A Conference on the “Humanities and Sustainability: Ecology in the Information Age”

For those of us interested in the idea of the “environmental humanities,” this conference will be important. Planetary thanks Professor Eric Otto of Florida Gulf Coast University for alerting us to it.

Humanities and Sustainability: Ecology in the Information Age

The Call for Papers for this conference.

Florida Gulf Coast University’s Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education, and Departments of Language & Literature and Communication & Philosophy are hosting FGCU’s first Humanities and Sustainability conference, to be held in Fort Myers, Florida on May 8th and 9th, 2009. Our goal is to encourage interdisciplinary conversations about the role of the humanities in both “the ecological era” and “the information age.”

The meaning of “Humanities and Sustainability” for this conference is twofold. First, it refers to the potential for humanities disciplines to address ecological issues, raise awareness and deepen knowledge about these issues, and take action in an age of environmental crisis–in short, to participate deeply in the ecological era. As the religion and ecology scholars Mary Evelyn Tucker and John A. Grim have noted, “The reality of the ecological crisis assaults us from many directions.” We see this reality in rapid population growth and land development, in shifting climate patterns and species extinction, and in lifestyles of consumption resulting in a general “nature deficit,” as Richard Louv deems it. Given the varied nature of this assault, environmental crisis and issues of sustainability can and must be discussed across the boundaries of fields traditionally associated with the ecological; and indeed, as a group of disciplines that examines language, philosophy, history, religion, and more, the humanities possesses some of the most important critical tools for the ecological era.

Second, the conference title refers to the sustainability of humanities disciplines themselves in the information age, as they have largely been eclipsed by science, technology, economics, and business-related fields. Since the end of World War II, cultural theorists have decried the same forces propelling the development boom and the culture of consumption for causing the deterioration of our cultural environment. Now the Western world faces the extremity of this deterioration. Western culture has largely been given over to what Jean Baudrillard calls the hyperreal. Communications technologies have become the medium and measure of reality. The televisual image has all but erased our relation to real events. Fort Myers, for example, owes its current popularity as a destination city to its total hyperrealization. Strip malls, superstores, super-malls, chain restaurants, chain stores, gated communities–there is nothing that is not simulacral, that is not a copy of a copy.

While Western thought has long granted the human a central position in the chain of being and the right to shape the world in its image, the centrality of the human in the information age is no longer a given. In fact, the works of theorists like Donna Haraway open the possibility that we who still call ourselves human are no longer such. Our technologies have advanced far beyond the rational animal and its dominant logics. So while the information age comes with its own forms of domination, it also comes with new possibilities for defining and shaping our relation to the world in a more ethical manner. The humanities is the natural domain for explorations into these possibilities.

FGCU’s Humanities and Sustainability conference will feature speakers who address either of these motivating issues, and who also find interesting ways to connect them.

Florida Gulf Coast University

FGCU opened its doors in 1997. The following statement introduces the emerging institution’s Guiding Principles: “The founding of Florida Gulf Coast University at the advent of a new century is a signal event. It comes at a moment in history when the conditions that formed and sustained American higher education are fundamentally changing, and at a time when rapid shifts wrought by technology and social complexities are altering the very nature of work, knowledge, and human relationships.” One of these Guiding Principles states that “Informed and engaged citizens are essential to the creation of a civil and sustainable society.” Through its commitment to service learning and interdisciplinarity, as well as to the protection of Southwest Florida’s wetlands, FGCU continues to uphold these principles in the face of ever-accelerating changes in its local and global environment. The Humanities and Sustainability Conference represents another effort in that direction. Through it, FGCU will provide a space for an international conversation on the future of the university and the humanities’ place within it.

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