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Decolonial futures for transforming social-ecological systems

Despite the fiction of a post-colonial world, dominant colonial perspectives continue to dictate what is aspirational, which values are important and what futures are possible. This narrow focus is detrimental not only to the Global South whose knowledge systems and stories are erased, but the for the whole world. Such an approach misses the diverse possibilities for social-ecological innovation that local cultures and traditions offer, and it thus does not allow for the creative imagining of radically transformative alternative trajectories in the Anthropocene. As we have globalised, the world has become limited in our ability to imagine different futures, defaulting to what can be projected or what is considered most likely by a powerful few. Such dominant narratives determine the limits of what is considered ‘preferable’, relegating other visions and options to the margins. This narrows our ability to think of radical alternatives that might reconfigure social-ecological relations in order to get us onto a more sustainable and just pathway for the planet. Examples of such narratives include the notion that economic growth is inevitable- as well as desirable, and that the capitalist system despite its flaws will never die. With these powerful narratives abounding, it’s no wonder we find it difficult to break out and engage our imaginations to envision radically different alternatives. In this keynote, I will lay out the key social-ecological challenges that we face in the Anthropocene and why transformative change has become a key topic in sustainability science for improving planetary resilience. Although we have clear evidence that the current trajectory or ‘business as usual’ is likely to lead us towards a dystopian future of climate collapse, biodiversity loss and exacerbated inequalities, there are very few stories of how we might overcome the challenges of the present and navigate toward a better future for people and planet. Drawing on stories of the past, traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous knowledge systems is one important tool to help us imagine what such a future might look like- the other is speculative fiction, as seen in the growing amount of climate fiction. With examples from africanfuturism, I showcase what some of these stories could look like and what they teach us about how we need to act in the present.

Decolonial futures for transforming social-ecological systems

Conferencia magistral

23 de mayo de 2022, 18:10 hrs

Laura Pereira is the Exxaro Research Chair at the Global Change Institute at Wits University and a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. She is an interdisciplinary sustainability scientist, having been trained in ecology, law, zoology and human geography. Following her undergraduate at Wits, she went on to complete her DPhil in Geography at Oxford University in 2012, before undertaking post-docs in sustainability science at Harvard’s Kennedy School and under the Bioeconomy chair at the University of Cape Town. She has subsequently worked at Stellenbosch University, City University of London and Utrecht University. During her research career, she has undertaken research in many countries including South Africa, Colombia, Brazil, Nigeria and Kenya. She is interested in the interface between traditional knowledge and innovation, the role of futures techniques in enabling transformative change and developing innovative methods for knowledge co-production in Global South contexts. Laura sits on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Task Force on scenarios and models and is also a member of the Earth Commission’s Working Group 4 on Transformations.


Laura Pereira 

Global Change Institute

Wits University


Patty Balvanera

Instituto de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas y Sustentabilidad

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

La Dra. Balvanera se formó en biología, etnobotánica y ecología. Es Investigadora del Instituto de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas de la UNAM. Analiza los vínculos entre la naturaleza y el bienestar humano a escalas globales y locales. Co-coordinó la Red Temática de Socioecosistemas y Sustentabilidad, el comité científico del Programa de Cambios en los Ecosistemas y Sociedad (PECS), y equipo de servicios ecosistémicos para el monitoreo global de la biodiversidad (GEOBON). Es co-presidenta de la evaluación sobre valores de la naturaleza para la Plataforma Intergubernamental de Biodiversidad y Servicios Ecosistémicos (IPBES). Es editora en jefe de la revista Ecology and Society.

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