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  • ECHIC—The European Consortium for Humanities Institutes and Centres 2023 Annual Conference
  • Ilenia Vittoria Casmiri
Ecological Mindedness and Sustainable Wellbeing, ECHIC—The European Consortium for Humanities Institutes and Centres 2023 Annual Conference, May 25–27, 2023, University of Ferrara, Italy

This year’s annual conference of the European Consortium for Humanities Institutes and Centres (ECHIC) invited international scholars with diverse backgrounds to explore visions of a desirable future world that is both environmentally sustainable and socially just. In stressing the social and political relevance of the humanities in Europe today, the main goal of the Consortium, as it is articulated on the conference website, is the pursuit of the highest international standards of excellence with a spirit of innovation and exploration of new research areas:

Since the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future (1987) [commonly known as the Brundtland Report], the notion of . . . sustainability has been expanded to incorporate environmental, cultural, legal, and economic features of a low-carbon future and to encompass the wellbeing of all living species, which involves material aspects such as the social acceptance of resource-efficient transitions and immaterial ones such as flourishing human capabilities. [End Page 625]

The participants of the 2023 ECHIC conference on Ecological Mindedness and Sustainable Wellbeing presented original, multidisciplinary perspectives, and offered valuable opportunities to develop holistic approaches to the prismatic issue of environmental sustainability. Bringing together cultural diversity as well as local and global perspectives, keynoters and panelists addressed the vast array of challenges imposed by the perpetuation of anthropocentric worldviews. Their challenge to traditional demarcations between the humanities, the social sciences, economy, law, architecture, engineering, and the life and medical sciences, generated synergies for exploring interconnections between life forms, resources, and heritage. While the theoretical frameworks varied considerably, they all advocated for the need to overcome ideological, cultural, and spatial barriers in favor of broader, more inclusive approaches to other disciplines, other cultures, other humans, other species. Overall, the conference not only exposed the cultural and economic roots of social inequality and of uneven distribution of resources, thanks to unsustainable modes of capitalist production and consumption, but also highlighted the media’s positive effect in eliciting pro-environmental behaviors.

Toward More Sustainable Futures

The prismatic nature of the concept of sustainability inspired keynote speakers Alexa Weik von Mossner (University of Klagenfurt), Adrian Ivakhiv (University of Vermont), Tim Waterman (University College London), and Antonio López (John Cabot University) to address climate apocalypse impacts on the human physical and psychological well-being from diverse personal and academic backgrounds.

In the opening keynote lecture, “Growing Hope: Narratives of Food Justice and Sustainability,” Weik von Mossner explores the psychological implications of affect and emotion in the communication of environmental issues. Her diachronic account illustrates the rise and fall of the South Central Farm in Los Angeles, a sanctuary for locals by providing fresh produce, stimulating a sense of community, and representing a symbol of resilience against systemic inequalities. Weik Von Mossner elucidates the psychological benefits accruing from exposure to such a sustainably inhabited space. Her analysis of Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s documentary, The Garden (2008), affirms that climate change narratives across media may prompt food justice activism (Retzinger 2011, 337) by eliciting the emotional engagement of its audience. [End Page 626]

However, observes von Mossner, the greater the popularity of the Farm, the greater the threat posed to its existence. Through documentaries, news articles, and online campaigns, the South Central Farm has received national and international attention. At the same time, media have shed light on the struggles faced by marginalized communities and provided a solid basis for discussions on social justice, environmental activism, and the value of communal spaces. She explains that activists used social media to voice their concerns about the potential eviction and the loss of a vital resource for the local community, leading to an outpouring of support from environmentalists and celebrities who had realized to what extent the predominantly low-income, minority community was affected by limited access to fresh food and green spaces.

Adrian Ivakhiv, delivering his keynote “How to Face the Angel of History: A Call to Anthropocenic Conscience” the following day, suggests that a pervasive lack of an emotional...