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The trouble with relational values

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By combining geographical and philosophical analysis with ethnographic fieldwork in Wallmapu/Chile, this talk argues that recent scholarship on relational values suffers from several important problems. When defined, as is common in the literature, as preferences, principles and virtues associated with relationships, relational values cannot be meaningfully contrasted with instrumental, intrinsic and held values. To be able to argue that there exists a distinct class of relational values, those who have defended the term have been forced to silence or downplay the relational character of these other kinds of values. By analysing a variety of ways in which Mapuche people think about, value and behave toward the land, this paper demonstrates that relationality inheres a multitude of values, from broad ideals (held values) to the notions and practices involved in obtaining instrumental value from living beings. While proponents of the framework (broadly adopted by the IPBES ) claim that relational values are the key to decolonial and pluralistic forms of environmental valuation, in fact the opposite is true: by downplaying and silencing the relationality inherent in other kinds of values, the relational values framework risks doing epistemic and political violence to non-Western cultures. Rather than confining relationality to a distinct class of values, I recommend an attitude of openness to the relational qualities of all values and, potentially, all entities.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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