Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Leuphana: Greta Gaard – "Scholarship and activism go together"

2022-06-29 Greta Gaard is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls in the USA and one of the leading scholars in the field of ecofeminism. She is currently teaching at the Institute of English Studies as part of the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program.

Greta Gaard ©Leuphana/Anastasia Adasheva
"It's about looking from a feminist perspective at how we see the environment, how we understand the eco-justice problems, and how we can reach better solutions," Greta Gaard says about her research focus, ecofeminism.

The US-American Greta Gaard has been teaching two courses in Lüneburg since the beginning of the summer semester: "Environmental and Climate Justice Narratives" and "Animal Studies: Three Approaches through the Lens of Literature, Art, and Film." "I’m really grateful for the interest in my work and the invitation to Leuphana University. The students are wonderful – they are smart, inquisitive, and creative," says Gaard. "Most feminist research is rooted in an activist experience of oppression and a desire to end that oppression. And so, feminists have explored every angle from social justice to racial justice – to climate justice,” Gaard explains her research focus. Ecofeminism, she says, stands on the shoulders of feminism. "It's about looking from a feminist perspective at how we see the environment, how we understand the eco-justice problems, and how we can reach better solutions."

For many years, Greta Gaard has been dealing with topics within the field of "animal studies," in which ecofeminism is rooted, among others. In particular, she questions the relationship between humans and animals: "I had an affinity for animals at an early age. All kids do, it seems. And we learn things, for example that it's normal for us to eat at the table and dogs to eat off the floor, or we take children to zoos and show them it’s ok for the animals to live in cages their whole life. We are taught this human superiority from a very young age in our culture, but we don’t come in with it, we’re not born with it. For me, it was that non-differentiation. I am an animal – and so are they. So why are we being treated differently?" When she attended college, that point of view evolved into a scholarly interest: "I think a lot of young people, speaking from my own experience, develop their ideas through sort of a dialectic process of disagreement. It was very helpful to be taught these other theories in college and say: ‘That’s not what I believe’. And then finally have a professor to say: ‘Okay, then you better write what you believe, because you’re not finding it.’ If you don’t find the articulation of what your values are, you are responsible now, for writing it."

Greta Gaard is not only an international scholar, but also an activist. For her, science and activism are naturally related. "If you really believe in something, why wouldn't you behave and act accordingly? There’s a word for it if you don’t: it’s called hypocrisy. And the word for the alignment is integrity. So, why would we even think these should be separate? Scholarship and activism go together." The relationship between scholarship and activism was also the topic of a panel discussion at the University of Tübingen in which Gaard participated in mid-June. "Everyone on the panel was advocating the connection of theory and activism, and we were all coming from different places. One of the scholars is a disability activist because of her own disability, and at the same time does research in the field. So, how could she not also advocate for it in an activist way? In the U.S., there is a saying: ‘That is purely academic’. Which means, it has no purpose. You just talk about it, but you don’t do anything. The scholarship is meant to be used – in our daily lives." From the perspective of her research around ecofeminism, she says this means, for instance, living a sustainable and environmentally conscious lifestyle, while recognizing that it takes not only individual change but, more importantly, structural change in the system to make a difference for the environment. "Honestly, if you go speak to people that are perpetuating this structure, how much credibility do you have, if your own life isn’t lined up? So, you need to do your own part, as well as work on the structures."

The cooperation with Prof. Greta Gaard was organized by Prof. Maria Moss from the Institute of English Studies.