It’s been a long time since I’ve posted: 2018-19 has been a year of attending to medical health, and I’m recovering well but needed to give it full attention in fall/winter/spring. Now that summer is coming up, I’m looking forward to getting back to writing (and doing very well health-wise, thank you.)
When I arrived at Lewis & Clark College in 2005 to serve as Director of the Environmental Studies Program, I had several collaborative book projects underway related to work I had been doing on nature, science, and religion, including Science, Religion, and the Human Experience (2005), and Envisioning Nature, Science, and Religion (2009).
Since then I’ve been, well, focusing on environmental studies, with related journal publications. But who reads journal publications? So, early this year I ran two book pre-proposals by a publisher, and given their supportive feedback I’m moving on both…though not at once!
One possible book concerns EcoTypes (I’ll post on the other one later). Here is a sense of where things are as of late spring 2019.
The EcoTypes initiative
In early 2017 I launched a new joint research/education initiative called EcoTypes, summarized on the site as follows:
EcoTypes…is an opportunity primarily for students in environmental programs and courses in U.S. institutions of higher education to learn more about the fundamental ideas that shape how they and others approach environmental issues.
Over the last two years, the EcoTypes survey has been completed over 3000 times by students in roughly 50 American higher ed institutions—a rich optic into the ideas shared by environmental undergraduates in the U.S.
EcoTypes is a long survey, and deliberately so. For decades, the New Ecological Paradigm survey devised in the latter 1970s has been used to help students explore environmental ideas. But this and other common environmental typologies are far too narrow. To address these deficiencies, EcoTypes includes fully fifteen axes—each representing an important ideological debate relevant to how we approach environmental issues—ranging from Aesthetics to Diversity to Nature to Society to Time.
Fifteen axes!…a rich exploration of environmental ideas, but way too many for most students—indeed, any of us—to wrap our heads around. So, over the years I’ve explored how these axes statistically relate to each other, arriving at three themes: Place, Knowledge, and Action. These themes, each of which includes five contributing axes, are summarized below in terms of their key questions.
Toward deep disagreement
Those yin-yang symbols, and the “vs.” in the summaries, are deliberate, and point to where the EcoTypes journey may ultimately take us. Remember that each EcoTypes axis represents an important ideological debate applicable to environmental issues. All axes are defined by opposing poles—e.g., the Time axis counterposes a past vs. future orientation. At the level of axes, it may be possible that one pole is better justified than the other, or that both poles can somehow be harmonized.
But at the level of themes, the five contributing axes to each collectively suggest distinct approaches—human vs. nonhuman Place, old vs. new Knowledge, and small vs. big Action—that may foster creative tension if both are fully represented without compromise. This is what I call deep disagreement—an admittedly iconoclastic approach explored in other environmental venues as well. Deep disagreement may not always be possible or desirable, and it is not easy to achieve. But neither is agreement in these times! Deep disagreement moves us from a neutral diversity of ideas to dynamic engagement across difference, as we seek to build a productive, creative tension with others.
This is where I’d like EcoTypes to take its participants. The pedagogical question is: how can we get them to discover deep disagreement—a challenging objective in its own right—more quickly than by first understanding all fifteen axes?…a practical impossibility, though what we do at present. I’m hoping that a themes-based approach can do it, hence the below.
So!…here is my plan over the next few years. It starts with testing the waters on the above via a revised website, then determining what is best communicated via the site vs. a book, then producing an outline of, and timetable for, the book.
See this post, for example, where the aim is to clarify the EcoTypes journey. Where does EcoTypes ultimately take us?
EcoTypes Site Revision
Move to three theme-based (vs. fifteen axis-based) initial presentation of EcoTypes in a test site. Include quick, immediate-feedback, three-theme survey. Include examples to evidence deep disagreement, and to encourage engagement across difference. For further details, participants then delve into fifteen EcoTypes axes via longer survey & online axis resources.
Test/Feedback on Revisions
Consolidate workable test site material back onto EcoTypes site. How does all of this work with students and instructors? How many do the initial themes exploration vs. the more involved EcoTypes axis survey and resources? What sorts of conversations/insights are generated by this theme-based approach? Are they able to appreciate themes without first learning about contributing axes? Deep disagreement is challenging to embrace; do they?
Site vs. Book Decision
Once I have some feedback on the themes-based approach I can decide how the site (e.g., online survey and resources) best serves users. It may be, for instance, that the details on axes are better conveyed in a book, as are the more advanced notions of paradox, engagement, and deep disagreement, ultimately leading to what sort of environmental practice this implies. Then the site will be simplified accordingly, so that the book serves as a supplement to the site.
Finally, after all the steps above, I think I’m ready to finalize the book outline/proposal, set a workable production timeline, and start writing/revising content…whew! Tentative completion date: summer 2021.
- Proctor, James D., ed. 2005. Science, Religion, and the Human Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- ———, ed. 2009. Envisioning Nature, Science, and Religion. West Conshohocken, Penn: Templeton Press.
- ———, 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.