'Pluriverse': A handbook of hope

March 10, 2020
Pluriverse front cover
Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary

Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary
Edited by Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria and Alberto Acosta
384 pp, paperback, $35

In a Trumpian world of winners and losers, of populist racism and algorithms drilling ever further into the layers of our souls for profit, remaining hopeful for a better world can seem a futile exercise. Add extinction crises and global warming and we have good reason to retreat into the reassuring world of the Great British Bake Off or endless repeats of QI.

Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary reminds us that nihilism is not the only option. Other possible worlds exist, not just in the realm of ideas but in living grassroots and intellectual movements, some young and tender, others old and hardy, all over the globe.

Arranged alphabetically, this book gives bite-sizes samples from traditions that have been with us for some time — feminism, anarchism and ecosocialism for example — along with tasters of newer strains of thought around notions of transhumanism, biocivilisation and the movement for free code to fight monopolies like Google and Facebook.

Have you ever heard of Mediterraneanism, Jain Ecology or Ibadism? They are about diversity and conviviality in one place, an extreme form of non-violence, and a tradition of Islamic egalitarianism, respectively. We hear Indigenous voices too, including an entry from a member of the Tao (or Yami) people of Taiwan and an Australian woman from the Fitzroy River (Mardoowarra) country of northern Western Australia.

Countering the flattening discourse of global capital — the brand, the startup, the entrepreneur, the customer — we get the liveliness of local tradition engaging with wider concerns. For example, WA writer Anne Poelina points out that she is the property of the river. To that end, she and like-minded people are campaigning for the First Water Law of the Mardoowarra.

Poelina writes: "This is a story of hope, innovation and cultural creativity as we explore our rights and responsibilities to create our own systems by going back to the principles of First Law, the law of ‘country’. This First Law encompasses our relationship with each other, our neighbours, and most importantly our family of non-human beings — animals and plants."

There is a genial spirit running through the book, with each writer given their moment to explain themselves without having to argue it out with the other contributors. Both ecosocialists (win power to implement social justice and pro-ecological policies) and eco-anarchists (eschew power and work in small self-governing communities) each get their moment in the sun.

Some pieces seem to thrive on brevity and accessibility, while in others there is a sense of struggle. Luke Novak’s piece on transhumanism, for example, tries to explain the difference between the techno-evolution of human beings (transhumanism) and the radical de-centering of the human subject (posthumanism) but I am not sure the casual reader is going to be able to make much of it.

Still, the risks of brevity are more than overcome by the fact that, sometimes, an appetiser is all we want: a plate of “nibblies” to help fuel a convivial discussion across genuinely diverse perspectives.

[Tracy Sorensen is a PhD candidate researching climate change communication at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, and writer-in-residence at the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney.]

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