Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Prof Kate Soper on craft and sustainability

Making futures brought together delegates from the UK and around the world to question how we can live sustainable lives, and whether craft has a role to play in getting from here to there. The full conference program and summaries of the papers are available online here in due course the full text of the papers will also be published freely online. I hope for now to share some of the highlights and also talk about how the discussions have helped me to feel more positive about the potential for a sustainable future.

So lets go straight in with the first of the big name speakers. Professor Kate Soper is a philosopher, which she defined as an armchair thinker who has no idea how to make an armchair.
It was great to hear someone talking about the crafts seriously from a philosophical perspective, I guess most craftspeople are philosophers in as much as being very concious of their own life philosophies and it was somehow validating to hear a professor of philosophy preaching to the choir.

Kate pointed out how our current materialist culture "grooms children for a life of consumption" which is clearly unsustainable in a finite world. We have to change consumer desires and we won't do that by trying to force folk into a position of altruistic compassion and environmental concern, rather we need to sell a positive message of the self regarding gratification of consuming differently. We need what she called an "alternative hedonist" approach which means not looking back but rethinking the nature of prosperity and the conditions of human flourishing (currently measured purely in $ £ as GDP)

She recommended the book "the spirit level" and suggested the Happy Planet Index as a better more holistic judgment on how we are doing as a country than GDP. How does your country score on the "Happy Planet Index" map here?

We finished with a startling sculpture I had not seen before the wee man made from 3.5 tons of discarded electrical goods which is the average amount each of us in the developed West will discard in a lifetime.

So what can craftspeople do? Kate felt that there was  perhaps a slight fatigue with the traditional "downsizer" "good life" alternative culture, I don't agree with her there but there were clearly problems with the existing consumer culture evidenced in growing sense of disconnection, obesity etc.

We have to then question what matters in our lives, what life we want to build for the next generation, craftspeople are in a strong position to question the existing capitalist order and propose more meaningful and sustainable alternatives.

a sample of Kate's writing for the Guardian here 

More posts on the conference speakers crafts and the way people relate to objects 
Mila Burcikova on William Morris and Craftivism
and the venue Dartington Hall

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