Inaugural National Conference on Sustainability and the Humanities Keynote Speaker: Carolyn Merchant

May 14-16, 2009
Portland State University

We hear talk of sustainability everywhere but what does the word mean?

We generally think of sustainability in an environmental context, or sometimes in economic terms. But clean air and water, a livable climate, and a healthy standard of living are not the only endangered elements in our social order that we want to sustain. The broader list includes:
community, psychological health, meaningful work, intellectual openness, popular empowerment, a sense of heritage and history, cultural diversity, art and music. These things are often interrelated. Poor economic policy inevitably damages land use, for example, and energy-efficient buildings only go so far in a war zone. Sometimes sustainable goals come into conflict, as when green redevelopment inadvertently jeopardizes historical preservation or catalyzes cultural, racial, or social conflict.

The humanities have traditionally provided a forum in which philosophy, history, literary studies, and adjacent disciplines have looked to the imagination, rational inquiry, cross-cultural conversation, and representations of the past to evaluate and critique social values, norms, and goals. Intellectual traditions of the humanities allow us to scrutinize the meanings of key terms often taken for granted in sustainability discussions, such as the environment, the economy, nature, culture, preservation, and progress.

“Understanding Sustainability: Perspectives from the Humanities” is an inaugural national conference seeking to promote critical reflection on the cultures, histories, values, and imaginations at stake in sustainability.

The format of the conference seeks to encourage innovative dialogues between diverse groups that are not always in conversation: humanities scholars working in fields such as ecocriticism, green cultural studies, environmental ethics, philosophy of science, and environmental history, local designers, city planners, and social service providers who are building Portland’s reputation as a leader in sustainability, and Artists and activists shaping ideas of green ethics and aesthetics.

We welcome proposals in a range of formats not just formal 15-20 minute papers or complete panels, but also workshop presentations, media screenings, performances, interviews, etc.

Please send 250-word proposals by March 1, 2009 to:

Please write “Understanding Sustainability” in the subject line.

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