Strategies for Ecological Humanities: Pedagogy, Planetarity, Axiology, and Spirituality

Victoria Sicilia

Pedagogy

How do we develop modes of education to equip future generations to face challenges still unknown? The SNC lab seeks to foster “pedagogical experimentation and innovation” in humanities and social science departments.  My presentation reflects upon Amelia Jorgensen‟s discussion of pathways towards socially just pedagogies by co-transforming existing unjust pedagogical practices. For Jorgensen, pedagogical transformation is enveloped in educational social justice, which requires teachers and students to take part in “resisting the reproduction of oppressive discourses in pedagogical practices.” She encourages scholars to move beyond critical theorization and postulate ways that actual change can be made. This forms the basis of my discussion, as I will outline various ways socially just pedagogies can be incorporated into learning environments, in order to foster the growth of critical thinkers as leaders in an everchanging global environment which demands proactive criticality.

Donald Macedo, in an introduction for Freire‟s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, mentions that the very term “pedagogy” has Greek roots, meaning “to lead a child.” My presentation questions how our processes of teaching as leadership may be challenged and transformed into collaborative experiences between teachers and students.

Victoria Sicilia is a PhD student in the Cultural Studies at Queen‟s University, having recently completed her MA thesis fieldwork in the Malabar region at the University of Calicut in Kerala, India. Her research is centered upon the visible and invisible impacts of gender differentiating ideology for Malayalam women in Kerala. In her doctoral work, she examines how this ideology has resulted in growing numbers of suicide and violence against women in the region, despite subsequent staggering growth in education and physical health. She will explore the ways in which various socialization processes, including in residential and educational spheres, have contributed to the inculcation of patriarchal mindsets that are firmly embedded in the foundation of Malabar society. She is to investigate how these mindsets are intrinsically canonized, creating societal, dominantly male, intransigence. Her research will explicate how and why women in Kerala possess the highest physical health index in the country, yet, simultaneously hold the lowest mental health index.

Rohit Revi

Planetarity

Technological conditions of the late 20th century, central to the historical formation of the postindustrial global capitalism, have also resulted in an increased centralization of geopolitical power, invasive developments in technocratic surveillance, massive differences in wealth distribution, threat of nuclear war and unprecedented ecological/environmental degradation – all critical challenges to our hopes for a peaceful planetary existence. Even as technology and nature exist fragmented in traditional European continental philosophy, the current challenges necessitate a focus on mutual entanglement of human-technological-natural conditions.

This presentation will introduce Bernard Stiegler‟s notion of epiphylogenesis, as a concept relevant to this problem of embedding technology within our planetary imagination. Stiegler centralizes the role of technology in the very processes of human evolution on Earth. In addition to genetic and epigenetic memories, he models a third kind of human memory, the epiphylogenetic memory, one that is accumulated within technical objects and transmitted across human generations through tool-use. For him, human evolution is a point within planetary evolution, where biological life (zoē) ties itself epiphylogenetically onto tools (technē). Technological dystopia is often only imagined as a lost world where ecological degradation and human suffering are actualized in a displaced future. Epiphylogenesis, however, forces us to imagine it is an ongoing reality, where every investment in every technology influences the very future and quality of life on earth.

Rohit Revi is a PhD Candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen‟s University. He completed his MA in Society and Culture at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, India. His Masters dissertation described the technology-driven deterioration of the condition of labour under neoliberal capitalism, and focused on a contradiction inherent to the contemporary techno-solutionist drive. He is currently interested in contemporary critical theory, environmental politics and philosophy of technology.

Golam Rabbani

Spirituality

What does it mean to be a human in the contemporary ecological crisis?   Can spiritual virtues be cultivated in conditions of ecological precarity?

In the 21st century, traditional Eastern spiritual practices are often transformed into products of globalizing consumer culture.  Neoliberal capitalist agendas have reduced the practices of South Asian spirituality to „six-pack yogis‟, „muscle-making meditations‟, and „nutrition gurus‟. These practices seem to elude a true spiritual understanding of the self, silent retreat, or inner reflection. While questioning the implications of depictions of South Asian spiritual practices in the global spiritual marketplace, my presentation explores Baul spirituality as a retreat from consumerist spirituality and a bond between spirituality and nature. Bauls are a heterogeneous group of people from Bengal which includes the state of West Bengal in India and the country of Bangladesh. Bauls are mystic singers, and a major part of their esoteric and devotional songs, as well as their unique meditative practices, concentrates on the understanding of self through nature. This paper will address and examine the research of experts on Baul theory and argue that their spiritual music and meditations are eco-centric. The paper will also draw the arguments on anthropocentrism and consumerist spirituality and investigate how Bauls‟ eco-centric spirituality can cultivate the values of spirituality in the twenty-first century.

Golam Rabbani is a PhD student in Cultural Studies at Queen‟s University. He taught cultural theory and literature and worked as a researcher in universities for over seven years in Bangladesh. He has a variety of research interests including Baul literature and music, ethnomusicology, mysticism and erotic mysticism, cognitive approaches to literature, ecocriticism and ecomusicology, postcolonial theory and literature, American literature, literary and cultural theory, and popular culture. His research critically examines the philosophical songs, music and practices of Baul community, a somewhat marginalised community of mystic minstrels and folk singers in Bangladesh. The project presents an intersection of literature, ethnomusicology, esoteric and mystic philosophy, and popular culture. Some of his recent publications and conference papers discuss ecocritical and cognitive thoughts and activities in Baul song-lyrics and culture, body and
soul in novels on neuroscience, evolutionary criticism and Darwinism in American novels, pedophilia and voyeurism in films, and expressionism and naturalism in theatrical plays.

Joshua Noiseux

Axiology

The value systems that predominate in the West fail to account for the fact that human prosperity ultimately depends on ecological flourishing.  It is therefore imperative that we take steps to adopt functional and sustainable value systems. This must start with a critical axiology that interrogates existing values to uncover and challenge their root assumptions.

This presentation considers Deleuze and Guattari‟s notion of the axiomatic in order to illuminate the mechanics of the dominating arch-value of our time, capitalism. For D&G, the capitalist axiomatic refers to the set of basic principles which undergird and perpetuate capitalism’s unslakable profit-seeking, and which work in part by dismantling and repurposing pre-existing value structures. Recognizing the gulf between the capitalist axiomatic and a value system that would see ecological flourishing as integral to human success, I consider some of the ways that the capitalist axiomatic might be subverted, transformed, and transcended in order to achieve this. I theorize that an alternative axiomatic, modelled on the Madhyamaka Buddhist understanding of compassion, might challenge the capitalist imperative towards the extraction of profit.

Joshua Noiseux is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen‟s University. He completed his MA at Trent‟s Theory, Culture, and Politics program, with a thesis on the American and Israeli militaries‟ engagement with Deleuzean philosophy and its implications for their practices of strategy. Joshua’s emerging doctoral research attempts to synthesize various iterations of the concept of “reciprocal presupposition”, “mutual-enaction”, and “co-dependence” across continental philosophy, cognitive science, and Mahayana Buddhism, with specific respect to their participation in the development of non-linear concepts of causality, agency, and ecology. The core hypothesis of the project is that reciprocal models of causality can help provide ecologically constructive ways to think and experience agency as living-together with the world.