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Reference Number ES/W003279/1
Title Mimesis in action: nuclear decommissioning as conceptual playground for societal and ecological future making
Status Started
Energy Categories NUCLEAR FISSION and FUSION (Nuclear Fission) 5%;
OTHER CROSS-CUTTING TECHNOLOGIES or RESEARCH (Environmental, social and economic impacts) 95%;
Research Types Basic and strategic applied research 100%
Science and Technology Fields ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES (Geography and Environmental Studies) 10%;
UKERC Cross Cutting Characterisation Sociological economical and environmental impact of energy (Environmental dimensions) 50%;
Sociological economical and environmental impact of energy (Consumer attitudes and behaviour) 50%;
Principal Investigator Dr P Kalshoven

Social Sciences
University of Manchester
Award Type Standard
Funding Source ESRC
Start Date 01 May 2022
End Date 30 April 2026
Duration 48 months
Total Grant Value £789,880
Industrial Sectors
Region North West
Programme Grants
Investigators Principal Investigator Dr P Kalshoven , Social Sciences, University of Manchester (100.000%)
Web Site
Objectives In times of increasing anxieties about sustainability of the Earth's ecosystem in the light of human ecological impacts, this interdisciplinary research project combines expertise in social anthropology, foresight studies, and ecology to explore what role uncertainty plays, and can be made to play, in preparedness for societal and environmental futures. Drawing on ethnographic evidence and on collaborative experiments, we will study areas where nuclear decommissioning takes place to explore and stimulate concerted efforts at imaginative future making. Our objectives are ethnographic, theoretical, methodological and experimental in ways that are intimately connected: planned ethnographic work will feed into methodology (qualitative modelling), into theory (anthropology, foresight studies, environmental thought) and into collaborative fieldwork experiments, and vice versa.Hypothesizing thata. nuclear decommissioning with its larger-than-human impacts playing out on geologic scales (futuristic and outmoded at the same time) provides a conceptually and experientially rich setting from which to problematize three assumptions that are at the core of our inquiry:1. the assumption that future making is best led by a conventional take on economics, grounded in a model of economic growth;2. the assumption that anthropocentric (positing humans as central focus) and ecocentric (positing the ecosystem as central focus) concerns are mutually exclusive;3. the assumption that concerns 'on the ground' are in insurmountable tension with global concerns;and hypothesizing thatb. human preparedness for the future is driven by historically, socioeconomically and culturally embedded worldviews and root metaphors;our objectives are to:1. (ethnography) find out which worldviews and root metaphors underlie knowledge systems in the areas under study, and how these find expression;2. (ethnography) find out the roles that local worldviews and root metaphors play in conceptions of the future, and to what extent these are shared and/or contested;3. (ethnography, experimentation, theory) find out to what extent uncertainty paralyses, motivates, may be harnessed, or is ignored, and for or by whom;4. (ethnography, methodology) find out how worldviews and root metaphors compare in the areas under study and how they relate to globally expressed ecosystemic concerns;5. (methodology, experimentation) design models for future making that bracket anthropocentric concerns and dislodge taken-for-granted assumptions, by stimulating imaginative and playful iterative engagement with research participants in areas of nuclear decommissioning;6. (methodology, theory) find out how insights from environmental engineering and ecological anthropology may be combined with new approaches in sustainable economics to find ways of bridging short-term and long-term human and ecosystem concerns;7. (ethnography, methodology, experimentation, theory) explore what role mimesis (expressed in scenario building and simulation) plays in shaping knowledge about post-nuclear-decommissioning: repeating, mapping out, rehearsing, innovating?8. (theory) refine an anthropological understanding of mimesis as a core human epistemic practice;9. (experimentation, ethnography) find out what purchase, if any, nuclear 'environmental remediation' has in sparking ecocentric initiatives;10. (theory) explain how analogies are made between resilience, as a property grounded in human experience, and resilience as a property of ecosystem survival;11. (ethnography, experimentation) engage people in post-nuclear settings with a view to agreeing on an ethics of collaboration for a future good that may require short-term sacrifice;12. (ethnography, methodology, theory) scale up findings from local ethnography and experimentation in order to formulate more general lessons with the ambition to contribute to caring for the planet as a commons.
Abstract This interdisciplinary project is an inquiry into the assumptions people make when they try to prepare for the future in a context of uncertainty. The context we explore is nuclear decommissioning, which is full of unknowns: it combines the first human attempts to dispose of high-level radioactive waste in relation to time frames that potentially extend beyond the future of the human species and the dismantling of regional economies where the possibilities for future livelihoods are very unclear. We want to understand what people's assumptions are in areas of decommissioning, in which moral frameworks they are rooted, and how these enhance or hamper imaginations of the future. Amidst wide-spread anxieties about an environmentally sustainable future for humankind, we want to find out how people involved in or affected by nuclear decommissioning conceive of their futures, and those of future generations, and how their thinking and acting may be stimulated in imaginative ways. By combining research expertise in social anthropology, foresight studies, and ecology in designing techniques of imaginative modelling that challenge what is taken-for-granted, we aim to open up avenues for imagining alternative futures. The modelling (scenario building, simulations, and ecosystem modelling) in which we engage our research participants draws on mimesis as a form of human learning. Mimesis is both a creative, transformative force and an object of study in our project. By using modelling, we want to gain deeper insights into mimesis as a human practice of acquiring knowledge. We undertake ethnographic fieldwork in four different settings in Europe (England, Scotland, France and the Netherlands) where nuclear decommissioning takes place. Nuclear decommissioning sites are interesting because of their relationship with time and the environment. Nuclear sites have often had a generations-long impact on local livelihoods and life experiences, both negative and positive. Because these sites are caught up in affective and socioeconomic entanglements, their decommissioning tends to be associated with job losses and a bleak future in the shorter term. And yet nuclear decommissioning is very much about the long term: it involves decades of retrieving and storing nuclear waste that will remain radioactive for thousands of years. It requires fundamental decisions about caring for wastes, living organisms and landscapes. So the process of nuclear decommissioning affords time to plan for long-term futures that go beyond human concerns only. Nuclear decommissioning is associated with technological innovation and experimentation. This technological endeavour would be incomplete without equally innovative conceptions of what can be imagined socially, which is what our proposed project offers. What is required is a more holistic approach that considers sustainability at ecosystemic levels and draws attention away from the short term towards long-term potentialities of decommissioning. By including workshops and art interventions in our research design, we hope to enliven public debate on nuclear decommissioning by foregrounding future unknowns and uncertainties as paths that open up opportunities rather than lead to paralysis. We invite people living in areas of nuclear decommissioning to help us create models meant to confront, live with, and perhaps take advantage of uncertainty. We would like such models to be disruptive in the sense that they do not take anything for granted. Our aim is to design models for future making that broaden out from human-centred concerns and bridge short-term economic and long-term ecosystemic interests. We want to ask, provocatively, whether ecosystem wellbeing may be posited as a necessary if not sufficient condition for human and more-than-human prosperity. Can ecosystem wellbeing, rather than economic growth, become a point of point of departure rather than an afterthought in local planning processes, and if so, how?
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Final Report (none)
Added to Database 25/05/22