The XIII World Congress of Rural Sociology: “The New Rural World: from Crises to Opportunities” was held in Lisbon (Portugal) between 29 July and 4 August 2012. The general theme of the congress was the crisis threatening rural livelihoods and the agri-food system, and emerging paradigms for change. About a thousand students, scholars and researchers contributed to the conference and its working groups.
One highlight was the plenary lecture given by Prof. Sousa Santos from Coimbra University. He discussed knowledge production and “knowledges of struggles” produced as people contest each other’s knowledge and concept of time, which is commonly and popularly taught to lead towards modernisation and globalisation. In addition, the western conception of time implies that the arrow of time proceeds linearly forward and that the core countries of the world system are at the head of progress. According to Prof. Sousa Santos, the western scholarly approaches rest on western worldviews. He stressed that academia would benefit from the use of the indigenous and non-western instruments and alternative approaches to science. Researchers should engage in new kinds of transdisciplinary project.
De Sousa Santos also emphasised “ecology of knowledges” based on indigenous and personal knowledge. Here, for Santos, ecology means an arena where different practices are exercised and hopefully sustainable interactions take place among different entities (people/animal/societies, etc.). The “ecology of knowledges” would allow the pragmatic discussion of alternative criteria of validity and alternative scholarly avenues to policy advice. A good example of this is the difficulty with developing alternative solutions in the European crisis that is currently emerging in many countries. According to Santos, Europe is becoming underdeveloped, partly because of colonial antagonism. Antagonism is still strong in Europe, and hinders the Europeans from perceiving workable solutions to their problems.
De Sousa Santos also encouraged us to apply “a global form of learning” and incorporate the social movements that are emerging in the Fourth World into policy making. For Santos, many indigenous communities and Thmovements are considered non-existent by western scientists. He called this invisibility the “sociology of absences”. If sociology usually gives different critical perspectives to the structures, agencies and functionings of the world, for Santos, sociology represents issues to be constructed against hegemonic social science and upon epistemological presuppositions. It is through this process, when entities of “sociology of absences” start working, that monocultures will be replaced by alternative ecologies.
Indeed, new developments in visibility are taking shape, for instance in Latin America. For the first time, the new constitution in Bolivia has been translated into the country’s indigenous languages. Indigenous people now have an opportunity to become more involved in local politics and influence how relevant knowledge is produced and signified.
Therefore, one might wonder about the applicability of the concept of the “sociology of absences” in Finnish wolf policy. It seems that some of the local views are going unrecognised in the current wolf discourse. The state regulations designed by the dominant state institutions might have hidden the viewpoints of local people and local “ecology of knowledges” within management practices. Hence, it is actually more demanding because the public is expecting to find alternative managerial solutions for the grey wolf issues in south-western Finland.