European Association for Studies of Literature, Culture and the Environment

Webinar “Plant Studies” with Prof. Christa Grewe-Volpp 16.11.2019

Webinar 16.11.2019 at 10 AM CET on “Plant Studies”
Prof. Christa Grewe-Volpp

Prof. Christa Grewe-Volpp

Prof. Christa Grewe-Volpp

“Plant studies” is a very recent branch of critical inquiry in literary and cultural studies which, although discussed since the 1970s, entered public discourse only in 2013 with Michael Pollan’s article “The Intelligent Plant” in The New Yorker. Pollan is one among several critics who deplore our “plant-blindness.” Plants make up ninety-nine percent of the biomass on earth and are the source of all life. All the same, they have only played a minor role in Western literature and art, serving mostly as symbols or decoration. Plants, however, are not only “a what but also a who” (Michael Marder) whose ontology is radically different from that of humans or animals. It is argued that they also have senses, communicate among each other, can remember, make choices, are mobile and even conscious – but in amazingly strange ways. In new materialist terms they possess agency.

If we take these assumptions seriously, important questions arise: How can we approach plants in their radical difference? What are the consequences in our assessment of ourselves and our relationship to the vegetal world if we recognize them as agentic? What does a new perspective on plants tell us about our own involvement in the larger biotic world? In this webinar, we will discuss seminal arguments about the necessity to rethink plants from an ecocritical perspective.


Hall, Matthew. “A Philosophical Botany” and “Bridging the Gulf: Moving Sensing, Intelligent Plants.” Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany. Albany: SUNY, 2011. 1-15 and 137-156.

Gagliano, Monica, John C. Ryan, Patricia Vieira. “Introduction.” The Language of Plants: Science, Philosophy, Literature, ed. Gagliano, Ryan, Vieira. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. vii-xxxiii.

Pollan, Michael. “The Intelligent Plant.” The New Yorker. December 23 & 30, 2013: 92-105. (as an introduction to the topic)

Stark, Hannah. “Deleuze and Critical Plant Studies.” Deleuze and the Non/Human, ed. John Roffe and Hannah Stark. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 180-196.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Plants can be approached from a variety of philosophical standpoints, which Matthew Hall sums up as “philosophies of exclusion” and “philosophies of inclusion.” How do they differ from each other, and why is inclusion a key term for plant studies? (see Hall’s “A Philosophy of Botany”)
  2. How are plants reconceptualized in plant studies? Moreover, how do natural scientists (botanists, neurobiologists) support a radically new perception of plants? Consider concepts such as: plant intelligence, plant self, plant thinking, plant communication. Also consider critics of plant studies (see Pollan). What’s in a name?
  3. What are the arguments for a moral consideration of plants? And what are some ethical consequences if we take plant studies seriously? Should we all stop eating plants? (see e.g. Marder as summarized by Hannah Stark)
  4. What does a rethinking of plants reveal about humans in our natural/cultural environment?
  5. What would a phytocentric literary criticism mean (see Gagliano et al.)?

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