Urban human-nature resonance for sustainability transformation


Patagonien – a place for resonant relationships?


How it comes to an essay about resonance in Chilean Patagonia

I started working as a research assistant for the URBNANCE project in Dresden in August 2022 and only a few days after the beginning of this employment I moved to Chile. My work for URBNANCE has therefore taken place in the context of Chile, and intersections between the content of the project and my experiences in South America arose. One example is Hartmut Rosa's resonance theory (2019), which allowed me to reinterpret the experiences that I had during a trip to the Chilean Patagonia. In this essay I would like to share some of my reflections with you.

Chile's diversity and how this diversity is reflected in resonance

Chile is an incredibly contrasting country. On the one hand, it is home to places so remote that human influences barely reach them, and on the other hand its capital city Santiago flows over with people. It is one of the longest countries in the world, with over 4,300 km between its northernmost and southernmost points. Transferred to Europe, Chile's length extends beyond the north of Norway and the south of Spain. At the same time, more than 6 million people, and thus almost half of Chile's population, live in the metropolitan region of Santiago in the center of Chile. Therefore, the southernmost region of Chile is scarcely populated and the more-than-human nature there has barely been affected by human interventions. This is where the region of Patagonia is located. I travelled from Santiago to Patagonia and reached it after more than 17 hours of bus ride and 30 hours of travelling by ferry. Santiago and Patagonia are not only separated by many kilometers and hours of travelling but are also a world apart in terms of their atmospheres.


Santiago de Chile

As I write these lines, I have already returned from my trip and find myself back in Santiago. I am surrounded by many people, hear the noise of the traffic in the background, see a lot of asphalt and concrete, the air smells of exhaust fumes and everything is happening very fast. I am working from a Café in the city center and went there by bicycle. While riding my bike, I had to be extremely attentive to the traffic to reach my destination safely.

I am starting to suspect that this context influences my way of thinking and that I would have started this essay differently if I had written it in Patagonia. Probably, I would have mentioned fewer metrics, comparisons, and facts. I imagine that I would have taken more time to think. As a result, I might have expressed myself more personally instead of listing facts about Chile. Perhaps I would have tried to grasp the magical atmosphere of Patagonia with words in order to share it with you. Maybe my words would have touched your heart and we would have shared a moment of resonance.


More-than-human nature on the island of Chiloé

Patagonia - a vibrant resonant space

I understand resonance in the sense of Hartmut Rosa's resonance theory (2019). Rosa’s work deals with relationships and he argues that resonant relationships are crucial for having a good life. In his resonance theory, he explains that the logic of acceleration that underlies our society leads us to form mute relationships with our environment. Mute relationships are based on instrumental thinking. Hence, the partners in such relationships are seen as resources that can be controlled, exploited, and dominated. Resonant relationships are opposed to mute relationships. These relationships are free of dominance and instrumental thinking. According to Rosa, the partners in resonant relationships "speak with their own voices", resonate with each other, and transform themselves and their relationship. In the context of human-nature resonance, this means that the more-than-human nature, be it trees, stones, or the sea, speaks with her own voice. This is only possible if we do not perceive nature as a lifeless resource, but as a soulful partner, who we meet at eye level. To be able to listen to the voice of nature, we need mindfulness, muse, and compassion. I had the impression that the context of Patagonia facilitates resonant relationships while the hectic pace of Santiago makes it challenging for resonant relationships to emerge. In Patagonia, life flows with a natural rhythm. This allows people to pause, to be present in the moment, and to mindfully observe their inner and the outside world. Patagonia provides the space that we need to engage with others – be it the more-than-human nature, other people, or a place. Or, in other words, the space we need for resonant relationships.


Sunrise at sea in Patagonia

The Patagonian proverb "él que se apura, pierde su tiempo" demonstrates that a natural rhythm of life is deeply rooted in the Patagonian culture. Translated into English, the sentence means "those who hurry waste their time". This phrase reflects the resistance of Patagonian people to hurry and is related to the uncontrollability of life in Patagonia: Those who attempt to force events to happen quickly will struggle while they try and ultimately lose time for fulfilling moments. Conversely, the proverb invites people to surrender to the natural rhythm of live and to go with its flow.

I observed both dynamics in other travelers. A Patagonian couple had difficulty finding transportation to their next destination. Instead of spending one night at the hostel where I worked at, they stayed for several nights. This allowed us to share experiences and we developed a sense of community. Furthermore, I had the impression that the couple built a meaningful relationship with the place and its people. In contrast to this, I talked to frustrated travelers who complained about the unreliability of the buses. They were annoyed that getting from one place to the next took longer than they thought and disturbed their plans.

I, too, was influenced by the environment of Patagonia and my time there felt like a process of continuous learning. Over and over again, I had to let go of my desire for control, speed, and my habit to follow fixed plans. Whenever I succeeded in this, wonderful moments arose that allowed me to feel connected to myself and to my environment. When I tried to move quickly and with less flexibility however, everything turned unsatisfying and exhausting. Thanks to this experience, I became aware of the extent to which the habit of living fast and following a predefined plan is engrained in me. Conversely, I learned how liberating it can feel to pause, to be present in the moment and that this allows me to resonate with other people, nature, or places. These moments of resonance were incredibly valuable for me, and I felt like they provided me with energy and well-being for a long time after


Morning atmosphere in Coyhaique, Patagonia

Human-nature resonance in Patagonia

Patagonia does not only provide a fertile ground for resonant relationships in general but also specifically fosters human-nature resonance. As I mentioned earlier, life in Patagonia follows a natural rhythm, and I mean that literally. Whether the ferry arrives on schedule depends on the size of the waves at sea. Or, after a heavy rain, the neighboring village might not be accessible for days because the access road turns into a river. Thus, more-than-human nature interferes with the lives of people in Patagonia, and they are used to following her rhythm. While more-than-human nature is often used as a resource in Santiago, she seems to be more equal to humans in the south of Chile and her agency is more visible there.

It can be argued that more-than-human nature has an impact on people's lives in other places as well. For example, I remember a few days in February 2021 when there was so much snow in Leipzig that it paralyzed the whole city. However, there is a difference in how people deal with this kind of situations. While people in many places try to regain control over nature, the influence of nature on people's lives is so omnipresent in Patagonia that it forms part of the local culture. For example, people naturally adjust their activities of the day to the season and the weather. All this creates the conditions that are needed for a resonant relationship between humans and the more-than-human nature.

During my trip, I repeatedly encountered signs that illustrated the special relationship between people and the more-than-human nature in Patagonia. The signs were written from the point of view of the more-than-human nature, such as the river, the forest, or the earth. There is one sign that I remember particularly well. It said "Cuídame. Muchas familias beben de mis aguas. El río." or in English "Protect me. Many families drink from my water. The river." Here, more-than-human nature has been given her own voice, and for me, this reflects that people are aware of her agency.


The river speaks with its own voice

Conclusion - Patagonia is more than an oasis for resonance

So far, I have drawn a romantic picture of Patagonia and I seek to critically reflect upon that in the final paragraphs. I have portrayed Patagonia as a paradise for resonance because the more-than-human nature decelerates its rhythm of life. I have also argued that people in Patagonia value more-than-human nature as an equal partner, and thus establish resonant relationships with her. I based the arguments on my own experiences, and the resulting perspective is informed by my privileges. I had no obligations from a full-time job and still did not have to worry about money. As an educated, white European woman, I was always treated respectfully, and people showed me a lot of trust. Furthermore, I did not have to take responsibility for other people and had to take care of myself only. Finally, instead of living in the place, I was traveling and could decide for myself how long I wanted to stay in Patagonia. This context provided me with perfect conditions to follow the Patagonian rhythm of life and to experience moments of resonance.


Scenery of Coyhaique

For those who live in Patagonia permanently, the reality is different. The untouched nature makes their everyday life more difficult, and many Patagonians feel cut off from the rest of Chile and neglected by its politics . While a storm for me simply meant that I had to adjust my plans, it can cut off villages from food or medical support for days. In addition, the cold winters make permanent heating necessary, and this leads to high gas bills that are unaffordable for many Patagonians. Furthermore, the more-than-human nature in Patagonia is not only considered as an equal partner, but also instrumentalized for touristic purposes and exploited through the extraction of minerals. These aspects belong to Patagonia as well and make clear that it is more than a paradise for resonance.

This is also conclusive from the perspective of resonance theory. According to Hartmut Rosa (2019), resonance must be thought of relationally and neither a place nor a mindset alone can guarantee it. Instead, resonance is based on a responsive relationship which takes the form of a  “vibrating wire” between humans and the world Moreover, for us to truly live in connectedness with the world, it is not enough to create single "event oases" where resonance selectively emerges. Instead, we need a social change that integrates resonance into everyone’s everyday life - even in cities that are often characterized by hectic, stress and noise. I would therefore like to leave you with the idea that Patagonia is not and should not be an oasis of resonance. Nevertheless, Patagonia gave me personally many moments of resonance and I am extremely grateful for that.

Author: Maike Hering (URBNANCE student assistant)

If you have any comments or question on the essay, feel warmly invited to contact the author  (maikeflausioer@gmail.com).





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