University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Eco-Methods Lab

The “Eco Lab” is a group of eight PhD students working across the sciences and humanities to explore the meaning of ecology for humanistic methods and, out of this inquiry, develop the methods that can adequately confront issues of common human concern.

“Ecology” is gaining currency in the humanities as a metaphor that aims to promote non-anthropocentric modes of inquiry and knowledge production, while making sense of the complex entanglement of environmental, cultural, and political systems. The term now distinguishes an enormous array of subfields in the humanities -- we have political ecology and ecological economics, spiritual ecology and ecological theology, eco-poetics and ecosophy, eco-linguistics and eco-acoustics, eco-feminism, eco-criticism, and more. At the same time, “ecology” has helped drive a trend toward the modeling of human experience and agency in terms of systems, interrelations and intersections -- we now have, for example, “ecologies of power” (Arroyo and Belanger 2016), “ecologies of affect” (Davidson, Park, and Shields 2013), and “ecologies of grace” (Jenkins 2008). Across the humanities, the tag “ecological” often describes (and implicitly justifies) relational, participative, and collaborative forms of inquiry and knowledge. Despite needed corrections from critics (e.g. Phillips 2006 and Sideris 2003) we believe “ecology” holds promise as a way to name emergent paradigms that will shape humanities scholarship in politically and ethically productive ways.

Eco Lab will proceed in three phases. In the first phase, the group will read and discuss relevant literature to build a common vocabulary and to spawn shared research objectives and projects. Members will develop ecological methods specific to their own research, and may decide to work together on a major multi-disciplinary project. In the second phase, the group will begin collaborative research projects and use the group setting to workshop this research, which will continue to deepen the ongoing conversation about what ecology can mean for method. In the third phase, the group will reflect on the work done to evaluate whether and how the methods developed are innovative, “ecological,” and productive. These results will be shared in departmental presentations, publications, and/or other media.

The proposal to elaborate ecological methods is a project in the Global Humanities that makes a critical intervention in the prevailing Eurocentric and state-centric paradigms of knowledge production. Eco Lab models itself on a scientific community, drawing on multiple perspectives and disciplinary backgrounds to pursue solutions to a set of problems, which are in this case civilizational in nature. Eco Lab is therefore an experiment that seeks a method adequate to the task of civilizational restoration. Eco Lab also aims to introduce new paradigms of collaborative learning that can be tested and, if successful, replicated.

Jeremy Sorgen, Religious Studies

Luke Kreider, Religious Studies

Alice Besterman, Environmental Science

Lillian Aoki, Environmental Science

John Favini, Anthropology

Emelye Keyser, English

Eli Stine, Music

Michael Bacon, Architecture