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Environmental Studies

Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse Spring 2009

May 06, 2009

J.R. Howard Hall

May 6, 2009

This spring semester, I had the opportunity to take a fascinating Environmental Studies Topics course taught by post doctorate fellow, Dr. Evan Berry, called Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse. While I had originally enrolled in this class with the prospect of expanding my knowledge of green utopias and sustainable communities, I have instead gained the ability to synthesize my Environmental Studies coursework within the structure of literary utopian and dystopian societies, an ability that has greatly contributed to the development of my concentration and possible thesis topic. Before I officially declared as an Environmental Studies major in mid-March, I would often describe my concentration as either “Sociology/Anthropology” or “Sustainable Communities,” but could never fully develop a coherent topic or justification. Fortunately, this semester, I also took Jay Odenbaugh’s “Philosophy and the Environment” and Jim’s “Situating Environmental Problems and Solutions” coincendently with Ecotopia Ecopocalypse. In Jay’s class, I took a particular interest in deontological ethics and Mark Sagoff’s consumer vs. citizen argument, while I was drawn to the Eco-socialism, Ecological Citizenship and Grid Group theories in Jim’s Environmental Studies core class. However, the combination of latter interests did not have much substance until I began drafting my final project for Ecotopia/Ecopocalpyse. Throughout the semester, Evan has assigned us over 8 utopian novels, which we discuss extensively in class with regards to utopian authoritative structure, military, family, gender, among many other topics. Within these analyses, I primarily focused upon utopian social structures and personal obligations, where elements of my interest in sustainable communities, environmental ethics and radical theories finally began to unify into a intelligible academic topic.

In March, I proposed my Environmental Studies concentration, entitled “Community, Individuals and the Connected Environment,” where I was able to situate the topics of social structures, social psychology, environmental attitudes and community obligations within (1) a focused study and possible thesis topic as well as (2) the cross-cultural examination of ecovillages and cohousing neighborhoods. Although I am frequently reminded of the impracticality and complexity of ecovillages as a tool to foster responsible environmental attitudes and actions, I am convinced that only through a thorough study will these arguments be verified. Ecotopia/Ecocalypse has shown me that the utopian vision of a tightly-knit community has been in the minds of scholars and authors for centuries, and thus the foundational ideals of ecovillages may provide some insight and inspiration to environmentalists as we try to overcome our environmental crises and reformulate a more ecologically responsible society.

Within the various novels that we analyzed in Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse, I found that there are particular social structures associated with the author’s formulation of dystopias and utopias. Using Grid Group Cultural theory and deontological ethics, I was able to analyze these different social structures with focus on the different forms of personal obligations that entailed of each society. I did a similar study in Jim’s Situtating Environmental Problems and Solutions class, using Grid Group Cultural theory to theorize the environmental attitudes developed within the tight group bonds of egalitarian communities, such as ecovillages. In both the Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse project as well as the Situating Environmental Problems and Solutions synthesis, I have tried to find connections between strong interpersonal bonds and ethical commitments to community and ecological health. These studies have helped me to develop a theory about egalitarian communities and their associated personal obligations and environmental attitudes that I hope will serve as a foundation for my concentration and future research on ecovillages. Given the focus topic of my major and interests in intentional communities, I am tremendously fortunate to have had the opportunity to take Evan’s class. In addition to giving substance to my Environmental studies interests, Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse has also provided me with the ability to see the religious undertones of current environmental problems and solutions.

Evan Berry will be leaving us next year to teach at American University in Washington, D.C. Although my peers and I are sad to be parting with Evan after such a short time together in Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse, we are all grateful for his incredible insight and provisions on our studies of environmental discourse and wish him the best of luck on his future endeavors.

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