Well-being and economic alternatives – a week with 2 conferences

On Monday I went to a conference on Extractives and Development in the Andes.  It was at the Institute for the Study of the Americas at Univ of London and co-sponsored by Bolivia Infor,mation Forum and Peru Support group.  The question posed is an important one:  firstly there is the question of how to secure prosperity and environmental protection in the Andean region, which for those of us with an interest in the region and especially in its liberatory social and political processes, is central, and secondly, because the question of how to move beyond current  industries that are profitable but envionmentally damaging is crucial for an ecologically safe economy (little chance of that as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year, now hitting the ecocidal/suicidal limit).
The conference was less radical than I’d anticipated – there was even a speaker from Anglo-American who talked about a new mining project in Peru (that to be fair did present a model of how to listen to the local people and plan for restoration of the site and the all important water system).  The Bolivian government speaker presented two accounts of the industrialisation of primary materials – important because that keeps more of the wealth in the country than the usual pattern of processing in more industrialised countries.  He finished with a rhetorical flourish about the vivir bien philosophy (see last post) but seemed unable to elaborate its implications for economic models (both in response to a question in the session and in conversation at the break) – but we know that this approach runs far deeper in some sectors of the government (the foreign ministry and the vice-ministry of de-colonisation for example) than others.  But for me it was good to venture into this new territory but I didn’t get any very helpful leads in relation to our work on Steady State Manchester‘s “replacement economy”.

And then on Thursday I went to an unusual conference on Cuban and British perspectives on well-being.  This was organised by Steve Melluish from the University of Leicester and involved a variety of perspectives that together made for refreshingly open-ended discussion and reflection.  I did a workshop on vivir bien / buen vivir (offering a place, somewhere in the Andes, to stand from which to look at both the Cuban and British formulations)  We worked on textual materials and although I wasn’t sure how this was going, the discussion was stimulating and the feedback good.
What seemed to unite the very different speakers was that well-being can’t be separated from the process of life, the existential nature of life in a community where belonging and engagement as critical citizens is the core that gives meaning, and the absence or loss of culture (practical, lived culture) is a real threat to well-being – take note ONS whose National Wellbeing indicators exclude any indicators on cultural capacity and participation.  Moreover well-being is best understood on a level of analysis superior to the individual, especially in the formulation of effective social policy that aims to support thriving healthy citizens.

And between the two events I was in London where I took my granddaughter to school, assembled a flat pack wardrobe for my daughter and pruned her grape vine.


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