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Applying the Environmental Humanities: Ten steps for action and implementation

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254
nvironmental crises today confront hu-
manity with complex challenges that
involve all aspects of society, from capital-
ism and finance, law and justice, poverty
and exclusion,to forced migration,globali -
zation, and artificial intelligence. For many
decades a rich scholarly literature has pro-
posed solutions to environmental problems.
While the “environmental sciences” are
rooted in the natural sciences, adding hu-
manities and social sciences perspectives
broadens the field into “environmental stud-
ies”. Under the umbrella of the “environ-
mental humanities” (EH), environmental
studies have recently gained new momen-
tum by strengthening the role of the hu-
manities and by developing new collabo-
ra tions among arts and design, indige -
nous peoples, social activists, and natural
sciences.
EH is a growing international move-
ment that has led to the establishment of
numerous new institutions, research ini-
tiatives, funding schemes, journals, and
teaching programs (Heise et al. 2017, Forêt
et al. 2014). Institutionalization, interna-
tional coordination, and the growth of hu-
manities-based environmental research
has led to a key question: what do applica -
tion and policy-orientation mean for the
humanities? We respond by introducing an
EH-based understanding of the science-
society nexus, and by reviewing initiatives
that deploy EH perspectives in academia,
at the science-society interface, and in so-
ciety. The article builds on a recent report
of the saguf Working Group of Environmen-
tal Humanities funded by the Swiss Acad-
emy of Humanities and Social Sciences
(Kueffer et al. 2017). The report reflects
saguf’s vision of the role of the humani-
ties in moving beyond disseminating sci-
entists’ achievements and studying how
non-scientists perceive and sometimes re-
sist scientific findings (Wäger et al. 2014,
Stauffacher et al. 2013).
Rethinking the Science-Society Nexus
EH tests the compatibility of action- and
policy-oriented objectives with epistemol-
ogy and methodology in the humanities.
The fine arts, humanities, and social scienc -
es value pluralism and reflexivity, and use
context, rhetoric and diverse forms of evi -
dence as key notions that facilitate and cel-
ebrate multiple perspectives. This may re-
quire that we highlight rather than simpli -
fy the complexity of our relationship with
nature. We may question the priority that
the environmental sciences have granted
to overarching syntheses and universal so-
lutions. Rather than searching for the short-
est path to the best solution to problems that
have already been identified, problem-solv-
ing may involve open, exploratory, and ex-
perimental processes. EH scholars empha-
size that we must learn to better appreci-
ate a problem’s intractability. As a conse-
quence, EH scholars may value a Socrat-
ic dialogue that promotes questions as well
as answers. This attitude does not easily
align with definitions of “applied science
that the environmental sciences use to
solve specific problems and reach pre-de-
©2018 C.Kueffer et al.; licensee oekom verlag.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution License
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0),
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction
in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Environmental issues require answers from
science, society, and culture. How can we apply
the humanities and arts to these issues while
cultivating methodologies that value context-dependence,
multiperspectivity,relativism, and subjectivity?
E
Applying the Environmental Humanities |GAIA 27/2(2018): 254 –256
Keywords: arts and sciences, environmental problem-solving, environmental studies, humanities, interdisciplinary studies, transdisciplinarity
Contact authors: Prof.Dr.Christoph Kueffer |
HSR Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil |
Oberseestr. 10 |8640 Rapperswil |Switzerland |
kueffer@env.ethz.ch
Prof. Dr. Philippe Forêt |Ludwig-Maximilians-Uni ver-
sität München |Rachel Carson Center |Society of
Fellows |Munich |Germany |pforet@bluewin.ch
PD Dr.Marcus Hall |University of Zurich |
Institute of Evolutionary Biology and
Environ mental Studies |Zurich |Switzerland |
marc.hall@ieu.uzh.ch
Prof. Dr.Caroline Wiedmer |Franklin University
Switzerland |Department of Literature and Cul-
ture |Lugano |Switzerland |cwiedmer@fus.edu
Contact saguf: saguf office |Dr.Manuela Di Giulio |
ETH Zentrum CHN |8092 Zurich|Switzerland |
saguf@env.ethz.ch |www.saguf.ch
Christoph Kueffer, Philippe Forêt,
Marcus Hall, Caroline Wiedmer
Applying the
Environmental Humanities
COMMUNICATIONS |MITTEILUNGEN
schweizerische akademische
gesellschaft für
umwelt forschung und ökologie
societé académique suisse pour la recherche
sur l’environ nement et l’écologie
swiss academic society for
environmental research and ecology
254_256_saguf 16.07.18 16:27 Seite 254
GAIA 27/2(2018): 254– 256
255COMMUNICATIONS |MITTEILUNGENsaguf
established a network of “open living labs”;4
Humanities for the Environment (HfE) has
launched a network of observatories called
Archive of Hope and Cautionary Tales; 5and
World of Matters is an open access archive
on the global ecologies of resource exploi -
tation and circulation.6
A Transdisciplinary Laboratory Where
Alternative Perspectives and Media
Converge
The undisciplined knowledge7of EH trans-
gresses simplistic dichotomies and racial
boundaries, often embracing relativism,
marginal sciences, and subjective practices
such as empathy, experiential knowledge,
and experimental creativity. Such episte -
mol ogies require novel forums for knowl-
edge co-production between science and
society. A few recent examples help us
make our point.
The Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)
in Berlin has run a successful Anthropo -
cene Curriculum project for several years.8
Recently several hundred scholars and stu-
dents from various fields and professions
interacted for nine days at two large-scale
Anthropocene Campuses. The Artists in
Labs program of Zurich has facilitated art -
ists’ residences in scientific teams,9and we
can imagine scientists spending time at art -
ists’ ateliers. These interactions may lead to
public events such as the Zurich Laser se-
ries in which artists and scientists discuss
a topic in public.10
Artistic and cultural environments, such
as museums, theatres or films,11 approach
an issue through slow, deep, and nuanced
analysis. The Anthropocene Slam of Madi-
son12 and Bruno Latour’s theatre plays on
climate change policies (Gaia Global Cir-
cus and Cosmocoloss: A Global Climate Trag-
ic Comedy13) illustrate this approach. We
also see an increase in the use of graphic
novels and animations to depict complex
societal issues.14 A skillful story excels at
empowering listeners and involving a va-
riety of audiences. An example is Climate
Garden 2085,15 a public experiment de-
signed in Zurich in 2016 to share with the
public stories about climate change; this
future-garden installation included talks
by scientists, art performances, and the-
atre for children. >
fined objectives. Environmental human-
ists acknowledge and embrace uncertain-
ty, subjectivity and relational knowledge.
In challenging the ways in which environ-
mental knowledge is produced and con-
sumed, EH solicits the participation of in-
digenous communities, affected peoples,
and marginalized peoples including some
scientists while promoting participatory,
transdisciplinary, real-word lab and action
research. In order to succeed, EH scholars
pay attention to the semiotics of knowl-
edge and its social, cultural, psychological,
emotional, and aesthetic dimensions. En-
vironmental humanists also appreciate
and utilize multiple media, ranging from
film, visual and performance art, writing
and song, to exhibitions, stories, design,
and social events.
To enrich deliberations at the science-
society nexus, the EH employ several strat -
egies, which we present below: 1. Chal-
lenge existing institutions and paradigms.
2. Contribute to transdisciplinary forums
that enable the co-production of knowledge
between science and society. 3. Engage so-
ciety in more egalitarian and nuanced ways.
4. Promote academic education at the in-
tersections of the humanities, arts, and
environmental sciences.
Integrating EH Perspectives into the
Existing Academic System
Critical perspectives from EH can help re-
view, develop or replace existing science-
policy bodies (Turnhout et al. 2012). For
this to happen, humanists and artists
must sit on steering committees, research
councils, and expert panels, such as those
that advise the IPCC, IPBES, Future Earth,
or WBGU.1They must join groups of ex-
perts at the national and local levels who
examine issues that transcend the natural
sciences, such as biodiversity loss, climate
change, energy transition, water manage-
ment, food security, soil protection, urban
and spatial planning, green economy, and
sustainability.
EH builds on long-established critical
perspectives within the humanities to chal-
lenge many paradigms in environmental
research, such as dualistic thinking, anthro-
pocentrism and human exceptionalism,
generalized systems analysis, and unidi-
mensional problem-framings. Acknowl -
edg ing diversity of understandings in such
fields as invasion biology or Anthropocene
studies has led to innovations and discov-
eries (e.g., Kull et al. 2018, Lorimer 2017).
Novel and useful outcomes can emerge, as
demonstrated by the project Justainability
of KTH Royal Institute of Technology in
Stockholm, that has employed the notion
of environmental justice and the involve-
ment of grassroots initiatives to reframe
sustainability.2
In the sustainability sciences, and for in-
tergovernmental organizations and social
movements, the international networking
of local case studies has been a dominant
strategy to bridge local and global scales.3
EH can enrich such multi-scalar network-
ing with its own experiences: European Net-
work of Living Labs (ENoLL) has for example
1www.ipcc.ch,www.ipbes.net,www.futureearth.org,www.wbgu.de
2https://www.kth.se/en/abe/inst/philhist/historia/ehl/projects/justainability
3 See, e.g., http://unsdsn.org,IUCN’s World Environmental Hubs, www.rcenetwork.org,
transitionnetwork.org,goodanthropocenes.net
4www.openlivinglabs.eu
5https://hfe-observatories.org
6www.worldofmatter.net
7www.ces.uc.pt/undisciplined-environments
8www.anthropocene-curriculum.org
9www.artistsinlabs.ch
10 www.laserzurich.com
11 https://www.globalecofilmfestival.com(figure 1, p. 256),
www.carsoncenter.uni-muenchen.de/events_conf_seminars/contentbox-green-vision/index.html
12 http://nelson.wisc.edu/che/anthroslam
13 https://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/sendungen/hoerspiel-und-medienkunst/
hoerspiel-latour-kosmokoloss-klima-erdball100.html
14 www.larevuedessinee.fr
15 https://blogs.ethz.ch/klimagarten
254_256_saguf 16.07.18 16:27 Seite 255
GAIA 27/2(2018): 254– 256
256 sagufCOMMUNICATIONS |MITTEILUNGEN
Engaging Society
Environmental humanists are aware that
the line between objectivity and engage-
ment (or non-engagement), and between
facts and values is blurry or non-existent
and can be negotiated in different ways.
They have broadened their options and
ideas by including communities or coun-
tries whose voices have been silenced, and
by assuming leading roles in advocacy and
activism. They have complemented inves-
tigative journalism, uncovered the strate-
gies of climate change deniers, and exposed
the interest groups that attempt to weaken
evidence and promote fake or alternative
truths. Various scholars have led direct ac-
tions, while others have contributed to a
better understanding of effective forms of
activism. Communities have tapped re-
searchers’ expertise and have become in-
volved in university projects, such as the
policy briefs and handbooks of the ENTI-
TLE Network,16 or the Ecological Economics
from the Ground Up handbook and online
courses of EJOLT (Environmental Justice Or-
ganisations, Liabilities and Trade).17 Curated
blogs are another tool to engage a public
audience.18 Examples of activist research
can be seen in the Militant Research pro-
gram at New York University19 or in art ist
Aviva Rahmani’s Blue Trees Symphony.20 Art -
ists’ and filmmakers’ work have accompa-
nied the Dakota Access Pipeline struggle.21
Teaching
Educational activities offer great potential
for applying EH. At many universities, stu-
dents in the humanities, fine arts and so-
cial sciences do not have access to training
in environmental issues. In return, EH per-
spectives could be added to core curricula
and made mandatory in the natural scienc -
es and engineering. Through their reflex-
ive tools, the EH are superbly positioned to
develop interdisciplinary courses (Eigen-
brode et al. 2007). A critical humanist and
an ecologist have recently attracted stu-
dents from both architecture and the envi -
ronmental sciences to a class they co-taught
at ETH Zurich (Scott and Kueffer 2018).
To reflect on urban ecology and planning,
they used theory in the humanities, arts,
and ecology, while exploring with their stu-
dents new approaches to science, design,
and public policy. There is also a need to
prepare the next generation for social and
environmental entrepreneurship.22 By em-
bracing challenges that define the 21st cen-
tury, humanists are in a crucial position to
contribute to teaching programs on such
themes as social justice and sustainabili-
ty.23
Conclusions
Responses to environmental problems are
primarily social and cultural issues. In the
coming decades, and much faster than we
believe, we will need to fundamentally
change our ways of thinking, belief sys-
tems, social interactions, and economic
structures. Our cultural norms have until
now been rooted in false assumptions of
endless resources and accepted interna-
tional inequalities. We must design new
conventions to build a fair and global soci -
ety that reckons with a finite planet while
negotiating multiple crises. This extraordi-
nary transition demands that we question
the current framing of expert knowledge
in order to develop forms of knowledge
production, representation, and use that
are more inclusive, diverse, and action-
driven. EH aims to utilize methodologies,
epistemologies and values from across the
range of human experience to understand
and address our environmental problems.
In a time of fake news and environmental
inaction, it is high time to enlarge our set
of skills to take full advantage of our talents
and creativities.
References
Eigenbrode, S.D. et al. 2007. Employing
philsophical dialogue in collaborative science.
Bioscience 57/1: 55– 64.
Forêt, P., M. Hall, C. Kueffer. 2014. Developing the
environmental humanities: A Swiss
perspective. GAIA 23/1: 67– 69.
Heise, U.K., J. Christensen, M. Niemann (Eds.).
2017. The Routledge companion to the environ-
mental humanities. London: Routledge.
Kueffer, C., K. Thelen Lässer, M. Hall. 2017.
Applying the environmental humanities: Ten steps
for action and implementation. Bern: Swiss
Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Kull, C.A. et al. 2018. Using the “regime shift”
concept in addressing social-ecological
change. Geographical Research 56/1: 26 – 41.
Lorimer, J.2017. The Anthropo-scene: A guide for the
perplexed. Social Studies of Science 47/1:117 – 142.
Scott, E.E., C. Kueffer. 2018. Concrete jungles:
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Turnhout, E., B. Bloomfield, M. Hulme, J. Vogel,
B. Wynne. 2012. Listen to the voices of
experience. Nature 488: 454 – 455.
Stauffacher, M. et al. 2013. Engagement für inter-
und transdisziplinäre Forschung zur nach -
haltigen Entwicklung. GAIA 22/2: 142– 144.
Wäger, P., O. Ejderyan, F. Schmid, M. Stauffacher,
C. Zingerli. 2014. The roles of social sciences
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natural resources. GAIA 23/2: 142– 144.
FIGURE 1: Global Eco
Film Festival in Zurich:
film can be a medium
that facilitates delibera-
tions about environ-
mental issues among
scientists, students,
artists, humanists,
and the public.
16 www.politicalecology.eu/publications
17 www.ejolt.org/2013/05/ecological-economics-from-the-ground-up
18 http://geschichtedergegenwart.ch
19 visualculturenow.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/MRH_Web.pdf
20 www.ghostnets.com/projects/blued_trees_symphony/blued_trees_symphony.html
21 See, e. g., https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/movies/standing-rock-sioux-tribe-filmmakers.html?_r=0
22 See, e. g., www.kaospilots.ch, www.sciencespo.fr/public/en/academics/master-arts-politics
23 See, e. g., https://www.fus.edu/academics/undergraduate-programs/majors/social-justice-and-sustainability
© Samer Angelone
254_256_saguf 16.07.18 16:27 Seite 256
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