We are not critical observers. We cast shadows ourselves, yet we are not silent witnesses. This manifesto is a self-reflexive statement of intention, a call to respond and an invitation to listen and act.
It may be an outmoded format, as Latour ironically declared, but we mobilise this here – an anachronism that speaks to the future – because time is far from straightforward; it is running out but this is not predetermined. We are not, as we have been told, on a path to progress. Instead, much is being undone. Much is being lost and displaced. Ecologies are in crisis. Connections are being severed. Inequities stratify our social worlds.
What can we do differently, as we confront this reality? How can we think and feel differently, in generative and restorative ways? How do we orient ourselves to shadow places whilst maintaining a light on the practices that construct these harmed places and their beings?
I think of globalisation like a light which shines brighter and brighter on a few people and the rest are in darkness, wiped out. They simply can't be seen. Once you get used to not seeing something, then, slowly, it's no longer possible to see it.
For the feminist philosopher Val Plumwood, whose thinking inspires this network, shadow places are the underside of the capitalist fantasy, ‘the multiple disregarded places of economic and ecological support’ (2007, 139). These places, far from view and mind and sometimes out of sight but up close, are what, she says, we need to face and own, recognise and remember. These places are not outside ourselves, but implicated in the very constitution of our embodied, habitual and social lives. We differentially benefit from these places. We need to love these places, too, not just where we are familiar, Plumwood says.
However, we also acknowledge that shadows are sometimes strategic. There is a politics to shadow that is not simply resolved by illuminating what has been previously forgotten, remembering what has been damaged or lost. Being in the light does not mean anything will necessarily change for the better. At the same time, while much suffers in the shadows, some things thrive, as they are hidden from the gaze and protected from encounters.
How can we respond to Plumwood’s exhortation while acknowledging this complexity? A first step is to ensure our understandings of shadow places are never prescriptive and recognise that they are always partial and situated. Our aim is to modestly advance our thinking and feeling, collaboratively, collectively, discursively, and to continue to trace out a world of shadow places. These shadow places cannot be known in full but through a willingness to engage in careful conversation with the beings and places harmed (or strategically shielded from) historical and contemporary processes of the Anthropocene we can learn how to relate to each other and these places in more just ways.
Because of this, illumination means something different to revelation. ‘Illumination’ here is not meant to rehearse the epistemic violence inherent in colonial methods of exploration, extraction and discovery. This is not a project of salvage and preservation. Rather we seek situated and ethical encounters with more-than-humans, people and places. To grow together.
a politics and ethics of place has great potential to clarify, focus and connect environmental and ecojustice concerns.
Shadow places compel us to think about what escapes our notice, what is hidden, severed, suppressed, in the margins and what lies beneath our feet and escapes our perception. Yet, at the same time, what we actually perceive is what we no longer acknowledge.
Shadow places call for the recognition of situated knowledges and multispecies assemblages and relationships between land, bodies, air, and water.
Shadow places invoke our responsibilities to pay attention to historical injustices, power and privilege, environmental destruction and their ongoing stratified socio-ecological effects.
Shadow places call for methods and approaches that engage with a participatory and storied sense (and senses) of place and places.
Shadow places lead us to principles for practice based on an ethics of care and responsibility, an orientation to engagement rather than exploration, relations of consent and accountability,a politics of listening and collaboration rather than isolation or elevation.
Shadow places reveal the injustice of structural forms of violence, erasure and dispossession, and thus a politics of justice – procedural, distributive and recognition.
Tracing these connections discourages us from taking refuge in the fantasies of transcendence and imperviousness that make environmentalism a merely elective and external enterprise
Shadow places are impermanent and contingent, and so this manifesto does not look to predetermine or prescribe but rather invites conversation, encounter and exchange. It seeks to mobilise, and offer a provocation to think, act, feel and work with connection and the impetus to deploy new and different practices of living and making. With this goal, we advance the following practices for encountering, co-producing and reimagining connections between places and beings in a time of severe and uneven environmental and social stress:
As we turn towards shadow places, and the unjust and unsustainable processes that produce them, we call for an environmental humanities that reaches beyond abstraction, fosters new responsibilities, spends time with what makes us feel uncomfortable,and in turn, generates reparative possibilities and their alternative futures.