Summary of the 13th EASLCE Webinar: Plant Studies by Christa Grewe-Volpp

Summary of the 13th EASLCE Webinar: Plant Studies by Christa Grewe-Volpp
Nov 16, 2019 at 10:00-11:30 CET

Host: Prof. Christa Grewe-Volpp, University of Mannheim, Germany
Molina Klingler, University of Würzburg, Germany (moderator, co-coordinator)
Harri Salovaara, University of Jyväskylä, Finland (co-coordinator)
Julia Ditter, Northumbria University, UK
Shannon Lambert, Ghent University, Belgium
Susan Montoya, University of Mannheim, Germany
Stefano Rozzoni, University of Bergamo, Italy
Nikoleta Zampaki, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece


Saturday, November 16th, saw eight enthusiastic ecocritics from Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, and the UK, gather together for the 13th EASLCE webinar. The webinar was hosted by Prof. Christa Grewe-Volpp from University of Mannheim, Germany. The webinar’s topic was plant studies. The wide-ranging discussion included contested issues such as plant language and intelligence, consciousness, awareness, and what are the boundaries and definitions necessary to discuss plants and their agential potential.

Prof. Grewe-Volpp opened the webinar with a brief general introductory lecture on historical and contemporary plant studies issues. She also critically discussed Cartesian dualism and human exceptionalism as they relate to plants, and also the role that animal studies has had in the development of the field. Further, Prof. Grewe-Volpp outlined the development of plant studies specifically in relation to Val Plumwood’s categorization of hierarchies, and the curious fact that although plants form the vast majority of the biomass on the planet, they are nevertheless frequently backgrounded in discussions on culture, literature, and politics.

Towards the end of the introduction, Prof. Grewe-Volpp referred to the webinar readings by Pollan, Hall, Stark, and Gagliano et al. and discussed issues having to do with how precisely to define concepts such as language and intelligence, noting that regardless of how, for example, language and intelligence are defined, plants definitely do both communicate and also exhibit problem solving abilities. As the floor was opened for discussion, the webinar participants raised, among others, the following issues:

- plant (eco)phenomenology and the issue of how to narrate plants
- what kinds of plant texts to study, and how the constantly increasing knowledge of plants affects interpretation of old texts
- the various ethical issues having to do with acknowledging plants as beings worthy of moral considerations, including avoiding wasting plants, and how to ethically study them
- textual examples where plants are presented as having agency
- the relationship between plants and mushrooms, and Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome in relation to this
the “thorny” issue of plants that are harmful to humans, and in the case of invasive and introduced plant species, to local and global ecology in general

As frequently happens in EASLCE webinars, the lively discussion throughout the webinar came to an end when the 90-minute time slot for the webinar was up, with several interesting issues still to be resolved. To conclude, plant studies promises to offer an interesting topic for future studies, for which the webinar provided the participants an excellent grounding in.