Gendered Ecologies: In Conversation with Dewey W. Hall and Jillmarie Murphy

Gendered Ecologies considers the value of interrelationships that exist among human, nonhuman species, and inanimate objects as part of the environment, and features observations by women writers as recorded in nature diaries, poetry, bildungsroman, sensational fiction, philosophical fiction, and folklore. We spoke to editors Dewey W. Hall and Jillmarie Murphy to learn more.

1. Can you tell us a bit about Gendered Ecologies and what drew you both to focus your research in this area?

Gendered Ecologies is an astounding, new edition that features a novel approach to environmental humanities by focusing on the contributions made by literary women writers to the study of natural history. For centuries, men have dominated the domain of natural history often excluding women. Over the past twenty years, several scholars attuned to ecocritical approaches have been involved in the reclamation and recovery of scientific women writers and their writing. Gendered Ecologies fills the gap by repositioning literary women writers within the crucible of scholarship to yield a gendered, matter-based approach to the reinterpretation of their familiar work in surprising ways.

The field of ecocriticism is very diverse. There are multiple approaches such as, but not limited to the following: environmental justice, disaster studies, literature and ecology, Anthropocene studies, eco-gothic, ecology and post-colonialism, and new materialism among others. Our minds have been moving toward new materialism over the past several years due to our readings of Karen Barad, Stacy Alaimo, Jane Bennett, Diana Coole and Samantha Frost. Since new materialism has been trending over the past decade due, in part, to Alaimo’s Bodily Natures (2010) and Bennett’s Vibrant Matter (2010), it was a natural, next step in the evolution of our research to focus upon new materialism as the basis for our research.

2. How have you defined ‘new materialism’ in the book?

New materialism is a matter-based approach to the study of literature. In some ways, new materialism has been derived from materialist philosophy espoused by thinkers such as Aristotle, Democritus, Hobbes, and especially Spinoza among other philosophers. More recently, scholars such as Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett, and Stacy Alaimo have recontextualized materialist philosophy as a means by which to engage discursive work in sociology, political science, and literature. In effect, new materialism reduces humans and nonhumans as well as animate and inanimate entities to their material form, with matter as the common denominator, that takes into consideration the intra-action or trans-corporeal entanglement of these elements networked together in a web.

3. The book discusses the literary women writers of the long nineteenth century who were dismissed from the materialist tradition. Do you think this topic has been overlooked in academic scholarship?

Yes, literary women writers have been overlooked when it comes to their contributions to natural history. These women have a double bind: 1) they have not only been excluded but also largely ignored because of their gender; 2) they are literary rather than scientific in their orientation. Gendered Ecologies is an attempt to help bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences by emphasizing that certain literary women writers often encoded their own insightful, scientific observations into their literary works.

4. How does Gendered Ecologies pave the way for future research in environmental humanities? What are you both going to be working on next?

It is hard to foresee what sort of influence Gendered Ecologies might have upon the field. Presumably, someone may try to write a monograph or edit a collection dedicated to Anthropocene feminism, which seems to be a logical next step. Gendered Ecologies is unique in its nuanced approach in the polemic about the value of women writers, especially in the context of natural history, which has been largely dismissive.

For more information on Gendered Ecologies or to purchase your copy, please visit the book’s listing on our website.