In my professional life I’m a geographer, and serve as Professor and Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. You can find my tweets (resuming 2021) via @doctorjproctor.
Geographers study the earth as our home (Tuan 1991)—a home for humans and nonhumans. I didn’t know anything about geography until relatively late in my academic career, after completing an undergraduate degree in religious studies from the University of Oregon, then spending nearly four years in Swaziland with the U.S. Peace Corps, then fulfilling most requirements for a second undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of New Mexico.
Somewhere in the midst of my second undergraduate career I discovered geography as a way to bring together this hybrid background spanning the sciences and humanities, and to apply it to my broad environmental interests. I then completed a series of graduate degrees at UC Berkeley, including an M.S. in environmental engineering and an M.A./Ph.D in geography. After completing my Ph.D. I served at UC Santa Barbara, then came to Lewis & Clark in 2005, where I’ve been since.
My research has broadly involved environmental theory—a field that does not exactly exist. (Google “environmental theory” and you may well end up reading about Florence Nightingale and nursing.) If theory is, following Terry Eagleton (2004, 2), “reasonably systematic reflection on our guiding assumptions,” then environmental theory reflects on the assumptions guiding environmental scholarship and practice. I have been particularly interested in what I call Big Words: broad concepts we use all the time to guide ourselves through environmental challenges, like science or spirituality or sustainability, or words that frame the entire field such as environment and nature. One of my longtime guides in this journey of environmental theory has been the work and example of Bruno Latour—not exactly a household environmental name, but one of my scholarly heroes.
What I hope to do via this research is help us come up with Better Big Words. I don’t think we can totally abandon their use, given the significance of keywords to guide meaning (Williams 1983; cf. Bennett et al. 2013, Gleason et al. 2016). But, if Big Words are the vehicles we ride to explore environmental terrains, some may get us farther, quicker, or more efficiently or beautifully through these terrains than others.
I’ve extended environmental theory in practical directions via EcoTypes, an online survey and resource primarily designed to help students in undergraduate U.S. environmental programs understand the fundamental ideas that guide their environmental interests (Proctor 2020). EcoTypes suggests the reality of difference and potential for ideological conflict, as different people are guided by different Big Words. This then suggests the need to build skills in engagement across difference, which I’ve explored to date via a new course at Lewis & Clark and a recent publication (Proctor et al. 2018).
Beyond my strictly professional life, one major commitment is Alder Creek Community Forest (ACCF), an educational nonprofit I founded in rural southern Oregon on land I grew up on and inherited. It’s my way of honoring what family and community gave me growing up there. I raised two girls, Joy and Elise, and am happy that they now both live in Portland. I’ve been an active member for years in the Unitarian Universalist Association.
I’m grateful for an active life, much of which you can see—along with my family—via annual slideshows here.
- Bennett, Tony, Lawrence Grossberg, and Meaghan Morris, eds. 2013. New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. John Wiley & Sons.
- Eagleton, Terry. 2004. After Theory. New York: Basic Books.
- Gleason, William A., Joni Adamson, and David N. Pellow, eds. 2016. Keywords for Environmental Studies. NYU Press.
Proctor, James D., Jennifer Bernstein, Philip Brick, Emma Brush, Susan Caplow, and Kenneth Foster. 2018. “Environmental Engagement in Troubled Times: A Manifesto.” Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, March. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-018-0484-7.
_______. 2020. “EcoTypes: Exploring Environmental Ideas, Discovering Deep Difference.” Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 10 (2): 178–88. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-020-00592-y.
Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1991. “A View of Geography.” Geographical Review 81 (1): 99–107. https://doi.org/10.2307/215179.
- Williams, Raymond. 1983. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press.