Woman, Nature, and Consciousness

English 498: Capstone Seminar in Ecofeminism

Professor Glynis Carr
Spring Semester 1999
Office: 207C Vaughan Literature Building
Office Hours: M, W, F 11-12 and by appointment
Phone: 524-3118 (Office); 524-1553 (Myrna Treston, secretary)
523-7487 (Home, not after 7 PM)

Required Texts: Available at campus bookstore

Course Description and Objectives:

Ecofeminism is a practical political movement addressing a broad range of urgent social and political problems, from pollution, health, and species extinction to economic development, militarism, racism, and sexual violence. Like all environmentalists, feminist ecologists are concerned with human relationships to the natural world and intent on discovering relationships--among human beings as well as between humans and non-human nature--that contribute to a healing, or healthy, planet. Ecofeminists differ from other environmentalists in their emphasis on the ways that "nature" has been envisioned as female (or feminine), the parallel and mutually reinforcing oppression of women and nature, and the ways that environmental problems and issues specifically affect women. Ecofeminists have various--and often conflicting--commitments to liberal, cultural, socialist, indigenous, and postmodern feminist theories.

This course has three major objectives: (1) to read widely in the ecofeminist literature; (2) to understand differences among the major feminist approaches to environmental issues; (3) to develop feminist ecocritical approaches to works of literature and art. As a senior capstone seminar, this course is also committed to the major learning objectives of the "Common Learning Agenda":

"Woman, Nature, and Consciousness" counts toward the capstone for Women's Studies majors as well as for the Common Learning Agenda. It is also a W-2 course. We will write frequently (at least every week), in and out of class, and treat writing as a process. Papers will be written in multiple drafts and students will receive feedback from me and from each other. Finally, for M.A. students in English, this course fulfills the theory requirement.

Class Format, Assignments, and Evaluation:

Attendance and Participation. The heart and soul of any seminar is cooperative and collegial discussion. Your job is to immerse yourself in the material and come to class prepared to share your original ideas, questions, and understandings. Because this is an interdisciplinary course to which students bring a variety of disciplinary perspectives, it is especially important to share our different points of view and concerns. Only then can the cross-fertilization of ideas that a course of this kind is designed to produce occur.

A note on preparation for class. The quality of any seminar is determined by the quality of engagement of its members. It should go without saying that you should complete all readings BEFORE class is scheduled to meet. You should also complete your journal-writing assignment, outlined below, which will prepare you to participate in discussion. Don't allow me (via my design of the course and selection of common reading) to control your sense of the field. Read on your own, pursuing your own interests and bringing new insights and resources back to the whole group. There is a wealth of informative and provocative ecofeminist writing that couldn't be placed on the syllabus. A selected bibliography will be distributed in class. Also, explore fields related to feminist and environmental studies: biology and the other natural sciences, history, economics, sociology, psychology, literature, philosophy, and cultural criticism, to name only a few.

Journals. Each week, students are expected to submit some writing in response to the assigned readings for class. Weekly journals should demonstrate that you have done the reading and given it some thought. There is no length requirement for this assignment; weekly journals may be as short as a single page and written in an informal style. They need not be typed, if you prefer, unless I can't read your handwriting. But do not misunderstand: weekly journals are a MAJOR ASSIGNMENT for this seminar. Ecofeminist questions are difficult, and feminist theory in general is not easily understood. Perseverence and careful attentiveness are required. Informal writing is one of the best ways to sort through difficult material and to discover one's own intellectual interests, priorities, and biases. I will use the weekly journals to stimulate our class discussions, sometimes reading from them aloud or duplicating extracts for the class. If you do not wish your work to be made public in this way, please tell me. I will return journals the next week, having checked them and commented briefly. SAVE YOUR WORK: at the end of the semester, students will resubmit journals in a well-organized packet for a letter grade.

Final Project. In lieu of a final exam, students will engage in a significant research paper, fieldwork project, or creative alternative. Students will choose their own topics and design appropriate research methodologies in consultation with me. Students may work collaboratively or individually, as desired. Most students will be most comfortable designing a research project that uses a well-defined disciplinary methodology, including fieldwork (for example, a literary critical analysis of ecofeminist poetry, an art historical analysis of women's landscape photography, a philosophical study of some problem in ecofeminism, a sociological study of ecofeminist activism, etc). Some students may decide to create art themselves. Creative projects are permitted in any media: literature, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. Because project design will vary, students will consult with me individually at several points during the semester. When the time comes to do writing, we will work with multiple drafts, give each other feedback, and otherwise treat writing as a process in line with expectations for a W-2 course.

The final grade will be distributed as follows: Attendance and participation, 25%; Journals 25%; Final project (including proposal, progress report, and drafts at 5% each) 50%.

Class Policies:

Schedule of Readings and Activities:

Week 1:
No class -- classes begin Jan. 13

Week 2: Jan. 18
Introduction to the class: Varieties of Ecofeminism
Read: Carolyn Merchant, "Ecofeminism" from Radical Ecology (1992); Val Plumwood, "Current Trends in Ecofeminism" (1992).
In-class video screening: "Ecofeminism Now!" produced by Greta Gaard

Week 3: Jan. 25
Liberal ecofeminism
Read: Rachel Carsen, Silent Spring (1962).

Week 4: Feb. 1
Cultural ecofeminism
Read: Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (1978)

Week 5: Feb. 8
Social ecofeminism
Read: Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1993)

Week 6: Feb. 15
Socialist ecofeminism
Read: Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminism (1993)

Week 7: Feb. 22
The ecofeminist novel
Read: Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres (1991)

Week 8: March 1
Literary Criticism
Read: Mary Carden, "Remembering/Engendering the Heartland: Sexed Language, Embodied Space, and America's Foundational Fictions in Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres" (1997)
Occupational Health
Read: "Our Work, Our World," from Body and Soul: The Black Woman's Guide to Physical Health and Emotional Well-being (1994); "Environmental and Occupational Health," from The New Our Bodies, Ourselves (1992)

Week 9: March 8

Week 10: March 15
Women and Adventure
In-class video screening: "Thelma and Louise," directed by Ridley Scott
Read: Ann Filemyr, "Going Outdoors and Other Dangerous Expeditions" (1997); Cheryl Glotfelty, "Femininity in the Wilderness: Reading Gender in Women's Guides to Backpacking" (1996).
Due: Proposal for Research Paper or Final Project

Week 11: March 22
Field Trip

Week 12: March 29
Read: Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group, Piecing It Together: Feminism and Nonviolence (1983)

Week 13: April 5
Read: Joy Kogawa, Obasan
Due: Progress Report for Research Paper or Final Project

Week 14: April 12
Read: Excerpts from Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet (1971); "Introduction" to Laurel's Kitchen; Carol Adams, "Ecofeminism and the Eating of Animals" (1996); Aviva Cantor, "The Club, the Yoke, and the Leash: What We Can Learn from the Way a Culture Treats Its Animals" (1983); Deb Slicer, "Your Daughter or Your Dog? A Feminist Assessment of the Animal Research Issue" (1996); Vera Norwood, "Writing Animal Presence: Nature in Euro-American, African American, and American Indian Fiction" (1993).

Weeks 14-15: April 19
Read: Naomi Wolf, Promiscuities (1997)

Week 16: April 26
Read: Excerpts from Wendy Chapkis, Beauty Secrets (1986)
Due: Draft-in-Progress for Research Paper or Final Project Course Evaluation; Housekeeping

Due at Time Specified by Registrar's Office: Research Paper or Final Project

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