Sweet Water Rights

“I guess I’m trying to subjectify the world, because look where objectifying it has gotten us.”

  • Ursula K Le Guin

What happens when we start experiencing the world as a living subject? Through centuries, we have fostered a belief system stating the opposite, an idea that came with Christianity where the world was given to us humans as something to satisfy our needs with, ours to control. With the development of modern science, the world turned into a machine where the mechanistic worldview pulled the veil off of nature, wanting to expose her secrets to man. 

This mechanistic worldview has then turned forests into tree plantations, water streams to sewers, wildlife to cattle and mountains to mines. It has driven our culture to the brim of a environmental collapse on a global scale, a disruption of the conditions we need in order to live. Earlier this year the IPBES report came out, telling us that we are facing a tremendous loss of biodiversity with one million species threatened by extinction. While we are busy transforming nature to useless things we hardly need on the expense of countless ecosystems, we are losing the living world right before our eyes. It is a collapse with a magnitude hard to grasp. 

How can this even be possible?

Around the world, a movement that is asking this same question is gaining momentum: the movement for rights of nature where countries, states and cities are granting legal personhood to ecosystems. As people have, for decades, tried to understand how to protect their natural surroundings and finding the frustrating realisations that the old way of going about simply does not work. Trying to defend the living world, the ecosystems, has proven to be very difficult through the legal system. Something is fundamentally wrong within the system itself.

Lake Vättern’s splendour

“We need not only to talk about the environmental harm that is being done, we need to talk about the legal harm”

This is from Mari Margil, from the Community Environment Legal Defence Fund, when she visited Sweden in May 2019. She was invited to speak in a strategic meeting regarding the Swedish Lake Vättern. Margil has been a long time champion in the field of rights of nature, with merits such as being one of the advisors for the Ecuadorian government when rights of nature was written into the country’s constitution in 2008, the first in the world. She was also one of the writers behind the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, written in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba Bolivia in 2010. According to Margil, in order to get to the root cause of the problem of the environmental crisis we are facing today, we need to see that the system itself is at fault. The legal system itself is not about defending nature, it is about regulating the harm done to it. If we ought to not harm nature, we need acknowledge the inherent rights it has to exist in the first place. 

In the system we live in today, nature is viewed upon solely as a property that belongs to us. Rights of nature is, on the contrary, a great shift of mentality in our relationship to nature, wherein nature is rather acknowledged as a living entity with its own inherent rights, and something we can have relationship with. There is a world of difference between these two perspectives. 

The above mentioned Lake Vättern has, in recent years, received attention due to it being subject to many threats. As the largest sweet water source in Sweden, a country known for its strict environmental policies, it is a ghastly realization to see how the body of water is treated today. This lake, providing drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people daily and a home for countless species, is being shot at by the Swedish military, which releases large amounts of toxins and violently disturbs the ecosystem.  In Norra Kärr, north of Gränna, the canadian company Tasman Metals is planning a day pit mine, just few kilometers from the lake that all likely would leak toxic waste water into the lake.

This has led to growing protest around the lake, with locals closest affected raising their voices and trying to protect the lake. And it has not been easy, or as easy as one thinks it should be when it comes to protecting something as fundamental as a source of water. The example with lake Vättern has led the rights of nature network in Sweden to take interest in it, as it exemplifies how a system is at fault when a lake of that importance does not have legal standing. The network has during 2019 addressed the rights of lake Vättern by writing the Lake Vättern Bill of Rights where the declaration was the basis for a tribunal during the Earth Rights Conference in Sigtuna May 2019. 

With the project Jagjord Jagvatten, we are trying to get close to the idea of carrying this movement that is growing both internationally, and in Sweden particularly. Just this year, one of the key people in the Swedish rights of nature movement and of those who we have interviewed, Pella Thiel, was granted the prestigious price of Årets Miljöhjälte, the Environmental Hero of the Year, by WWF for her work with the matter. With the work, we aim at exploring the different levels of the idea itself, what it means in terms of activism, law, art, philosophy and politics. What does it mean when we live in a culture, or at least try to approach it, where the world is a living subject? Where does it take us? 


Jagjord Jagvatten is a project run by Arci Pasanen and Phil Jamieson and the name of the project is a tribute to the Maori people, who after more than 100 years got the government in New Zealand to recognize the inherent rights of the Whanganui river. They have saying that goes “Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” translating to “I am the river, the river is me”.

Follow them on Instagram at @TracingtheSpirit and @jagjord_jagvatten

Feminist thought and the NSU: processual approaches

In the preface to the 1974 edition of Kvindesituation & kvindebevægelse under kapitalismen (GMT), the editors clearly communicate their thinking as a still unfinished, processual experience. Although this focus is not without influence from the Marxist rhetoric and historiography that structure their discussion, it still reflects an intellectual practice that is not yet established, one that is continually and carefully searching and checking whether the ice will hold its next step:

«Bearbeidelsen af vore erfaringer går gennem forsøget på at forstå hvordan vi selv og andre kvinder er placeret i det kapitalistiske samfunds samlede sammenhæng, hvad disse placeringer indebærer, hvilke muligheder for indsigt i den samlede sammenhæng, de giver – og hvilke indsigter, der er nødvendige for at komme videre i retning af målet: et samfund uden systematisk indbygget undertrykkelse af kvinder og (indeholdt heri) af mennesker i det hele taget.
[…]
Det er afgørende at spørgsmålene stilles rigtigt, og de fleste af artiklerne befinder sig i den fase, hvor netop dette er problemet. For de allerfleste af bogens forfattere er arbeide i stil med disse artikler en slags ‘anden fase’ – eller snarere: overgangsfase efter en ‘første fase’ hvor den umiddelbare bevidstgørelse om vores egen situation var den altdominerende. I denne ‘første fase’ – der forløb over atskillige år – skærpede vi gennem snak i kvindebevægelsens sludregrupper, bo- og arbejdsfællesskaber, aktioner osv. vores sanser for den undertrykkelse, vi blev udsat for, for hvordan den havde præget os, og – snævert forbundet hermed – hvordan vi selv var med til at viderebringe og fastholde dens former. Den ‘overgangsfase’ som denne bog repræsenterer for os, er først og fremmest karakteristisk ved forsøgene på at nå bagom de sammenhænge, som vi umiddelbart kan opleve og forholde os til, – til at få dem – og dermed os selv – placeret i den rette samfundsmæssige sammenhæng; for at vi skal få mulighed for ikke bare at slå fra os, men også ramme rigtigt når vi slår.» (p. 5-6)

This temporary approach is also reflected in the allegedly large differences between the 1973 and 1974 versions of the publications. When outlining its own history, the preface of the latter states:

«Til trods for eventuelle ‘skovture’ afspejler bogen her en ret så kraftig teoretisk udvikling på kort tid.
Den er en revision af en tidligere artikelsamling: ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen’, udgivet af Nordisk Sommeruniversitet i januar 1973, og revisionen afspejler denne udvikling: ikke ret mange af artiklerne er gengangere fra den tidligere artikelsamling. ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen’ var det første produkt af det samarbejde mellom kvinder fra kvindebevægelserne i alle de nordiske lande, som startede på NSUs sommersession i Finland 1971. Året efter blev det en studiekreds om kvindeproblemer i NSU-regi, indledt med et seminar i Tilsvildeleje, Danmark, hvortil teoretisk interesserede og -arbejdende kvinder fra de nordiske landes kvindebevægelser blev sammenkaldt. Oplæggene til seminaret blev samlet i ‘Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke… osv.’, men de 1500 expl. som artikelsamlingen blev trykt i var udsolgt i løpet af 1/2 år. NSUs skriftseries redaktion gav os da i opgave at lave ny revideret udgave, men i løbet af arbejdet med revisionen måtte vi konstatere, at det allermeste av det, vi dengang havde tænkt, i mellemtiden var blevet udviklet til helt andre problemstillinger, selv om der faktisk kun er gået 1-1 1/2 år.» (ibid. s. 8)

The young feminist movements in Scandinavia share their processual approach with NSU as an institution. The parts of NSU’s archive that I got access to, did not contain many complete texts whatsoever. The material was dominated by a multitude of temporary and preliminary records: schedules, drafts, notes, newspaper cuttings, informal notes or minutes from lectures or discussions. This probably reflects NSU as an environment for developing new  ideas, a description that in my own experience is still valid and valuable. 

At the same time, it fascinates me how the strong processual consciousness and attention of the women behind the above publication initially produced a book whose 1500 copies sold out, and which, in a revised edition, advanced to a larger publishing house, a second edition and a more extensive distribution, proved by the fact that it is still available through secondhand bookshops.

By Hild Borchgrevink, 01 October 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no

Arnfred & Syberg (red.): Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen (NSU Skriftserie 1973)

I initially imagined the writers in Future Echoes to respond to texts and materials from the archives of NSU written by women on any subject. However few of the complete texts I found in NSU’s archive, were edited or written by women. 

The parts of NSU’s archive that I got access to, did not contain many complete texts whatsoever. I was also able to search a selection only (more about the somewhat complex access to it here). The material consisted of a multitude of preliminary records: schedules, calls, drafts, notes, newspaper cuttings, informal notes or minutes from lectures or discussions. This probably reflects NSU as an environment for developing new thought, a description that in my own experience is still valid and valuable. 

But my impression of a general lack of female authors was strengthened by one of the publications I did find through the Danish National Library’s department in Viborg: Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen, edited by ph.d. candidate Signe Arnfred and student of literature Karen Syberg, at the time affiliated to the universities of Roskilde and Copenhagen respectively. Its content is divided in five sections named Family, Labour market, Classes, Sexuality and Culture, preceded by a short chapter on methodology and containing writings on these subjects by around 15 female scholars. It was published in NSU’s series of writings, January 1973. Its first 1500 copies allegedly sold out.

Like much social science, parts of this book appear dated in a contemporary environment. I propose it to the writers in Future Echoes as an inspirational springboard for sharing related thoughts and texts.

By Hild Borchgrevink, 14 August 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no

Cardboard, databases, numbers, words

The very start of Future Echoes reminded me that how an archive is organised, strongly influences and delimits how I can approach it. Initially, NSU’s archive material itself reflects (and once produced) how NSU organised its work. When such material is admitted into a public archive, the archive institution imposes organising principles on it that might have little to do with the nature of material itself. 

The complexity of the interrelations of these layers appear already when the digital database of the Danish National Archives, Daisy, responds to my search “Nordisk sommeruniversitet” with two separate archive creators

Initially I am thrilled, as the first refers to a «Kvindehistorisk samling» (Collection of female history) and a NSU study circle from 1972-73 about the role of the family in a capitalist society (as many academic environments in Scandinavia in this period, NSU had several explicitly Marxist fractions). The material in question was donated to Kvindehistorisk samling by an individual NSU participant independently of the rest of the NSU archive, hence the two entries. A further complication is that the material is located in Viborg in Jylland, some 300 km northwest of Copenhagen. 

The second entry, labelled «Nordisk Sommeruniversitet», reveals 13 archive series loosely distinguished by type of material and year(s) of origin. The type categories are a blurry mix of NSU’s own (board, study circles, sessions) and archival metalanguage such as»Emnespecifikke sager» (say, subject-specific issues). Each of the 13 series contain packages. 

I later realise that «package» refers to the brown cardboard boxes in which material is archived. Packages can be ordered by email and will subsequently be made available for physical browsing in a reading room at an archive of the reader’s choice. To confirm the order of a package can take up to 2 weeks. 

My idea for Future Echoes springs from that as a participant of NSU, I know that study circles of NSU have been, and still are, important to the development of academic and artistic feminist thought. I live neither in Copenhagen nor Viborg. I was planning to work in the reading room of the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen for some days on my way home to Oslo from arranging a writing workshop in Berlin. Apart from the package in Viborg, which other packages may contain material relevant to Future Echoes?

I turn to the Sessions series in the database, hoping for a chronological overview of NSU’s summer and winter gatherings. The database is organised per year. However not all years, and thus not all sessions, are visible. Upon arrival in Copenhagen I discover how the physical archiving constrains the digital in a fascinating and intuitively unnecessary way: The years and sessions visible in the database are decided by the size of the archival content and the volume capacity of the brown cardboard boxes. Whenever a cardboard box contains material dating from more than two separate NSU sessions, only the first and last year/session have been entered in the database.

Maybe the Study Circles series is a better bet? In real life, the Study Circles are the hearts of NSU, they are where exchange and work happens. I’m hoping for more info on the study circle from 1972-73 referred to in Kvindehistorisk samling, to decide whether I should order it from, alternatively travel to, Viborg. But there, the digital information has dissolved into years and numbers only.

I end up filling out order forms based on the serendipital strains of information I can draw from Daisy: The material from Kvindehistorisk samling, «Emnespecifikke sager», the Sessions package and some info about the Study Circles.

Hild Borchgrevink, 14 August 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no