Sean Connelly : Seeker of the Uncomfortable


It’s been some time (mutter…twenty years…cough) since I trudged the Geography department corridors as an undergraduate. So I was a little taken aback when I revisited the department to meet Sean, and my nostrils were invaded by exactly the same aroma. It was sort of like a welcome home smell, just that this isn’t my home. Let’s call it a slightly strange time warp smell. So it seems some smells don’t change, but staff names certainly do, including Sean’s who arrived from Canada almost three years ago.

Sustainability could easily be Sean’s surname. Right from his undergraduate studies, his research has spanned social justice to international development to turtles in Suriname, with the common link between all being sustainability. But what exactly is sustainability? Sean gives a simple answer (in one of those question ways): How do we make the world a better place? The challenge of course, is what does “better” actually mean? It never ceases to amaze me how a six-letter word like ‘better’, can open up one big serious, with a ‘potential to go around in circles’, discussion.

Local food networks across the country are the current focus of Sean’s research, including how they embrace and develop in response to local contexts. The local level provides a low risk testing ground for new and creative approaches in response to local situations. Not so easy to do at national level, but the big question is whether there is ultimately value in creating an overarching national based network.

These tensions and opportunities that exist between local, national and global scales tend to underpin Sean’s work. And I get the distinct impression he revels in that tricky area. He points to the experience of ‘uncomfortable conversations’, which can suggest we really are starting to address questions at the heart of sustainability. For example, changing from fuel to electric driven cars is the one step, but imagine a world without any cars? Just imagine……

In the mean time, how can you contribute to make the world a better place? Sean gives a few starters like riding bikes, attending farmers markets, and even discourse in groups, which are all political acts with a voice, and can play a part in effecting change.  Can I suggest a starter of buying yourself a strong and delicious fair trade coffee, and embrace one of those uncomfortable conversations with a person sitting close by. You just never know what the outcome may be.

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