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After Innovation, a Resurgence

(c) Tessa Sima

If ever there was a word that could encapsulate the idea of the ‘emperor’s new clothes’, it would be innovation. From its use as a rather mundane term in 13th century legal texts to describing vagabonds jailed for attempting to rewrite religious texts, innovation has certainly managed to punch above its weight ever since. After a shaky start, the term managed to replace invention during the latter half of the 20th century, becoming a global buzzword used to describe any form of change and creativity, irrespective of whether or not it was practised. What was once our word, has become ‘the word’. And that’s when things started going wrong. Together with Lee Vinsel, Andrew Russell penned: “Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefi ts, to what end?” as part of their notable essay ‘Hail the Maintainers’ [Published in Aeon Magazine, 07th of April, 2016: Russell/Vinsel: Hail the Maintainers].

During the last decade at my own business leading a design company and speaking at numerous technology and business conferences, I have observed the hollow promise of innovation by organisations and businesses that consistently fail to deliver in practice. The other reason I am critical and wary of using the term ‘innovation’ is that it has become associated with a brazen desire for infi nite progress and unconstrained economic growth which, in a world of fi nite resources, no longer feels viable. Innovate, or move fast and break things, because the consequences will take care of themselves, has been the rallying cry in Silicon Valley.

I wonder if this naive, wilful outcast has had its run? What other words could we use instead, and how would that change the way we view our fragile planet? Over the past few years, my own work has focused on climate change and during this process, I have encountered works by multispecies scholars such as Ann L. Tsing who propose new, creative, and endearing ways of living in a world of fi nite resources. I am particularly drawn to the word ‘resurgence’ – the idea of renewing, restoring and regenerating, pulling us away from the seductive delusion of endless growth and drawing us instead towards cyclical forms of nurturing, growing, dying, and renewing.

Tsing’s writings about resurgence in the context of multispecies interdependence is exceptionally urgent: “Disturbances, human and otherwise, knock out multispecies assemblages — yet liveable ecologies come back. After a forest fi re, seedlings sprout in the ashes, and, with time, another forest may grow up in the burn. The regrowing forest is an example of what I am calling resurgence. […] Resurgence is the work of many organisms, negotiating across diff erences, to forge assemblages of multispecies livability in the midst of disturbance. Humans cannot continue their livelihoods on resurgence is particularly obvious in considering hunting and gatherings: If animals and plants do not renew themselves, foragers lose their livelihoods. But, although both scholars and modern farmers are prone to forget this, such dependence is equally insistent for agriculturalists and keepers of animals — and thus, too, all those who live on their products. Farming is impossible without multispecies resurgence. [Tsing: A threat to holocene resurgence is a threat to livability; In: Brightman/Lewis (Eds.): The Anthropology of sustainability, p. 52, New York 2017]

I believe in embracing words and ideas that can help us move beyond our anthropocentric view of the world towards a deeper understanding of our interdependence with other species. This would be the most innovative thing we could do today. It is time for a collective resurgence.