Conversations between Europe and South America

Between June and July 2021 the University of Ferrara, in partnership with the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, the Inno4SD network and the Amistades Association organised a four-day international symposium entitled IN PURSUIT OF COMPREHENSIVE DEVELOPMENT. Theories and practices for implementing a circular and ecologically oriented economic system and building a more just society. The Symposium was attended by representatives of European, Latin American and US universities, international institutions, representatives of the OECD and the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as associations and representatives of native communities from Colombia, Ecuador and Chile.

The remarkable success of the symposium, with its high-profile interventions, international scope and richness of theoretical and practical content, underlined the need to strengthen bi-regional relations.

The different sessions of the symposium offered important contributions of geopolitical and theoretical reflection, as well as other contributions and practical reflections together with local models of action. A wide variety of topics were interwoven, based on the awareness that terms such as development, growth and environmental sustainability end up being consumed and empty of content, while others - such as comprehensive development or “Buen Vivir” (Good Living) - need to be further investigated and discussed. During the debate, one of the most relevant considerations of the reflection emerged: in the last twenty years, the connection between Latin America and Europe in terms of cultural, economic and political leadership linkages has been lost. In fact, the fruitful relationship between the two regions was broken. Secondly, the crisis of the word development and the possible adjectives that over time have been attached to this concept emerged in all its clarity, facilitating the fascination of concepts that are radically opposed to both the term development and the associated term growth: “Buen Vivir”, coexistence/sociability, pluriverse, circularity.

The red thread that tied and connected the four days of reflection was the ambition to compare the conceptual, cultural and human dimensions of development and the questions of justice and equity given the effects determined by globalisation and a deregulated free market, combining unsolved problems for at least half a century with new challenges (and new concepts) such as transition, regeneration, technological innovation and circularity. In this framework, the symposium has had the courage to start a discussion on alternative models, such as comprehensive development and “Buen Vivir”, which, although they are in opposition to each other, both represent alternatives to the consolidated ideologies of growth and development. The discussion has made it emerge as fundamental, in the pursuit of new economic, social and cultural paradigms, to look at the native peoples, living witnesses of a great cultural and ecosystem diversity that the current model of development and natural resource extraction puts in constant danger: "a kaleidoscope of habitats and forms of life" that postulate and propose an idea of wellbeing very much alive in what, euphemistically, we call the Global South and very close to the concept of comprehensive ecology proposed by the Pope in 2015. The need to enhance environmental rights, which are the rights that should guarantee a dignified life for all living beings, has also emerged strongly, moving towards a biocentric vision, imagining other economic ways that place human beings, nature and their relationships at the centre.

If the weaknesses of a culture and society still based on the classical model of development have emerged with great clarity, a widely recognised alternative has not yet emerged. The “Buen Vivir”, for example - which does not exclude technology - does not coincide with the Western idea of well-being, and cannot be reduced to a romantic idealisation of the many indigenous communities. The same need for clarification emerges for the concept of comprehensive development, which, at least with regard to the traditional concept of development and the broader concept of sustainable development, seems to focus on the dimension of the ecological well-being of all living species with greater extension and strength, while placing, at the same time, a strong emphasis on the issues of social exclusion, solidarity and reciprocity.

During the four days of the symposium, contributions of theoretical-critical reflection alternated with the narration of case studies, models and practical interventions of great interest. In this context, it was proposed to connect the ideas that emerged around the conceptual pillars of “Buen Vivir” and Comprehensive Development with the other great innovative idea that the whole world is discussing today and which was proposed by Barry Commoner in 1971: the circle that must be closed between nature, man and technology.

Now that the innovative idea of the circular economy, together with available technologies, allows us to imagine savings in raw materials, a reduction in waste and progressively more sustainable responses in terms of energy production, it is strategic not to reduce the scope of this paradigm to technological and sectoral dimensions - such as the vast problem of plastics - but to open it up to the themes of agroecology, circular by definition, to the theme of the circular city, greener, and differently organised, to the infinite practical applications in which circularity can provide answers to sustainability and physical, material and spiritual wellbeing.

At this time of deep uncertainty, reinforcement of populist nationalism, increase in the visible effects of the climate crisis, hunger and war, discussions such as this one, are fundamental spaces of confrontation. Looking around us, we realise how simple and univocal answers are gaining more and more strength, while narratives that are based on diversity to strengthen the community find little space. For this reason, it seems crucial to us to promote a Europe-Latin America dialogue that aims at a critical analysis of the predominant narrative in terms of development and growth with the objective of building a shared paradigm centred on the recognition of diversity and dialogue between them.

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