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Wales, Cardiff Bay

Q&A with Anna Pigott

1. Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from, what do you do and what are you passionate about? I am a PhD candidate in Human Geography at Swansea University in Wales, UK. My research explores how people are imagining socio-environmental futures in Wales – a country whose government has recently introduced pioneering legislation around climate change, sustainability, and the rights of future generations. Coming from a Geography background I have always been fascinated by the relationships between humans and the non-human world, and have become passionate about understanding how these relationships are constructed through our imaginings of possible futures, and what implications this has for how humanity responds to the ecological concerns of the 21st century. 2. What is the question at the heart of your research and why is that an important question to ask? How are people imagining the future? And, relatedly, how do they feel about it?” I have been conducting in-depth and ‘vox-pop’ style interviews and also analyze the narratives, ideas and practices of various environmentally-engaged organizations in Wales, asking what kinds of futures are being resisted, hoped for and created by these groups. Early in my PhD, I was influenced by the notion that images of the future matter because they give a sense of what is possible or desirable – something to aim for (or not). If representations of the future are part of how possible futures can be set in motion, it is important to be critically aware of what kinds of futures are being constructed – and by who – in the collective imaginations of societies. Ultimately I hope that my research can help shed light on some of the more marginal and alternative responses that are taking place in Wales with regard to climate futures, and in doing so contribute to making these alternatives more visible and more ‘real’ when it comes to imagining possible futures. 3. When and why did you get interested in climate change and the imagination? I completed an MSc in Climate Change and Environmental Dynamics in 2012, which really brought home for me the scale of human-induced ecological and climate crises, and led me on a path to asking, what can be done?! Although I was trained in climate science, this question struck me as ultimately a very social one, and so I was drawn towards the social sciences and human geography. Initially I carried out research into behavior change and public awareness issues, but was left with a feeling that this approach was inadequate for the depth and scale of the challenge. I found myself asking ‘but how does culture change?’ It was while listening to a lecture given by Noel Castree called ‘Representing the Anthopocene: Who will get to speak for everything and how?’ (2013) that I was introduced to the idea that imaginations of the future are every bit as constructed and contested as present-day worldviews, and that how we imagine the future rebounds on our actions in the present and our possibilities for cultural change. 4. Although you are in the middle of your research project, can you tell us a little bit about your findings? Any surprises? In general, I am finding that people actually struggle to think much about the longer-term future at all, and when they do their socio-environmental imaginations are somewhat bleak, with much more to be worried about than to be excited about. Recurring themes appear to be right out of the pages/screens of dystopian fiction! One surprise, however, has been finding the influence of Eastern philosophies cropping up in many instances where alternative practices are being experimented with, particularly in the sense of re-imagining relationships between humans and non-humans in a much more interconnected and reciprocal way. Another interesting re-imagining that I have come across has been in the arts sector in Wales, where a group called Emergence is experimenting with alternative ways of bringing art and creativity into everyday life, with the aim of finding more artful and re-enchanted ways of living within environmental limits. 5. How do you imagine the future of Wales? And when does the future start? That is a good question, and one that I have to admit I have avoided asking myself despite spending the past year or more asking it of other people! I suppose the rational answer to “when does the future start?” is now – there is no other time but now because the future doesn’t exist yet, and when it does it will just be now! But of course in practice I do tend to think of the future as a detached time or place years, if not decades, ahead (perhaps because I have been conditioned to do so by my culture!). I often wish that I could be around to see how things have turned out in, say, 200 years time, so perhaps that gives a clue as to where my mind jumps to when I think of the future! As for what Wales will be like, that is very hard to say. I find it difficult to imagine a changing climate and am confused about how to feel about the predictions – sad, sentimental, scared, optimistic or indifferent?! At the same time, my PhD research has exposed me to many inspiring ideas, movements and people who are responding to socio-environmental problems in very encouraging ways in Wales, and so I cannot help but feel lifted by these examples even though there seems to be an overwhelming number of scientific, political and economic reasons to feel depressed. And there – I’ve avoided giving any concrete examples of how I actually imagine the future, just as most of my interviewees do! 6. You are the first Visiting Scholar of the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative. Why did you come to ASU and what are you hoping to achieve during your visit? I was looking for an opportunity to talk to, share ideas with and learn from other researchers in the field of climate and imagination and when I came across the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative’s website I couldn’t believe my luck! I have found very few communities of academics interested in climate change and imagination in the whole of Europe, so this is a wonderful opportunity for me to integrate with a small but exciting field of research and to help build some links between Europe and the US. It’s also fantastic to be part of such an active sustainability research cluster as the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. In addition, I have never visited the United States before, and I felt that if I want to begin to understand the complexity and challenges of global sustainability then having an insight into what is happening this side of the pond in such an influential country (not to mention in such a contrasting climate and environment!) would be invaluable. Wales’ entire population is smaller than that of Phoenix’s, and so my perspectives on sustainability in relation to scale have instantly jumped up a notch! It is already proving to be a very fruitful visit, and I look forward to learning more and developing networks in the coming months. Thank you to the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative for hosting me!
Anna Pigott is a PhD candidate in Human Geography at Swansea University, UK. She has a degree in Geography from Cambridge University and an MSc in Climate Change and Environmental Dynamics. Before starting her PhD, Anna worked in various contexts for environmental sustainability organizations and as an outdoor educator and guide. She is currently spending three months with the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative (Arizona State University) as a visiting scholar, funded by the ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Centre, UK.