Life Projects and Relational Ontologies
“Life projects” is primarily a conceptual placeholder for visions of a good life that while likely different among themselves. In contrast to the universalist pretensions of developmentalism, “life projects” share a primary orientation to the reproduction of the uniqueness of particular places. Place here is more than a location; it refers to emplaced “collectives,” that gather together, and in unique and different configurations, entities that for moderns pertain to either nature or culture. In this sense “collectives” can also be called “places;” these are not (cultural) communities that live in (natural) places, but heterogeneous assemblages that “take place” in specific locations.
In order to specify further the concepts of “life projects” and “collectives/places” we suggest the concept of “relational ontologies.” While all forms of being are indisputably relational, relational ontologies place relatedness/“relationality” as a paramount embodied value, perception and experience. As a praxis, relational ontologies take the form of daily, experiential, dialogic and knowledgeable interactions and exchanges between the various agencies of the “collectives/places,” humans and non-humans alike. Relational ontologies consider the volition and agency of nonhuman others to be facts of life. In a relational ontology, the world is not a “given,” neither is it predictable; the world is forever unfolding, and the outcomes of the manifold relations are uncertain. Another related concept is that of an “ontology of co-becoming,” that sees everything as knowledgeable, vital and interconnected (Bawaka country et al. 2014). Indigenous life projects are receptive to and inclusive of nonhumans’ presences, affects and voices.
Defined thus, researching life projects requires first to understand what are the specific collectives at stake in particular encounters with development.
- What are the configurations of these collectives? What entities compose it?
- How do the relations, responsibilities and affects (in short, the relationality) that bond together these entities, operate?
- How to give a voice to the nonhumans? Relational research methodologies should help to convey the decentering of human authority and voice. Some suggest a “methodology of attending underpinned by a relational ethics of care” (Bawaka country et al., 2014).
Having grasped particular collectives, we can then ask the question:
- What practices are considered fundamental to sustain and further the “life project” of this place/collective?
- Are there some relative consensuses about certain practices that are definitely required for this?
Methodologically speaking, we need to be able to tease out some of these practices so that we can follow them and see where, how, and with what results they encounter other practices (like development, state conservation, etc). We do not necessarily know what transpires in these encounters. In some cases practices that are central to particular life projects might be interrupted by development, in other cases they may run parallel without interfering with each other, while in yet other cases they might enable each other. In any of these cases, the notion of “entanglement” (or entangled worlds) might be to inquire into the dialectic and the dialogic dimensions of the encounters and co-existence between indigenous and non-indigenous worlds, ontologies, and actors and their practices. Whatever is entangled, in a given collective/place, cannot easily be undone. Each thread, entity, agent, and world involved in the entanglement keeps its difference, perspective, relative autonomy, and potentiality, while the spatial and temporal interactions with the other components (human and nonhuman) do bring transformations to each one of them; it is an ongoing and somehow embodied process. The concept of entanglement suggests also no coherence and ordering, no given direction and fixed categories, and no boundaries, and leaves room for principles of uncertainty and unpredictability.
In pursuing their research, the investigators associated with this theme are concerned with two foundational questions:
- How can we make a systematic inquiry to reveal degrees in which current arrangements in particular territories (including legal frameworks, different uses of elements composing the territory, etc.) enhance and/or interrupt particular life projects? The question that must follow is:
- How are we going to position our various researches in relation to various (and possibly mutually conflicting) agendas in the communities?
Theme Leaders: Mario Blaser, Eduardo Kohn, Sylvie Poirier
David George Anderson
Colin H. Scott