate regions, and botanists realized that the seeds of many of these plants had come to the city by chance – imported materials and vehicles, or refugees. riding through the shoes of. Also, the early appearance of these plants clarified that Berlin was warming, shedding light on early signs of climate change.

But this is only part of the story. Listening to migrants, refugees, and other Berlin residents during my fieldwork, I also learned that it is important to consider the ways, often not recognized as expert, that relate to urban land. White European environmental discourse often frames migrants and communities of color as having an inappropriate relationship to “nature” in the city, and racialises them on that basis. For example, Turkish immigrants barbecuing in Berlin’s parks are often portrayed as polluting Berlin’s “green lungs”.

Yet working in these communities, as well as with other Berliners, who cultivated urban vegetable gardens, built temporary shelters in abandoned lots, produced informal food economies in Berlin’s parks, or in the city’s forest edges. Telling stories about my own experience, I learned that people, coping with experiences of racism, actually devised alternative ways of relating to urban land that challenged white European and capitalist traditions.

By engaging with these practices, I use the concept of rudderal and expand it as an analytic that takes a look at the seemingly isolated world – and to attend to the contrasting ways in which people are European. We build life from the ruins of nationalism and capitalism. My goal in the book is not to equate people with plants, but to ask how people, plants, animals, and other living beings are intertwined in projects of capitalist extraction and nation-building – and how they challenge these projects. Give up and work again.

WhyHow do you think anthropological tools and insights can advance efforts to address climate change and its effects?

a: Climate change involves addressing complex environmental challenges, often focusing on the “social consequences of climate change” and technological solutions to address it. What is exciting about anthropology is that it provides us with the tools to interrogate environmental challenges through a broad lens.

Anthropologists use in-depth fieldwork to examine how people understand and relate to the world. Ethnographic fieldwork can help us examine how climate change affects people in their daily lives, and may reveal how different stakeholders address environmental challenges. By providing a deeper understanding of the way people relate to the physical world, land and other beings, anthropological analysis also sheds light on the root causes of climate change and expands our imagination on how to live otherwise.

Through these close-up analyses, ethnography can also uncover large-scale political events. For example, by elucidating the relationship between the rejection of climate change and the erosion of democratic social structures in people’s daily lives, it can provide insight into the rise of nationalist and authoritarian movements. This is a question that I explore in my new research project. (A case study in the new research focuses on the ways in which pigs, people, and viruses have co-evolved during urbanization, industrial agriculture, and climate crises, for example: the so-called African swine fever virus among wild boars – which has been associated with industrial agriculture and climate change. Rise into the Ruins of Change – trigger political reactions across Europe, including new border fences.)

Through several case studies, I examine how the changing mobility patterns of wildlife (due to climate change, habitat loss, and urbanization) are driving national borders to tackle the climate crisis and develop new forms of care for non-human life. to face challenges.

Why: You teach MIT’s Class 21A.407 (Gender, Race and Environmental Justice). Broadly speaking, what are the goals of this class? What lessons do you hope students will carry with them in the future?

a: The main premise of this class is that the environmental challenges facing the world today cannot be adequately addressed without a deep understanding of racial, gender and class inequalities as well as the legacy of colonialism. Our discussion begins with the land on which we, at MIT, stand. We read about the colonization of New England and how it fundamentally changed local economies and landscapes, reshaped gender and racial relations, and genocide and ousted indigenous communities and their way of life.

From this foundation, the goal is to expand our ideas of talking about ecology, the “environment,” and justice. There is no one way humans can relate to the land and to nonhuman beings, or a way to (re)create our conditions of livelihood (capitalism). All these relationships are shaped by history, culture and power.

We study anthropological scholarship that explores how climate change, environmental pollution, and habitat destruction are also consequences of living patterns on land inherited from colonial ties that are human and non-human extractable”. resource”. With these perspectives in mind, it becomes clear that environmental challenges can only be addressed by tackling the legacy of racism and colonialism.

Throughout the semester, we read about environmental justice struggles that seek to prevent land degradation, undo the damage of toxic exposure, and mitigate the effects of climate change. One important thing I hope to learn from this course is that black, indigenous, people of color, and feminist activists and scholars have been at the fore in shaping a more livable future.

WhyQ: In the face of a pressing issue like global climate change, what do you expect?

a: I am truly inspired by young climate justice activists, especially from the Global South, who emphasize new solutions to the climate emergency that counter market-driven approaches, address global economic inequalities, and climate-driven Raise awareness about displacement. Tackling climate change will require building a more democratic framework, and climate justice activists are at the fore.

Here at MIT, I also see a growing enthusiasm among our students to develop solutions to the climate crisis and social injustice. I am particularly excited about Living Climate Futures, an initiative in Anthropology, History, and Programs on Science, Technology, and Society. We will be hosting a symposium of environmental and climate justice leaders and youth activists from across the country at the end of April. This will be a unique opportunity to explore how community leaders and research institutions like MIT can collaborate more closely to address the challenges of climate change.

Interview prepared by MIT Shas Communications
Senior Writer: Katherine O’Nillo
Series Editor, Designer: Emily Hiestand, Director of Communications

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