The question of the “value of life” has become increasingly pressing. The possibilities for lavish and global lifestyles for some in the 21st century are uncomfortably connected to rising global inequality, interrelated environmental, food and developmental crises and concomitant increasing pressures on humans and other living beings. Within this fast-changing context, more and more institutions and organisations focus on addressing and enhancing “quality of life.” Wageningen University – our conference’s host – hence defines its mission as: “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. But this seemingly straightforward statement raises a wealth of tricky questions. What exactly does “quality of life” mean? And what does it mean to “improve” it? How should this “quality” be measured? Can “quality” actually be measured quantitatively? Who gets to decide all of this and why? And what precisely is this “nature” whose potential is at stake in all this?
On 28-30 June 2017, more than 150 researchers from the Netherlands and around the world will come together to explore these questions and others at the international conference “The Value of Life: Stakes, Measurements and Implications.” Keynote addresses by Professor Katherine Gibson of Western Sydney University and Professor Annemarie Mol of University of Amsterdam – both world-renowned experts in their fields – will set the stage for the series of presentation sessions to follow over the three days. Sessions will address a wide variety of themes including “The Politics of Plants and Animals: Valuing Other Lives”, “The Production and Use of Citizen Science and Academic Knowledge in Political Grassroots Movements”, “Valuing Life: Affective Socio-Nature Encounters and Co-Becomings”, and “Whose Heritages Matter? Re-imagining ‘Dutch-ness’ through Migration In and Beyond the Netherlands”, among many others. All sessions are united, however, in a common aim: to critically but constructively create time and space to explore the deeper meanings and enactments of the quality and value of life, in all its diversity and complexities, as we plunge into the 21st century.
The conference is organized by the Centre for Space, Place and Society (CSPS) of Wageningen University. It will take place at the Hotel de Wageningsche Berg in beautiful Wageningen, an old, small Dutch city in the centre-east of the Netherlands, but only an hour away from Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The Hotel is situated at the edge of town, in the woods, with a magnificent view over the lower Rhine River that, we hope, will add to participants’ quality of life while they discuss and debate exactly this.
Keynote address Annemarie Mol
Valuing here or there: the pertinence of where questions
With numbers it is possible to quantify things, ‘life’ included. How to respond to this, the organisers ask. My answer is that what is fine here may be out of place there. In some sites, counting and measuring are helpful tools, in others they unduly overrule other modes of valuing – such as estimating, judging, desiring, appreciating, caring. And the results of a study that served a laudable goal here, in relation to this particular concern, may feed into awkward practices there, in another site or situation. It all depends. But rather than staying stuck in that, I suggest that we explore how and on what ‘it’ depends. To exemplify how we might do this, I will use materials from diverse cases – ranging from the practice of maintaining a steady body weight, through to that of fostering lively creatures – but not messiness – in urban settings. Against a background of quasi-universals that are variously made to travel in authoritative ways, I hope to contribute to dreaming up terms and techniques that help to investigate situatedness and inter-dependence.
Keynote address Katherine Gibson
Thinking with interdependence: From Economy/Environment to ecological livelihoods
In today’s world complex negotiations of multi-species community and livelihood have been deflected into modes of non-thought such as ‘jobs vs. environment,’ or ‘cost/benefit analysis,’ or ‘necessary trade-offs.’ These are formulations that appear to provoke serious collective consideration, yet in practice block the creative potentialities of thinking. In this lecture I seek to both challenge and think beyond some key contributors to this blockage: namely contemporary articulations of ‘the Economy’ and ‘the Environment.’ The distinction between these two domains, and the particular ways in which they are each constituted in conventional contemporary discourse, severs us from transformative, ethically-infused encounters with our constitutive interdependencies. By dividing our oikos (habitat) into two tension-ridden domains, and by articulating these domains in terms of a law-governed sphere of (capitalist) market activity (the Economy) and a separate, law-governed nonhuman sphere of resources (the Environment), this pair of categories makes it exceedingly difficult to develop collective accounts of and interventions into how we are actually sustained, and with whom/what we are actually interdependent. In this lecture I ask: How can we think with the world, with the fullness of the interdependencies that make us? How can we act in the midst of this thinking? I review some of the thinking practices developed by members of the Community Economies Collective that help us, and those we work with on the ground, to open and expand pathways for embracing interdependence and negotiating the ethical dynamics that emerge in our myriad constitutive relations.