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Supported by the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and Univerity of Bristol's Centre for Environmental Humanities (CEH)

Hosted in collaboration with the Languages and Environments Reading Group.

Activity 2 

We Are Forests: A Reading Group Discussion
Speakers: Jean-Baptiste Vidalou (author and activist), Juan Camilo Cajigas Rotundo (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana)

Our second activity of this year’s GERMINATIONS series on ‘Forest Thinking/Thinking Forests’ will be a reading group discussion with Jean-Baptiste Vidalou, French activist and author of Être forêts: Habiter des territoires en lutte (2017). A work critical of the environmental management of forests as infrastructures, it advocates for forms of caring for forests that emerge out of relationships of dwelling in the forest and becoming forests. Anticipating the English translation of Vidalou’s book, we will discuss how a text written from France and taking a historical approach to the management of forests by technocrats speaks to the Latin American and Caribbean region and relates to forest thinking, thinking with/as forests. 
Juan Camilo Cajigas Rotundo (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana) will act as a discussant. 
We will pre-circulate among participants a pre-recorded video of the author introducing the book as well as reading materials in French, Spanish and English.
We are Forests aims to show the historical link between forest management and land use planning. It is an investigation into the state, its desire to control everything, to see everything, to make everything transparent. The book goes to the heart of engineering thought, to the heart of its devouring passion for calculation. Is it not calculation that destroys the world? Calculation reduces everything to numbers. How many cubic meters of wood are required to produce green electricity? How many living beings need to be sacrificed so that we can still speak of a “virtuous" economy”? This book cuts through the ongoing war on forests. It takes sides, the side of life, the side of those who defend life.

Jean Baptiste Vidalou, a dry stone waller, studied philosophy at the Free University of Brussels, and currently lives in Occitanie, south of France. Having participated in the fight against the biomass power plant in Gardanne, near Marseille, in 2013, he took part in the collective writing of an aperiodic newspaper which tried to offer an alternative vision of the forest. Between subversive imagination and sensitive politics, he has written several texts to criticize the resource development of forests in the West, land planning and engineering in France. He is an activist within the ZAD movement, and more particularly against the high-tech green economy and its territorial implications. He has spoken publicly to question the ideology of “transition” and green tech, its link with the economy, the power of networks, and land grabbing. Close to the anti-tech movements, he tries to show the relationship between social control and the mega-machine. He published the French original version of ‘We are forests: Living in territories in struggle’ in 2017 with Zones editions. The book has been translated into Spanish and English. Since then, he has travelled all over France to present his book and continues his work as a craftsman. Today he investigates the link between body, territory and biopolitics.
Juan Camilo Cajigas Rotundo is Assistant Professor at the Department of Cultural Studies of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. He studied Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of California, Davis. He has been a visiting researcher at the Instituto de Estudos Econômicos e Internacionais (2007 São Paulo, Brazil), the Grupo de Pensamiento Ambiental of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Manizales (2010), and the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt (2020). He has been a Fulbright-Colciencias scholar and has received support from the Mellon Research Initiative in Environmental Humanities grant. His work focuses on the intersection between philosophy, cultural studies, and political ecology.

All are welcome to attend this free seminar, which will be held online via Zoom at 16:00 BST. You will need to register in advance to receive the online joining link. Please click on the Book Now button at the top of the page to register.

Thursday 23 March 2023
Thursday 11 May 2023

June 2023

Forest Thinking/Thinking Forests
GERMINATIONS is an annual series of activities launched in June 2022 to pluralise and diversify the Environmental Humanities field. Experimenting with multicultural, multilingual, transdisciplinary, and multimodal initiatives, it cultivates awareness of the spectrum of work in EH beyond Anglo-European academic networks. It is hosted by the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and convened in collaboration with scholars based at the universities of Essex and Bristol.

This year, GERMINATIONS is organising a series of activities under the title Forest Thinking/Thinking Forests

The importance of forests to efforts to address contemporary environmental challenges is now broadly recognised. At the COP27 summit in 2022, Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, stated: “There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon,” and pledged to “spare no efforts to have zero deforestation and the degradation of our biomes by 2030.”

Yet government action cannot be effective without a consideration of the socio-cultural significance of forests to those who live in and with them. The publication of Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think in 2013 marked an important milestone in the development of critical efforts to understand forests as systems of signification and relation that point us towards a post-anthropocentric ecological ethics. 

Kohn is careful to acknowledge his intellectual debts to traditions of forest thinking in Latin America, not least that of the Runa people of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon and the anthropological work of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. In the context of ongoing deforestation and usurpation of Indigenous lands, knowledge systems of coexistence and kinship with forests that move beyond extractivist paradigms are at the forefront of struggle.

How, then, might the task of thinking with or as forests be taken forward? 

GERMINATIONS proposes three online activities to address this question. 

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