“Tracks”: a verb for theory

This week in class was dedicated to workshopping…Tuesday we checked in on our framework diagrams, Thursday our framework writing. Jim suggested we work to incorporate three possible functions of environmental theory we have learned in class into our writing. Those are:

  1. Theory as “reasonably systematic reflection on our guiding assumptions” (Eagleton 2004, 2)
  2. Theory as a vehicle (vs. collapsed into perspective-taking)
  3. Theory as a woven framework

It’s not going to be easy to weave these into my framework, but I can see how they will be helpful. I want to reflect a bit more on how I foresee them shaping my writing in vague description (sorry, reader), and save some of the digging into detail for my written draft.

  1. Reflection on guiding assumptions…this is something I’ve now done to an extent I’m very happy with in the introduction/methodology section of my SOAN thesis. I will note that my ENVS thesis/capstone draws/builds on the work I did in SOAN; more time arriving at the topic will hopefully contribute to the validity and strength of my work. And yet, I’m coming in with fresh assumptions, because the projects are quite different in their scope/focus. So, I have a lot of new assumptions to uncover. A final thought: I’m inspired to dig more into this with thought as I write my framework, rather than putting off the work to a post-research/writing afterthought. I believe that would make my outcome weaker, for it could allow me to take a distant objectivity and maintain my assumptions while carrying out research, versus admitting to some of the important limitations I have which could grow (personally and intellectually) so that my outcome/results are shaped by the very meaning/truth-making that occurred in research process…so that it is something of…
  2. Theory as a vehicle, which means that my selection and use of environmental theory is genuinely compelling/intriguing to the reader. This statement is just a funny way of saying arguments that carry people, and carry people to fresh places in thought…not old tropes of environmentalism-turned-scholarship.
  3. And so theory as woven framework just has to do with owning that there are multiple ways of representing reality. Because ‘environment’ is so garbled (if you don’t take it to mean the static outsides for hiking through, saving, or worrying about in some other way…but instead as a concept some use to refer their care for complex and somewhat untenable interdependent relations) theory as woven framework means the possibility of connecting with lots of different people who care about this stuff but who speak lots of different languages…whether disciplinary or out of the walls of the academy.

I suppose I’m just trying to make sense of these ideas. I’ll try to include the details I come up with in actual writing—to me those would be far more interesting to share—next week.

Photo: Climbing Volcán Pichincha (elevation 15,696 feet). Quito, Ecuador. 2014.

Doing ethics in public…is scary!

Summary of this past week

I’ll do a quick week in review, focusing on one thing that happened today/Friday, and then look forward to how this week has further informed my thesis research design.

Today/Friday as auxiliary 350/framework building work, I met with very cool Rozalyn Crews, currently the artist in residence at LC’s Hoffman Gallery. She has been doing performance art and participatory installations for many years. I reached out to her because I have been dreaming up how to do an participatory research methods and/or outcome.

I decided to start with describing some of my theory, public sphere and care. Her first reaction was “what do you mean by public?” I responded by referencing my theorists, and discussing how ‘public’ could mean something different than plural ‘counter-publics’…but upon reading this summary on Roz’s page about one of her installations, this caught my eye:

“The problem with Performance Art in written book form, is that it is usually written about from a very lofty theoretical point of view, and is therefore not exactly about what the artist was intending but what the theorist was overlaying/de-constructing, and well, theorizing about. … the predominant potency of the work is that it is live (or, if not potent–which can easily be the case – then at least it is of importance to the conceptual framing). Why else would someone put their body into public space and request attendance, than for the reason of an exchange in live, real time? The live encounter is an immensely significant aspect.”

Kristy Edmunds, via Roz Crews (2018)

Roz allowed me, too, to explain the situated context for research. As I described facilitating conversations, or at least doing many interviews, throughout the state of Oregon on subjects of rural-urban divide/continuum, Roz initially shared concern over ethics via stories of other artists whose work has approached similar topics, with debatable ethics. Acknowledging Roz’s concerns, I carry strength and faith in my work. I have been participating in this conversation and getting to know various actors. I hope to draw on these relationship with groups. I do have a lot of work yet to do asking questions.

Progress on thesis research design

Theory/Framework

One outcome of my conversation with Roz was a re-evaluation of my ethics of care/feminist ethics/ecofeminist ethics framework section. I realize it’s just not doing the work I need it fully to do—and then I remembered the work of black feminist thinkers, who weave powerful theory that lays claim to bodies and breath and space.

That’s the sort of theory that’s missing. White feminist ethics (see a rudimentary summary here) face critique for creating exclusive publics, i.e., denying liberation to non-white, especially black, women. I am inspired to listen to this work.

Photograph standing in fountains at the Louvre Museum. Paris, France. 2014.

Building a framework outline

Building an outline was a good first challenge toward a theoretical framework for my ENVS thesis. I am working next on filling this out with full text and that will serve as the first section of my full thesis draft.

I worked with three sections—Care & Feminist ethics, Modernity, Public Sphere—and still have not figured out what argument will weave the three sections together so as not to sound one then the next.

I’ve drawn some text from the outline below to give examples of how I’m summarizing to prepare for more drafting in future:

Care & Feminist ethics

I situate my discussion of care within feminist and ecofeminist ethics (via weaving, e.g. with theory I engage on the public sphere). I give a brief review of feminist and ecofeminist thought on logics of domination. I review the seminal arguments for an “ethics of care” that position care as a feminine ethic outside of a masculine ethic of justice. I engage an array of later contributions to critique actors of care as beyond givers/receivers, consider how gender affects the use of theory of care, and especially consider how a few of these sources specifically put an ethics of care into conversation with questions of politics. Somewhere in this section, it is also important to mention other approaches (not within feminist ethics) to environmental ethics I reviewed, e.g., de-Shalit’s “communitarian theory of intergenerational justice (de-Shalit 1995). The above sets me up for a theoretical synthesis in section 1.4; by the end of the full top of hourglass framework I develop my own contribution to a broader question and theoretical body of environmental ethics via concepts of care. 

More to come!

Calling out our ills: picking up on health metaphors in environment

This past week we discussed utopias and dystopias all too briefly in class. In popular meaning, the word “utopia” most often evokes an understandably unrealistic or unreachable place. Yet in scholarly work, it evokes the ever-present ideal—a vision that moves us as much as anything else, and therefore is very much part of reality.

We discussed at length an article by Breakthrough Institute’s Ted Nordhaus and Alex Trembath—titled “Is Climate Change like Diabetes or an Asteroid?”—that proved an interesting way to make sense of our larger question on utopias/dystopias. If dystopias and utopias are always implied together, the climate emergency discourse referred to by the asteroid metaphor mobilizes in us an emergency response (something that Nordhaus and Trembath critique well). The diabetes metaphor they foil, by contrast, mobilizes an endurance over long-term, yet not without its own utopic framing; in this case, “a higher-tech world…less populous…less unequal…more urbanized.” While these may read like universally obvious wishes, they’re not; and thus, they represent one utopia accompanying a particular dystopic argument.

I’ve been thinking about health metaphors in environmental discourse since at least 2016, when I drafted my first concentration in ENVS 220 around that very topic. It’s been relaxing to see how my work has progressed, and while I’m a far way off from offering a compelling theoretical/in-depth piece, I find myself designing this topic in a next iteration via this thesis research project.

The other focus this week was bringing our “-isms map” assignments (mine is the featured image on this page now, though it will likely move in future) into simpler visual format. This, like everything is now in our process, is allowed to be in flux and not finalized—but I’m happy with how my first draft has turned out.

Pictured here:

This short-format theoretical map of my project will accompany an outline I turn in next week. Stay tuned for that…

Asking how we Care

This last week in class we mostly workshopped and discussed our isms maps. I was out on Thursday because I was preparing to guide the Climate Conversations event of the Environmental Affairs Symposium. It went beautifully, I feel! And I look forward to collecting feedback to hear what it was like for participants.

I’ll do a brief update on my isms map in this post, to document its changes over time. Here is its current version:

Version 1. 27 Oct. Made on MindMeister.com

What we refer to as “isms” are just the concepts that fill out this map, like urbanization/counter-urbanization (in section “Modern”) or Green democracy/governmentality (“Public sphere”).

There’s a lot yet to do in figuring out, via this map, how to do interdisciplinary with coherence.

For instance, the green arrows almost suggest to me that the Public Sphere is my central point (not Meaningful Action). And also, there are concepts (such as feminist ethics/virtue ethics) that have huge amounts of literature I have basically never touched, which is daunting. So I don’t want to pick too many isms that overload me with new knowledge I won’t be able to adequately grasp in short time. That’s a big challenge of interdisciplinary weaving—finding the gaps that do need to be filled, and filling them wisely.

Another way of sketching it could be this!:

Version 2. 27 Oct. Made on MindMeister.com

A lot to figure out, and this will come more clear during this next week of consultation, class, readings, and turning in assignment.