Grounded imaginaries

Amplifying transformative imaginaries

The climate emergency poses a crisis of imagination, which poses a crisis for action. The problem is that the dominant imaginaries of stability, rescue and doom fail to empower communities to develop forms of life capable of ethically sustaining themselves and beings other than humans as destabilisations intensify. A fourth imaginary, one holding out the possibility of relational, community-building and ethical forms of life under radically climate-changed conditions is, however, already incipient in the work of communities creating different sustainabilities, systems and material flows.

Working across three sites in Australia and India, this project will amplify these grounded and transformative imaginaries; network communities involved in transformative action and enhance their capacity to communicate the systematic character of their approaches, and equip people to develop community-led systemic responses and produce effective communications about transformative projects. Fieldwork will draw out narratives about communities’ practices and the processes they have undergone to develop, sustain and adapt them. Working with communities and youth fellows, the project will produce stories via short films, community radio, artwork and written narrative. It will disseminate them across traditional and social media, targeting communities seeking to address climate-driven destabilisation, policy-makers and NGOs.

This project is made possible with the generous support of the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation.

Project partners and contributors

Sydney Environment Institute: Professor Danielle CelermajerProfessor David Schlosberg, Genevieve Wright, Maria Paula Cardoso Nunez, Sacha Shaw, Josh Gowers, Amelie Vanderstock, Lottie Boardman

Social Entrepreneurship Association Auroville: Gijs Spoor, Pragnya Khanna, Deepthi Indukuri, Rohit Nair, Joel Shelton, Janet Orlene.

India and Bharat Together Foundation: Aadya Singh, Mayank Shah, VPJ Sambhavi, Ambika Kaushik, Dawa Dolma, Stanzin Dorijai, Anjali Devi, Arun Prasad, Vijay Singh Jethi, Babloo Farswan.

Project partners: Vikalp Sangam, Sustainable Agriculture Gardening Australia (SAGE), Blue Mountains Planetary Health InitiativeInformation and Resource Centre for Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), Keystone Foundation, Maati Sangathan, Navikarana Trust, Uttaranchal Youth and Research Development Centre (UYRDC).

Featured research outputs

Magazine: Grounded Imaginaries: Storytelling and research in the times of the climate crisis

By Gijs Spoor, Pragnya Khanna, Pakhi Sen and Darren Dsouza. The magazine is a playful and visionary glimpse into our collective Grounded Imaginaries journey – shaped as a diary of the project recounted through the lens of Tamil Nadu's project managers. It combines intellectual inquiry, process documentation and graphic illustration of some of the key concepts that we explored in the duration of the project. It also includes learning resources for sense-making and response-shaping through the climate crisis, and “portals” to the multimedia outputs created as part of the project.

Video: The Stuff of Imaginaries

By Rohit Nair. This video essay introduces the concept of imaginaries and explores how the "failure of imagination" brought about by the climate crisis can be countered by creating new and grounded imaginaries. It explores the power of stories and what they can offer us in these unpredictable times.

Janet Orlene and her mural, near Upstream Ecology at Ooty, India.

Street Art: Mountain Murals: Narratives from the Nilgiris

By Janet Orlene. This collaborative street art project is a graphic exploration of the beauty and complexity of the Nilgiris through the creation of public-friendly artworks. What role can street art play in storytelling and the climate crisis? Can we design inclusive community lead processes? Where can we use the power of imagination that art brings to reimagine how communities construct their social narratives? Read and watch about the process here.

Video: 'Chu Med' - No Water

Directed by Dawa Dolma, Mayank Shah, Stanzin Dorijay. Hear from a community in Ladakh's remote Zanskar region who is trying to survive a devastating water scarcity crisis despite institutional apathy and worsening climate change impacts that could alter their lives forever.

Other research outputs

Podcast: Reimagined Futures: Stories of community resilience and transformation in the face of the climate crisis. A seven-part podcast series produced by the Sydney Environment Institute, navigating the critical questions and myths surrounding life under a climate-changed future. Listen to inspiring stories from India (Auroville, Perumbakkam, Western Himalayas) and Australia (Moruya). Available on your favourite podcast streaming app (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts).

Article: ‘Grounded Imaginaries: Transforming how we live in climate-changed futures’, by Professor Danielle Celermajer, published in the Griffith Review.

Instagram: @grounded_imaginaries. A space for the project to share and connect like-minded communities and initiatives transforming their climate future.

Video: The Stuff of Imaginaries by Rohit Nair. This video essay explores the power of stories and what they can offer us in these unpredictable times.

Video: Grounded Imaginaries by Sacha Shaw. This short film interrogates imaginaries of climate changed futures; the expectations about how the world works, how we work in the world, the force that renders some objects and actions important and valuable, and others, unimportant, uninteresting and even, dangerous. Using the concept of social imaginaries, this short film will demonstrate how our 'personal' imaginaries are interpolated within broader and collective future imaginaries. This film premiered at the Blue Shorts Film Festival – Blue Mountains.

Digital map: Geographically grounded our community sites, by Josh Gowers. This interactive map allows you to explore the eight sites involved in the project.

Articles: read the related articles linked below.

Report: Reimagining a Climate Changed Future: Local Examples of Community-Based Transformative Action (pdf, 6MB), by Kelvin Gensollen Arellano, Manon O’Neill and Chi Tran. This report was an initial exploration into the inspiring transformative work already underway in Australian communities that are responding to threats posed by climate change. These communities are addressing the changes that extreme weather events, food and energy insecurity, and threats to agricultural practices are bringing to their lives, by building community resilience and connectivity.

Community engagement event: Imagining a Resilient Food Community for the River of Art Festival, Moruya (Australia). Across two days the project, in partnership with SAGE, hosted a collaborative collage workshop with the community to create an artistic vision of a resilient food community in Moruya. On the Friday evening, the ‘Chew the Fat’ panel discussion featured local farmers and those leading the transformation of their food system to discuss their vision for a resilient food community. Many community members shared that they felt reconnected to their community and mission again.  

Community engagement event: Imagining a Healthier Planet, Blue Mountains (Australia). Hosted in partnership with the Blue Mountains Planetary Health Initiative, this was an evening dedicated to how communities in the Blue Mountains and beyond are creating alternative futures for living well in a climate changed world. The project shared its key findings from Australia and India back to the Blue Mountains community in the room, which included local government representatives and those leading environmental initiatives. The Planetary Health Initiative also introduced its exciting new grant-funded project which will work with communities in the Blue Mountains and Lithgow to put systems in place to restore planetary health.

Policy submission: ‘Response to the Eurobodalla Climate Action Plan 2022 – 2023’ (pdf, 11MB), by María Paula Cardoso Nunez, Professor Danielle Celermajer, Sacha Shaw and Professor David Schlosberg. This submission for the Eurobodalla City Council responded to their draft Eurobodalla Climate Action Plan 2022 – 2023 and provided recommendations around environmental justice and ambition.

Policy submission: ‘Enhancing Local Food Security’, by María Paula Cardoso Nunez, Professor Danielle Celermajer, Josh Gowers, Kathryn Maxwell and Stuart Whitelaw. The project team assisted the Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) and Sustainable Agriculture & Gardening Eurobodalla (SAGE) in submitting recommendations to state member MP Dr. Michael Holland for the NSW Labour party’s 2023 election platform. The recommendations included developing a NSW Food System Strategy and supporting Local Government frameworks for local food production and distribution.

Article: Mountain Murals - Narratives from the Nilgiris, by Janet Orlene. This collaborative street art project is a graphic exploration of the beauty and complexity of the Nilgiris through the creation of public-friendly artworks. What role can street art play in storytelling and the climate crisis? Can we design inclusive community lead processes? Where can we use the power of imagination that art brings to reimagine how communities construct their social narratives? In this blog post, researcher and architect Janet Orlene reflects on the process of creating this street art installation and the opportunities it created to connect with the community.

Video: Mountain Murals - Narratives from the Nilgiris, by Janet Orlene. How can we harness the power of imagination that art brings in reimagining how communities relate to and construct their social narratives? Can accessible public art fuel conversations around critical public-interest issues, such as the climate crisis? This short documentary film covers the process and making of a community engagement event which utilised street art as a medium to bring out the voices and perspectives of community - both human and nature - in the scenic hill stations of Ooty, Kotagiri and Coonoor.

Article: ‘Community efforts towards climate resilience – the Perumbakkam way’, by Rohit Nair, published by Citizen Matters. The Chennai based publication, Citizen Matters, serves as a knowledge exchange with insightful reports on critical urban issues. The reach of this publication has led to community members contacting our partner Vanessa who leads the Information and Resource Centre for Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC) about the work they do.

Panel discussion (video recording): City Sessions: The Future Chennai Solutions, presented by Rohit Nair. In the online panel discussion, hosted by the state-government initiative Tamil Nadu Green Climate Company (TNGCC), solutions to Chennai’s problems were presented by speakers with the TNGCC’s Chief Project Director, Mr Sreeram Srinivasan, responding to these ideas. Youth fellow Rohit Nair presented solutions (9:15 – 13:25) for curbing urban flooding and river encroachment and highlighted the need for a robust resettlement and rehabilitation policy in order to provide security for those most affected by climate adaptation projects. These solutions proposed were received enthusiastically by Mr Srinivasan who invited Rohit to further talks. Rohit reflects that the issue of peripheral resettlement receives more attention when position under climate change discourse.

Community engagement event: Workshop that guided the Namma Chennai, Namma Future climate rally, Chennai. Youth fellows Rohit Nair and Joel Shelton delivered a presentation on the importance of climate justice and land justice at a workshop on "Land, Water, Air" to young climate activists, journalists and students. The list of demands outlined during this workshop guided the Namma Chennai, Namma Future climate rally in December 2022 which saw over 500 community members march for urgent social and political solutions to the climate crisis.

Community engagement event: Forest Moot at Auroville Botanical Gardens. The forest moot celebrated nature’s rejuvenating powers and the project’s stall engaged over 100 visitors in a collaborative output on nature-based imaginaries and embracing a more-than-human lens.

Article: 'Chhu-med' no water and the 'imaginary of hope': living in-between climate change and adaptation, development and sustainability, apathy and hope, by Dr Mayank Shah, published by Vikalp Sangam. This article explores how communities in Ladakh survive an intense water crisis despite institutional apathy and critical climate change, by coming together through a culture’s ‘Imaginary of Hope’.

Presentation: Developing Grounded Imaginaries: Communities in Action in the Himalayan Region, by VPJ Sambhavi. The seminar is part of a workshop on “Basic Concepts of Inclusively Co-Creating Citizen Science” hosted by Visayas State University, Philippines. Using the lens of climate change, students learnt about the possibilities for remote and rural communities to participate in the making of knowledge. The attendees were moved by the gravity of the climate change impacts facing Western Himalayan communities compared to their own challenges in the Philippines. They were inspired by the different storytelling mediums and are keen to engage with similar mediums for their own research. 

Community engagement event: Poster presentation at the Forest Festival. Youth fellow Anjali presented a poster on the community's collective efforts for reviving the local pond, at the Forest Festival of Sarmoli village, Munsiyari district. The aim of this presentation was to explain scientific ideas of climate change to rural communities in accessible terms and was well received by the audience comprising of school children, people from nearby villages and members from the Maati Sangathan, our partner organisation in the field.

Community engagement event: Pishu Village, Zanskar Valley, Ladakh, India. This event shared the key project findings back to the community and was attended by the founders/director of partner organisation - Navikarana Trust, Mr Lobzang Wangtak and Mr Sushant Guleria. A video about Pishu's water crisis was shown with an emotional reaction from the audience. Posters about the site-specific climate challenges in Western Himalayas were displayed, and art workbooks, educational books and stationery was given to local teachers for their students.

Social media: ये बारिश, जंगल, पहाड़, पानी और कच्चे रास्ते.. मुझे पकड़े हुए है या मैं इन्हें समझ नहीं आता...!!! Translates to: “This rainfall, jungle, mountains, water and these unpaved roads....Am I held by them or am I not understood by them...!!!” This Instagram reel, by youth fellow Anjali, shows the natural beauty of Sarmoli Village in Munsiyari, Uttarakhand.

Header image: by Deepthi Indukuri.

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