Thursday, March 20, 2008

CFP: Women and Agriculture

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society has issued a call for papers on Women and Agriculture.

The submission deadline is May 1, 2008.

Special Issue: Women and Agriculture

As agriculture becomes increasingly globalized, feminist concerns about women and agriculture revolve around issues of food security, social justice, and sustainability. Women across the globe have always played major roles in agricultural production, contributing substantially to food production and food security. Women produce almost half the world's food, but they often work in difficult conditions with low pay and inadequate access to land and capital. In developing countries women produce 60 to 80 percent of food, but their work has often been discounted. Recently war, HIV/AIDS, and migration of men have contributed to a feminization of agricultural labor in many regions of the world. Despite women's considerable role in agricultural production, they are markedly absent at the policy level in multinational corporations, international institutions, and national and state governments that determine directions for agriculture. Women are also underrepresented in agricultural science, which plays a crucial role in shaping the future of agriculture.

The intersections of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and nationality are, and have been historically, central to the politics of agriculture, structuring who produces food, who benefits from this global food system, and who eats. Women agriculturalists in the Global South are particularly vulnerable to free trade agreements that advantage agribusiness in Western nations.

Women's resistance to the increasing globalization and corporatization of food include forming women's agricultural networks, working for fair trade, supporting organic agriculture, improving animal health and welfare, and contesting genetically modified organisms. Scholarship on women farmers raises fascinating theoretical debates on women's bodies, multiple identities, and technologies. Feminist science studies address issues of genetically engineered food and women's agricultural knowledge and seed saving.

For this special issue we invite international, transnational, and comparative studies of women and agriculture; submissions that engage feminist theoretical and historical analyses of women and agriculture; and analyses of racial, ethnic, and gendered dimensions of agriculture. We seek manuscripts on women and sustainable agriculture, on women in leadership and decision-making positions, and in feminist science studies pertaining to women's knowledge and changing agricultural practices.

Carolyn Sachs, Professor of Rural Sociology and Women's Studies, Penn State University, United States, and Margaret Alston, Professor of Social Work and Human Services and Director of the Centre for Rural Social Research, Charles Sturt University, Australia, will serve as guest editors of the special issue on women and agriculture.

The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2008.

More submission info here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

CFP: Canadian SWIP 2008

The deadline for submissions to the next C-SWIP is coming up! Well, it would have been today, but it's been extended by almost a week, March 18.

Cate Hundleby had scheduled Val Plumwood as the keynote speaker, but due to Plumwood's recent death, has found another exciting speaker: Marilyn Frye, from Michigan State. Dr. Fry will be giving a talk titled "Kinds of People: 'Don't label me, I'm just a person!'"

The theme for the conference is "Reason, Activism, and Change" and it will be held at the University of Windsor, October 3-5, 2008.

C-SWIP is always a very fun and intellectually stimulating conference! You need not be Canadian to attend, though it helps if you like Canadians.

More info is available here.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


When I'm not teaching philosophy, one of the things I do is study presettlement-era forests in western New York. During the coming quarter I expect to be doing more of that, so in anticipation I've collected a few items on trees:

For one, I keep up with the policy debate over the Bush Administrations "Healthy Forests Initiative" which pays lip service to selective logging. If done right selective logging could decrease the frequency, intensity, and extent of wildfires. But the initiative has been used as an excuse to log (lucrative) areas which would otherwise be off-limits. For instance, since it gives priority to logging in national forests at the "wildland/urban interface," huge remote areas have received that designation. (Read more here.) In December, though, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals suspended the policy that has allowed logging in national forests without environmental review on the basis that the policy violated the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act. (NEPA is the legislation that requires that management of public land include public input.)

There is a blog carnival, Festival of the Trees, and the March edition celebrates orchards.

My favorite tree blogs are:
Tree Species: Exploring the world of trees
Arboreality: About trees, forests, and wood
The Forest Protection Blog

And here are some more general plant and ecology blogs:
Talking Plants, on NPR
Invasive Species

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bullshitting and Brainstorming

Thanks again to Philosoraptor for recommending an article on BS’ing by Kerry Walters in Teaching Philosophy.

The article does discuss the doubts that were raised for me in reading Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” with my class. I was disturbed that the students 1.) thought that philosophy was a perfect example of bullshit; and 2.) thought that all the writing assignments they are expected to do in their liberal arts classes are best satisfied by bullshit—in fact, that they can only be satisfied by bullshit.

My interpretation of this second claim was that Frankfurt defines bullshitting as speaking about something that you know little about or giving an opinion about something when you aren’t really committed to what you say. When you aren’t an expert on a subject, you just spin together the few thoughts that you do have and try to construct them so that they satisfy the questioner. BUT that is exactly what learners have to do all the time. They try out views before they are experts, and this exercise is part of what helps them build skills while increasing their expertise.

Moreover, this applies to a lot of original thought—not just for college students, but for professionals, too. Say I have an idea. In order to test whether it’s a good idea or not, I often have to put quite some amount of work into writing it up. Along the way, the idea changes. This does not mean, though, that I was bullshitting all along. It’s the normal course of development for new ideas—a writer goes through stages from less to more commitment. Hopefully, by the time I’m done, I’m convinced. And this development is true not only of philosophy or only of the liberal arts. In science, too, an experiment may start with one hypothesis, but as the data are collected, they suggest a slightly different and more interesting question.

Walters describes how the bullshitter and the brainstormer can appear, at the level of behavior, to be identical. The bullshitter may even be better at philosophical discussion—precisely because there is no inner conflict. She is what Walters calls a “rhetorical robot.” Both are ready to defend a position and then to change their minds. Both can appear to be engaged and excited and enjoying themselves. But the bullshitter has a (merely) rhetorical aim, while the brainstormer is engaged in a deeper intellectual challenge.

In my class, I struggled to reconcile two kinds of bullshit. On the one hand, there are students who bullshit. (Now, I’m not talking about the ones that feel as though they have to bullshit no matter what they do, but the ones who knowingly, intentionally, write fluff with as little intellectual effort as possible.) On the other hand, I have colleagues whom I know—without a doubt—are bullshitting. Some of them have bullshitted their way to elite academic careers.

These are the ones who disagree with my commitment to philosophy’s practical use in problem solving. To them, philosophy is a game. A difficult but thrillingly competitive rhetorical game. They excel at strategy but could just as easily have taken philosophical stances opposite to the ones they've published.

What I didn’t understand was the connection between these two kinds of bullshitters. The student type—typically—bullshits because it's easy but would rather be doing just about anything besides philosophy. On the other hand, some of my colleagues (at other universities, I should add) are very passionate about philosophy. They work long, hard hours at it. They speak with delight about what “shark tanks” their departments are. Though their product is insincere, they are not taking the easy way out!

Walters connects the dots. He says these kinds of philosophers are “intellectual robots”:
“…it may be the case that habitual bullshitters who wind up buying their own rhetoric graduate from rhetorical to intellectual robotry. After all, young bullshitters must grow up sooner or later. When they do, we sometimes call them academics.”

Friday, March 07, 2008

Val Plumwood

Val Plumwood, an influential philosopher, ecofeminist, and activist died on February 28. Author of many articles and book chapters and four books, her latest was Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (2001).

She will be remembered for her contributions to a distinctively feminist, anti-patriarchical and anti-hierarchical philosophy of environmental encounter. She argued that Western forms of reason--scientific, economic, and instrumental--are the root cause of an ecological destruction that will eventually end our species. Her philosophical views can be experienced through her personal retelling of her near-fatal encounter with a crocodile. This riveting story illustrates an understanding of humans as potential prey, and the attack caused her to review how she thought of humans' place in nature:
This concept of human identity [as separate from nature] positions humans outside and above the food chain, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters of it: Animals can be our food, but we can never be their food. The outrage we experience at the idea of a human being eaten is certainly not what we experience at the idea of animals as food. The idea of human prey threatens the dualistic vision of human mastery in which we humans manipulate nature from outside, as predators but never prey. We may daily consume other animals by the billions, but we ourselves cannot be food for worms and certainly not meat for crocodiles. This is one reason why we now treat so inhumanely the animals we make our food, for we can not imagine ourselves similarly positioned as food. We act as if we live in a separate realm of culture in which we are never food, while other animals inhabit a different world of nature in which they are no more than food, and their lives can be utterly distorted in the service of this end.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Science and the Election

Will the presidential candidates debate each other on science and technology issues?

The invitation to join in a Science Debate for 2008 has been signed by MANY organizations and individuals, from the AAAS to my own university and its president. Has yours joined?

The idea is that in Philadelphia on April 18 the remaining presidential candidates will respond to questions that are central to federal policy--questions on topics such as policy responses to climate change, the health of the oceans, species loss, resource conservation, alternative energy, intellectual property, and scientific integrity.

The candidates have not yet responded to the invitation, though both the Clinton and Obama campaigns have said they are giving it "serious thought." Senator McCain, meanwhile, has strayed from the safety of the vague and upbeat messages of those campaigns with his opinion that vaccinations are a likely suspect for rising rates of autism. His is not an opinion shared by the medical community.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wonderful wonderful wonderful

It's pure awesome to see things we love but which exist in odd corners of our lives come together and meet each other!

An article in yesterday's New York Times describes The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, an art exhibit by Margaret and Christine Wertheim featuring all these wonderful elements:

textile art: In this case, crochet. The exhibit features sea creatures, such as kelp, anemones, corals, and sponges, crocheted out of the most magnificent yarns. The crochet coral reef covers 35,000 square feet! In the Wertheim's essay for the Chicago Cultural Center, they write:
Every person who takes up this craft creates new species of crochet organisms and we have come to see the project as a collective experiment in textile-based evolution. Just as all living creatures result from variations in an underlying DNA code, so the species in these handi-crafted reefs arise from deviations in a single simple algorithm.

feminism: Crochet and knitting, though not exclusive to women, are undoubtedly a feminine realm. (Though there are exceptions!) In 1997 Margaret Wertheim published a feminism-inflected book on women and science, titled Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars.

mathematical theory: The crocheted forms grew from a mathematical model:

Hyperbolic crochet was itself the outgrowth of an unexpected branch of geometry. For two thousand years mathematicians attempted to prove that the only possible geometries were the flat, or Euclidean, plane, and the sphere. Great minds expended themselves on the effort, only to discover in the nineteenth century that a third option was logically necessitated....Mathematicians’ skepticism about hyperbolic space had been based in part on their inability to imagine how it would look, for they had no way to model it physically. Most were thus astounded when, in 1997, Dr. Daina Taimina, a Latvian √©migr√© at Cornell University, presented a hyperbolic structure made with crochet.

: The crocheted coral reef forms imitate real creatures dwelling on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, whose bodies exhibit hyperbolic forms.

environmentalism: The project highlights the rate at which coral reefs are being devastated by global warming and agricultural run-off.

More photos here!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Maternity and an Academic Career

Adventures in Ethics and Science gives marvelously informative detail about the hazards and joys of bearing children while still in graduate school, with more narrative from readers in the comments section.

The worry that she emphasizes again and again is the need for good childcare, the expense of good childcare, and the inadequacy of even good childcare when the child is sick. I can't imagine who you can call--other than retired grandparents--for back-up childcare in that case. The only solution I know is for one parent or the other to take off from work. Skipping class is a hard thing for an academic to do. Babies do get sick, sometimes for a week at a time.

I've heard colleagues express similar concerns about whether it's possible to have a baby before tenure. GonePublic blogged about this some time ago, and commenters cited evidence that women with children fall behind in rank. Still, we can pursue our careers for 25 years longer than we can pursue reproduction. Reproduction is not for everyone, but in a better world women desiring maternity would not have such worries. And mothers would have the option to work outside the home--or not, as they wished.