New centre for feminist posthumanities environmental research

2015-08-11 10:14

At present, nearly all aspects of our world are influenced by human activities. Researchers have even begun talking about how our planet has entered a new era – the Anthropocene. At Linköping University, a centre for feminist posthumanities environmental research is currently being formed. The centre will explore the dissolving of the boundary between nature and culture and what implications it may have.

In a world of dramatically increasing climatic impact, we no longer have the luxury of thinking of nature as separable from culture. This sentence, taken directly from the approved application for the research programme The Seed Box: An Environmental Humanities Collaboratory, clearly summarises the core of the posthumanist approach upon which the new centre is based.

Exploring the relationship between humanity and the environment Formas and Mistra have invested SEK 40 million, or about 4.2 million euro, in the new research programme. Associate Professor Cecilia Åsberg was in charge of the programme proposal and will also serve as programme director:

‘We’re exploring the formative relationship between humanity and the environment. How the environment is shaping us and how we are shaping the environment,’ she says.

‘The mutual influence is so strong and obvious the previous distinction in the humanities between culture and nature has become obsolete. We have even begun talking about a new geological era – the Anthropocene, or the Age of Humans. At the core of the concept is that, at this point in time, nothing in our world is free from human influence.’

This notion, combined with feminist and anti-colonial research traditions, will permeate all work related to The Seed Box: An Environmental Humanities Collaboratory, the hub of which will be placed at TEMA – Department of Thematic Studies in Linköping.

A wide range of disciplines and fields are involved in the initiative. The interdisciplinary approach is in fact a strong characteristic of modern feminist posthumanities research.

‘If you question the demarcation between humanity and nature, you must also question the separation between natural-scientific and humanistic research. Most of the research on environmental issues is rooted in the natural sciences and has been strongly separated from the research produced by humanists and social scientists. We want to change this,’ says Åsberg.

A behavioural and norm-related problem

Today’s complex environmental problems are incompatible with strict disciplinary boundaries. For example, we cannot expect the climate change dilemma to be solved by natural scientists and engineers alone. After all, the whole problem is ultimately rooted in people’s behaviour and norms.
This, she says, is where the knowledge and experiences from feminist and gender research comes into play, with respect to not only methods but also the actual content of the research.

‘Feminist thinkers such as Val Plumwood, Vandana Shiva and Donna Haraway have played a key role in the development of international environmental humanities. The gender-related disciplines have facilitated the creation of new concepts and new knowledge domains; they have given us advanced tools to discuss issues related to the human body, nature, animals, technology and also what can be considered human in the humanities.’

‘The whole environmental issue, including the responsibility for it, is very differentiated. People are different and live under different conditions. For example, women and men, poor and rich leave very different footprints.’

Reaching outside academia

One important aim of The Seed Box is to reach outside the academic world. The programme has used the term citizen humanities to describe the involvement of local interests and artists to situate and open up specific environmental issues to interested publics.

‘It might be simple things like a seed library, which can help people see the big picture in the small stuff – to create meaning and see oneself in the world and as part of the world. If you start thinking of yourself as part of the environment, you might start acting differently.’

The central thought behind this is to break away from feelings of distance and powerlessness, and also to halt the de-politicisation of the major environmental issues, Åsberg explains.

‘Our approaches need a lot more nuances and engagement than just green consumption. Understanding how we as human subjects are always embodied and embedded in nature will affect how we handle our environment,’ she says.

Many qualified applicants

The programme will of course also yield a large number of books and articles in order to communicate the research within the research community.
The granted funding will, together with an additional SEK 10 million from Linköping University, be used to strengthen the platform for collaboration both nationally and internationally. Researchers and networks from the Posthumanities Hub and the Green Critical Forum at TEMA are already working within the framework of the Seed Box, but now it will open up to additional actors.

Thirteen universities and about 60 individual researchers will participate in the programme. Some of the money will also be allocated to a graduate school. Five doctoral studentships and two 2-year postdoc positions have been advertised so far.

‘We had a huge number of qualified applicants for the doctoral studentships.’

Additional positions will be announced, and so will funding opportunities for new projects that can be integrated into the programme’s project portfolio. At present, the portfolio consists of 20 projects falling under four themes: (Deep Water/Deep Earth, Green Futures, Toxic Embodiment, and Weather and Climate Change).

Twelve postdoc positions will eventually be circulated among the participating universities. In order to strengthen the field of research further, the centre will also invite guest researchers and arrange workshops and conferences.

‘This is something we would like to put more money into. Here at the Unit of Gender Studies and at the Posthumanities Hub at TEMA, we’ve had several guest researchers who have paid for their visit out of their own pockets. Helping more of these people come here can help us become the epicentre for this type of research we’re aspiring to become. In addition, we will gain inspiration from the artists-/writers-in-residence as well as the still unknown research projects that will be funded within this critical-creative programme,’ says Åsberg and adds:

‘It’s so exciting!

Author Siri Reuterstrand
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