Oecologies: The Histories of Sustainability
15 January 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House. Wine and cheese reception to follow)
Paula Findlen (Department of History, Stanford University), “What is a Fossil? The Rediscovery of Nature in Seventeenth-Century Sicily”
Summary: In 1670 the Messina painter, antiquarian, and naturalist Agostino Scilla published an important interpretation of the fossils of Sicily, Malta, and Calabria. This talk explores Scilla’s Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense as a case study in how nature became an object of special inquiry in seventeenth-century Sicily. The concerns of Sicilian and more generally southern Italian naturalists were not about nature in general but about the particular and local circumstances of nature in the world they inhabited. The history of Sicily and southern Italy was fundamentally a history of a dynamic, changing nature that periodically threatened to swallow up the human populations that inhabited this volcanic region of the world. This project explores why and how the experience of living on an ancient Mediterranean island shaped the outlook of its inhabitants and ultimately inspired some of them to become active interpreters of nature in the age of the Scientific Revolution. Reconstructing this Sicilian moment in the history of science is also an opportunity to reflect on how local nature shapes global interpretation of the natural world.
Speaker Information: Paula Findlen is Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History, Department Chair, and currently Director of the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science at Stanford University. She is the author of many publications on the relations between science, society, and culture in the early modern era, with a particular interest in natural history and collecting. Her publications include Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy (1994); Merchants and Marvels (2002, coedited with Pamela Smith); Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything (2004) and most recently Early Modern Things: Objects and Their Histories, 1500-1800 (2013). She is completing a study of Agostino Scilla and his fossils.
28 January 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House)
Karen Bakker (Department of Geography, University of British Columbia), “The Politics of Panarchy”
Summary: Resilience has emerged as one of the key concepts in contemporary sustainability debates. The rapidly growing appeal of the concept of resilience across a broad range of disciplines has overshadowed the concept of “panarchy,” a cognate framework developed by ecologist Buzz Holling (then at UBC) and collaborators from the 1970s onwards. Holling seeks to provide an alternative explanatory framework for the source, pathways, and roles of change and adaptation in socionatural systems. Notably, in collaborating with a broad range of natural and social (notably political) scientists, Holling emphasizes the mutual constitutiveness of social and environmental change, an understanding of which (he argues) demands a radical reformation of governance. After presenting a genealogy of the concept of panarchy, I address the (sometimes strange) synergies between panarchy, panarchism, and post-humanism, including concepts such as non-dualism, agency, and relationality. Holling’s approach to panarchy is often depicted as a radical departure from other, notably nineteenth-century notions of “panarchism” (largely framed as expressions of anarchist or libertarian political governance). Indeed, “panarchy” is often depicted (and criticized) as an apolitical–perhaps even post-political–concept. Yet the concept of panarchy is ripe with potential political possibilities (both progressive and regressive). I conclude with a discussion of the potential relevance of a renovated and expanded concept of panarchy for our engagement with environmental politics.
Speaker Information: Karen Bakker is Professor, Canada Research Chair, and Founding Director of the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability. A Rhodes Scholar with a Ph.D. from Oxford University, Professor Bakker was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2011. Her work has appeared in over 100 academic publications (including books with Oxford, Cornell, and Toronto University Press), as well as the popular media (Dissent, Globe and Mail, Guardian, Huffington Post, Sunday Times). She regularly acts as advisor/consultant to national and international organizations (including the UNDP, OECD, and the Conference Board of Canada).
25 February 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House)
Deanna Kreisel (Department of English, University of British Columbia), “Ruskin’s Raw Materials: Toward a History of ‘Sustainability’”
Summary: Much of the content of contemporary sustainability discourse in the West can be traced back to the social reform movements of the Victorian period. As David M. Craig notes, for political economist and art critic John Ruskin, “the exercise of moral restraint as a consumer starts in a recognition of specific physical limits…. [T]his recognition of physical limits and a commitment to moral restraint are inextricably bound.” Patrick Brantlinger extends this line of thinking even further when he insists that for Ruskin, “the apparently private choices of individual consumers, gendered female, are matters of public, national urgency.” This paper will begin to sketch a history of the concept of sustainability in the nineteenth century by examining how Ruskin’s challenge to Victorian models of private domesticity also includes an alternative conceptualization of the relationship between interior and exterior, both bodily and architectural. In his 1858 lecture “The Work of Iron, In Nature, Art, and Policy,” for example, Ruskin delivers a polemical analysis of “raw materials” as an important part of a reconfigured relationship between natural and human activity—a relationship that is characterized by limits and bounded by quite literal frames and rigid structures for which iron becomes the emblem. This paper will trace this line of thinking throughout some of Ruskin’s voluminous body of work, and consider its roots in the Physiocrats’ model of self-contained economic organization and its future in theories of steady state zero growth economies.
Speaker Information: Deanna Kreisel is Associate Professor of English at UBC. She is the author of Economic Woman: Demand, Gender, and Narrative Closure in Eliot and Hardy (Toronto, 2012), and scholarly articles on Victorian literature, political economy, feminist theory, and psychoanalysis. She is currently at work on a new book project analyzing the construction of utopian spaces in the nineteenth-century discourses of higher-dimensional geometry, Buddhism, and spiritualism. Her Oecologies talk is drawn from a concurrent project on aesthetic theory and the concept of sustainability in the nineteenth century.
25 March 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House)
Thomas Kemple (Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia), “Mauss’s Roundtable: Continuity and Change in the Economy of the Eco-gift”
Summary: This talk considers the arguments of some classical sociologists from the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century concerning the relationship between subsistence economies of reproduction and sacrificial economies of symbolic exchange. Marcel Mauss’s celebrated figure of “the roundable of gift-exchange” presents us with a model of reciprocity and rivalry, solidarity and strife that can be framed by Georg Simmel’s general reflections on the self-preservation of social groups and Thorstein Veblen’s famous thesis concerning the conspicuous consumption of the leisure classes. With reference to a few ordinary and imaginary examples, such as the family meal and the festive sacrifice, I consider how these early accounts of the extra-or non-economic foundations of social life anticipate and even exceed recent cultural theories of what I am calling the “eco-gift”: the paradox of “a given space to inhabit” or of “a given thing to have” that connects by separating, binds while freeing, and takes in receiving. By recovering this classic theme from the history of the science of social economics, I argue for a kind of “object-oriented sociology” that considers how bonds of association are materialized and describes how non-human things establish and make visible relations between people.
Speaker Information: Thomas Kemple teaches social and cultural theory in Sociology, and is currently a member of the Arts One ‘Hero, Anti-Hero’ teaching team. His publications include Reading Marx Writing: Melodrama, the Market, and the ‘Grundrisse’ (Stanford 1995), Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism: Weber’s Calling (Palgrave Macmillan 2014), and several articles in the Journal of Classical Sociology, Telos, and Theory, Culture & Society. He is currently working on a book manuscript, Classical Sociology in the Digital Age: Simmel 2.0.
13 April 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House)
Greg Garrard (Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, University of British Columbia, Okanagan), “Being Zoo: Bestial Humans and Sexual Animals”
Summary: Following a period of liberalization in the 1960s and 1970s, sex with animals is being gradually re-criminalized: Germany has recently banned “actions alien to the species,” while Sweden will enact a law against “bestiality” in January 2014. Reports of the debates construct zoophiles as sexually “predatory” (itself a zoomorphic term) and the animals involved as innocent “victims.” Because in all these countries cruelty to animals is already illegal, however, it can only be zoophilic desire as such that is abominable. Moreover, sexual interaction with animals is fundamental to the workings of the intensive meat industry, so the laws have had to frame the bans carefully, specifying, as best they can, erotic intention. The arguments in favour of criminalization equivocate intriguingly between the older, anthropocentric stigmatization of “bestiality” and newer rhetorics of animal welfare and rights. The two often mix poorly together. Meanwhile, queer ecocriticism and critical animal studies have been re-evaluating animal sexuality: Bruce Bagemihl’s landmark Biological Exuberance is a non-human Pride parade of sexual configurations, while Joan Roughgarden overtly analogizes the diversity of human and animal eroticism in Evolution’s Rainbow. “Being Zoo” will engineer a collision between the new laws against zoophilia and the celebration of queer eroticism among animals, taking in such literary and cinematic representations of zoophilia as Robinson Devor’s Zoo, Marian Engel’s Bear, and Peter Shaffer’s Equus.
Speaker Information: Greg Garrard is Sustainability Professor at the University of British Columbia and a National Teaching Fellow of the British Higher Education Academy. A founding member and former Chair of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (UK & Ireland), he is the author of Ecocriticism (Routledge 2004, 2011 2nd edn) and numerous essays on eco-pedagogy, animal studies and environmental criticism. He has recently edited Teaching Ecocriticism and Green Cultural Studies (Palgrave 2011) and The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism (OUP 2014) and become co-editor of Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism.