Devenir Universidad is a platform to support the co-creation of a university led by the Inga people, who conceive a totally different territorial paradigm. Rather than a university campus built on a site in the territory, the territory itself becomes the university: a place to learn and partner-with in any teaching and learning process. At the Center for Biocultural Thought we explore the questions: How can humans and territories co-create knowledge to live well together? How do non-modern conceptions of the territory transform conventional decision-making paradigms that exclusively rely on rational deliberation between humans?
Páramo, high moor ecology near Pasto, Nariño
The Land Management Plans of the Colombian State (Planes de Ordenamiento Territorial) conventionally describe and enact the Andean-Amazonian territories as a backdrop for human action, as a set of natural resources to be extracted in pursuit of the modernist notion of a good life. Despite recent attempts to grant rights to nature in legislation, the territory is still represented as a biophysical reality of sorts, i.e. a collection of plants, animals, mountains, forests and rivers lacking sentience, cognitive capacities, and ethical standing. This modernist conception is based on a set of onto-epistemic operations that separate human and nonhuman beings—both physically and imaginatively—by placing the former on top of any living assemblage and system of meaning.
Although the story is well known, it is still pervasive in thinking, action, and social institutions in this region. For example, the notion of “ecosystem services” - clean air, filtered water, livestock, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling, among others - is based on the modernist assumption of “human needs”.
El rostro fluido de la vida, emitida en pedagogicaradio, 2021
Conversación de Marcela Bravo Osorio con Iván Darío Vargas Roncancio a propósito de ese rostro fluido de la vida profunda, en donde todos hacemos parte del tejido de la vida y en particular, desde la mirada de nuestro invitado, dar la posibilidad de comprender el ejercicio del derecho, como oportunidad de resignificar nuestras relaciones en los territorios. Comprendiendo que las relaciones que los territorios expresan son fuente de Ley, que orientan el cuidado de la vida, desde una perspectiva ecozoica, plural, sentida de la vida que fluye por nosotros.
The ancestral Inga territory is situated at the intersection of the Andean Cordillera and the Amazon basin encompassing the regions of Putumayo, Caqueta, Cauca and Nariño. The forests of these interconnected regions express unique eco-cultural characteristics of both the Andes and the Amazon. The Piedemonte Andino-Amazónico, for example, is considered one of the greatest sources of biophysical richness in the hemisphere with an enormous climatic and ecosystemic variability: in the Amazon alone there are more than 14,003 species of seed plants (flowering plants and cycads). Moreover, while the rich soils of the Andean slopes have favored an economy based on coffee (Aponte), beans (Sibundoy Valley), and other cash crops, the Amazonian ecosystems are characterized by their fragility, as most of them are located on poor soils that are very vulnerable to rain and sun. This means that once the forest is cut down, the fertility of these acidic and thin soils quickly depletes. However, the great biological variability and resilience of the Amazon region is not due to its soils, but to the way in which its ecosystems function in a feeding cycle of aerial and subterranean interaction of Andean and Amazonian geographies, the prevailing environmental conditions of high humidity and heat, as well as the intimate ecological knowledge and proven effectiveness of Indigenous territorial governance systems.
What is commonly known as the web of life, that is, the relationships between organisms in an ecological community, is not a network of pre-existent points that connect to each other, but a meshwork of interwoven lines in relentless movement and change.
Inga conceptions of territoriality are testimony of this great diversity of matter and meaning. For the Inga, the territory is Mother, our mother, and the Sun is Father, our father; the condor, the tapir and other forest’s beings are family, and the territory is their home: territory is person, or better yet, a multitude of persons organized as a socio-ecological kinship. But the territory is not only a person: she is also a meeting point where lifeways cross each other forming a living tapestry or tejido vivo. What is commonly known as the web of life, that is, the relationships between organisms in an ecological community, is not a network of pre-existent points that connect to each other, but a meshwork of interwoven lines in relentless movement and change. For example, meandering rivers, growing plants, human and non-human animals, and even language, are all life forms or trajectories of growth and movement that emerge together and reconfigure the territorial fabric into infinite designs.
Devernir Universidad rests on the assumption that, in paraphrasing legal scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos, can be summarized as follows: we are facing modern problems for which there are not (always) modern solutions. The 2019 fires in much of the Amazon express this exacerbated modernity in our socio-cultural systems: biodiversity loss, illegal grabbing of Indigenous lands and racialized violence against local populations, require a sustained and respectful return to Indigenous territorial logics of care where nonhuman minds, knowledge practices, and lifeways should be at the forefront of contemporary debates around socio-ecological challenges and transitions worldwide.
Devenir Universidad is a hub for this conversation inspired by, and devoted to, probing how our nonhuman kin can teach us new pathways to mutually enhancing relationships between humans and Earth: a new epoch centred around care and co-responsibility where all beings are considered social and cognitive agents and rightful members of the community of life.
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