“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


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.

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.

Another Inconvenient Truth (That is: There’s Not Just One)

The circles I (mostly) grew up in operated with a few fixed facts about climate change and environment, and a few clear stances of the actions needed to move forward.

It goes something like: “Anthropogenic climate change is raising the temperature of the earth, contributes to mass extinction, and exacerbates conditions more in less developed areas; therefore, we (the global human community) need to come to an international consensus on cutting emissions—keeping in mind concern for justice and equity between more/less developed countries—and this is to be done via a mass uprising movement coupled with heavy-handed institutional reforms that phase out the fossil fuel industry.”

That’s not bad, or untrue; but what we came to read and deliberate on in week 7 of classes this fall term was that this sort of thinking is one—but not the only—framework for climate facts and climate action. At a most basic level, a framework as we are referring to it is that which structures information/facts/data/understanding (in this case, climate facts) with meaning/motivation/action (climate action).

Now, the fact-ness of facts was troubled (and still is troubled) by an epistemological debate (having to do with truth) that peaked around the last decade of the 20th century. Most simply, this was a back-and-forth of arguments for realism vs. constructivism with regard to knowledge; because of the academic context in which this took place—examining the objectivity of fact claims in science—it’s called the “Science Wars”. To that end, we read two representative papers of the much bigger debate: a constructivist critique of scientific practice and the production of facts (Demeritt 2001) and its response (Schneider 2001).

Impossible to elect one or the other, both sides of the debate make sense. Scientific practice iteratively constructs for us understandings that ring true with reality in conditional ways: so, yes, the constructivists are right, and so are the realists.

When this abstract debate gets brought back into context—again, in terms of climate change—we no longer know what to do with the framework that operates on the lazy objectivity of truths, that hopeful facts-to-action framework. Not to mention that it seems to get us increasingly nowhere in climate change politics when we step back and take a look around us at phenomena like populism (Hurrell and Sengupta 2012; Lockwood 2018) and social media (Anderson; Hampton et. al. 2017; Poushter et. al. 2018) and the (seemingly) unwieldy influences they have are absolutely true in the big assemblage of our discourse, politics, and therefore our reality of climate change politics.

So what, then? Well, this post is getting long, so I’m going to save the juicy bits for a next time. 😉 But what we can—and perhaps must—look forward to are creative epistemologies (theoretical resolutions) that extend beyond the realism vs. constructivism debate. And we can hope that these will serve us in producing climate discourse beyond a facts-to-action framework that actively denies realities and people inconvenient to the usual, too-hopeful way of thinking (one rhetorical example here).

And if you want to start getting to know what it’s like to embrace these worthwhile challenges, see you at the 22nd Annual Environmental Affairs Symposium this coming week!


Anderson, Ashley A. “Effects of Social Media Use on Climate Change Opinion, Knowledge, and Behavior.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science, 2017.

Demeritt, David. “The Construction of Global Warming and the Politics of Science.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92, no. 2 (2001): 307–37.

Hampton, Keith N., Inyoung Shin, and Weixu Lu. “Social Media and Political Discussion: When Online Presence Silences Offline Conversation.” Information, Communication & Society 20, no. 7 (July 3, 2017): 1090–1107.

Hurrell, Andrew, and Sandeep Sengupta. “Emerging Powers, North–South Relations and Global Climate Politics.” International Affairs 88, no. 3 (May 1, 2012): 463–84.

Lockwood, Matthew. “Right-Wing Populism and the Climate Change Agenda: Exploring the Linkages.” Environmental Politics 27, no. 4 (July 4, 2018): 712–32. 

Poushter, Jacob, Caldwell Bishop, and Hanyu Chwe. “Social Media Use Continues to Rise in Developing Countries,” June 19, 2018. http://www.pewglobal.org/2018/06/19/social-media-use-continues-to-rise-in-developing-countries-but-plateaus-across-developed-ones/.

Schneider, Stephen H. “A Constructive Deconstruction of Deconstructionists: A Response to Demeritt.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92, no. 2 (2001): 338–44.