Where is the passion?

I’m taking a break from the conference to come to my room, enjoy some peace and quiet, and reflect on the sessions so far. My panel members and I (who will present tomorrow) find ourselves wishing for something a little different. I am not as engaged in this conference as I would like to be. I know exactly why: many papers are theoretical, with very little storytelling and even less emotion.

Feelings—the bugaboo of the Western academy, the thing that must be purged from information in order for it to become “knowledge.” So strong has been the taboo in Western philosophy and science against expressing feelings, especially feelings for the earth, that people of great heart—as I know many of these presenters are—now have little language with which to communicate their depth of passion for the earth and the crisis that we are now experiencing. One presenter even said this explicitly: “Where is the compelling language,” she asked, “that will move people to action?” It wasn’t, she implied, to be found in that room.

Tomorrow my panel members and I will tell stories. Our session will be (I expect) very different from ones I’ve attended so far.

I did enjoy parts of the keynote yesterday by Bron Taylor, the president and founder of the society hosting this conference. Bron said, among other things, that veneration of nature “is growing so rapidly that we may be seeing the start of a global civic earth religion.”

In the meantime, I’m enjoying downtown Amsterdam, changeable weather and all. First it rains, then it shines, then it does both at the same time. I caved and bought an umbrella this morning, but only after getting soaked. Of course it was mostly sunny after that.

Here are a few of my favorite scenes so far, uncropped and untouched (for lack of time). First, a scene from a canal near the museums:

Canal near the Leidesplein

A tiny street one block up from that canal, where I ate a Thai lunch:

Lunch spot

Finally, a small courtyard at the university just outside the meeting rooms. How lovely, after wandering a gritty, noisy city for a couple of days—and then sitting indoors in classrooms—to lounge on a bench and gaze at roses and trees!

University courtyard

Update at midnight: At dinner tonight our panel members gathered to do last-minute planning for our session tomorrow. We compared this conference with the previous one, in Morelia, Mexico. Why did some of us feel more engaged at the previous one? Linda Hogan made an astute comment: The topics of the conferences are different. This one’s theme is “Progress,” which gets everyone thinking in linear patterns. The previous one was “Re-enchantment of the World,” which opened up more possibilities for talking about connecting with nature. All I know is I’ve never before this week seen so many speakers present four-quadrant theoretical typologies. I suppose such typologies are useful, but they’re not my method of choice for increasing our connection with the rest of nature. . . .

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6 Responses to Where is the passion?

  1. I so agree! Personal stories mean SHOWING the importance of issues in a manner that people connect with, frame with their own experiences, and want to become a part of. TELLING, which is often what science does, feels too much like a lecture–while it can be factually interesting, it doesn’t engage the emotions in the same way.

  2. Ian Jamison says:July 25, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    What very perceptive comments on the limitations of much of the conference: but it has to be said, congratulations to all of you for redressing the balance so effectively! That session was the best one of the conference, and one that I found really inspiring on all sorts of levels.

  3. Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 26, 2009 at 1:00 am

    Rosemary, it often comes down to that first guideline of good writing–show, don’t tell–doesn’t it? Ian, great to meet you here (at the conference), and thanks for your lovely write-up of the panel.

  4. I’m so happy to read this, Priscilla. What an inspiration!

  5. Hystery says:July 28, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Priscilla, I’m really passionate about research methodology and have been since the chair of my doctoral committee insisted that I read Ruth Behar’s Vulnerable Observer. Since then, I can’t get enough of this conversation about how we approach our material, how we learn, how we express what we learn, and how we justify our knowledge. Standpoint theory is among my favorite approaches in academic writing. The great western (patriarchal) fear of subjectivity (which we really only pretend to avoid) has divorced the process of inquiry from too many important sources of knowledge (especially those associated with the feminine). Empathy, embodiment, experience– these too can teach us. Acknowledgment of subjectivity and the particularities and peculiarities of an individual’s knowing flies in the face of older systems of knowledge gathering and codification of that knowledge. When we accept our vantage points as unique, we are more likely to be open to other voices, to more complex truths, and less likely to subsume other realities into our own for the sake of tidy theories. It also seems to me that when our intellectual creativity is immersed in soulfulness and honesty, what we produce has greater depth, relevance and energy. But then I look at the world through the lens of storytelling. I find the greatest truths there.

  6. Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:August 3, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks, Katherine, for letting me know you connected. Hystery, I couldn’t agree with you more! I haven’t read Behar but am now inspired to find her. My training in feminist theory, with its emphasis on situated knowledges (Donna Haraway) has been crucial for me in coming to a friendlier relationship with nature. If knowing resides in particular places, it is in us–in bodies, in feelings, in stories. One of the points I made in a recent academic paper about animism is that it can be communicated only through story rather than through abstract principles, because only story can convey relationships. Thanks for your insights!