Roundtable on Vivir Bien/ Neera Singh


Neera Singh

Neera Singh is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography and Program in Planning, University of Toronto, Canada. Her research interests include democratization of forest governance, conservation and development, and the affective dimensions of people’s relations with forests. She founded Vasundhara, a non-profit organization based in Bhubaneswar, India, and provided leadership to Vasundhara in its formative years from 1991 to 2001.

Following up on Holly Hanson’s suggestion, I would like to draw attention to the need to think about the conditions that support Vivir Bien (also known as Buen Vivir) or other similar indigenous cosmovisions/world-making practices.

Many commentators have pointed to the similarities and resonance between the philosophy and practices of Buen Vivir and that of other indigenous cultures around the world. It is important to reflect on the conditions that enable emergence of these beliefs and ways of being in the world. Anthropologist Tim Ingold offers some answers when he says that indigenous cultures are not united in their beliefs (about animism, seeing the world as alive and interdependence) but in their condition of being in the world. The sense of connectedness to the world, seeing the world as alive and a culture of gratitude towards the more-than-human world, emerges from their day-to-day interactions with the world and of practices of dwelling in it.

Understanding the conditions that support beliefs/practices of Buen Vivir, or other Indigenous cosmovisions/practices, is central to the project of countering the appeal of the capitalist world.

It does appear that we are facing a losing battle. The affective appeal of “the world of stuff” is strong and is creating a different humanity with a dramatically different vision of the world than offered by Buen Vivir. While the bubbling of alternatives around the world is encouraging, I also believe that the task of alternate world-making, or creating space for a pluriversal world, is enormous. We have to step up connections between movements as Pablo Solón suggests and create pressure on nation-states to support transformation of the world that we live in. We have to radically alter the world that we encounter on a day-to-day basis to give alternate values and ways of being a chance to flourish.

The relational concept of becoming is also at work in the capitalist world—where our cars, computers, and phones, among other things—are entangled in our becoming. If we have to change our ways of being human, we need to pay attention to the world that shapes us and make efforts on a massive scale to create openings for alternate ways of becoming (through interaction with the “natural” world/openness to the wonders to more-than-human world, and not simply of human created stuff). Creating connections between grassroots alternatives and movements is important—but it is critical that these movements step up pressure on nation-states to put in resources to support conditions for alternate ways of being to emerge (and we have to show how it makes economic sense to invest in such transitions). Demands for degrowth and basic incomes are a critical part of such alternatives.

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