University of Cambridge > > Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars > 'Livelihood strategies and signatures of vulnerability and resilience in eastern African landscapes'

'Livelihood strategies and signatures of vulnerability and resilience in eastern African landscapes'

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Victoria Jones.

We live in a world of heightened concern with both vulnerability and resilience. The terms circulate repeatedly within the public sphere, and the political classes increasingly mobilise the concepts, with either positive or negative spins, to bolster their ideological positions. The idea of resilience is, perhaps, the more ambiguous of the two notions. On the one hand, resilience is something to be actively promoted and assessed. Yet, on the other, some practices deemed to be resilient may act against risk taking and potential innovation and may, in the longer term, work against societal development. Whereas resilience is generally regarded as an outcome of deliberate action, vulnerability is typically seen to be a condition and often defined solely by external observers rather than agents themselves. In other words, vulnerability is often portrayed as being a state of susceptibility to harm, and the obverse of resilience. Vulnerability is also highly relative – a vulnerable person, community, sites, artefact, landscape, society, etc. is only ever vulnerable to a prescribed set of threats, which may even be neither understood nor perceived as such in some quarters. Within archaeology, both resilience and vulnerability have received periodic attention. In the current context of escalating climate change and heightened awareness of these trends at local, regional and global levels, both terms have acquired particular resonance and are invoked to both leverage funding and guide interventions aimed at protecting archaeological resources. In this presentation, I will outline some of the ways these terms are being used in the discipline, the challenges involved in identifying either resilience or vulnerability archaeologically, and finally, what archaeologists working in eastern Africa (and elsewhere) might be able to contribute to discussions of these concepts and how their data sets may be of benefit when planning for more sustainable futures.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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