Spring Term 2013: Session 4

'Caring' for the Environment: Notes Towards a New Materialist Critique

Dr Adeline Johns-Putra

6-8pm, Wednesday 27th February
Room G35, Senate House, Bloomsbury

This talk offers a theorization of the ethic of care that is often invoked in the name of environmental sustainability and specifically eco-feminism: care for the nonhuman environment enfolded with a concern for our human descendants. I consider this environmentalist ethic of care through the ontological project of new materialism currently associated with the work of Karen Barad and Timothy Morton, among others. Attending to the new materialist tendency to discuss ontology as agency and to conceive of being in terms of becoming, I propose that care too has to be discerned as always becoming, that it is to be considered—to invoke Heidegger—not as ontic but as ontological. And yet, pace Heidegger, I suggest that, in an environmental ethics of care, care is more fruitfully thought of not as a condition for ontology (as in Heidegger’s Sorge or “worry”) but as itself deserving of ontological query. In other words, care is not the means by which agency and action occur; it is itself agential. Such a reconsideration of care has profound implications for current environmental care ethics and its representation in contemporary literature, in which the conceptualisation of care as static, grounded and stable often results in unproductive discussions about who cares more (men or women?) and what objects of care should be prioritized (human or nonhuman? future or current generations? charismatic or uncharismatic? mega or microfauna?).

Suggested preparatory reading

Karen Barad, 'Posthumanist Performativity: Towards an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter', Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, 28.3, 801-831, available

Dr Adeline Johns-Putra is Reader in English Literature and English Subject Leader at the University of Surrey. She is author of Heroes and Housewives: Women’s Epic Poetry and Domestic Ideology in the Romantic Age (Peter Lang, 2001) and The History of the Epic (Palgrave, 2006). Her current research takes her Romanticist interests in another direction, that of landscape and the environment, both in the nineteenth century and in contemporary literature. She was co-investigator, with geographer Professor Catherine Brace, on the AHRC-funded network, ‘Understanding Landscape through Creative Auto-ethnographies’. With Professor Brace, Adeline has co-edited an interdisciplinary volume of essays entitled Process: Landscape and Text (Rodopi, 2010). She is now part of a major interdisciplinary project, funded by the European Social Fund. Called ‘From Climate to Landscape: Imagining the Future’, the project involves ecologists, geographers and literary scholars in comparative analyses of scientific, social and cultural imaginings of climate change. Adeline is currently co-writing a monograph, with Dr. Adam Trexler, on contemporary literary representations of climate change.

All are welcome to attend.

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