Hypatia – Lorraine Code Interview


Interviewed by C. Shaheen Moosa (Penn State University)


Lorraine Code: I was always interested in knowledge and throughout my undergraduate—which were a lot of those studies—and my masters, and my PHD studies, I was interested partly in knowledge but with the Masters also in existentialism and phenomenology. Which is how I had intended to go on, except that I couldn’t find supervision where I was doing my graduate school graduate work and I couldn’t do my graduate work anywhere else because I could not afford childcare to go away. So I started working in theory of knowledge, and in my doctoral thesis I wrote about epistemic responsibility, although that wasn’t exactly what the thesis was called (it was something called knowledge and subjectivity). But it occurred to me quite early on that there were issues of responsibility that positivism and other standard theories of knowledge didn’t cover. And particularly I came to this, I guess in part from a strange combination of Heidegger and Wittgenstein— thinking about it at this time I was not doing Feminist philosophy at that time, in fact there was no such thing— So, it was theories of knowledge that I was working with. As I came to writing the dissertation on knowledge and subjectivity, where I was no longer using Heidegger or any phenomenologist, because there was no one there to supervise it—as I came to that point when I began to think how issues of responsibility might connect with questions of knowledge, but there wasn’t really a place to say that at that time.


LC: To me that’s kind of a later question because much of the climate change literature doesn’t actually come to gender until quite further along in its development. So I came to thinking about climate change from already haven written a book called What She Can Know, which focuses entirely on gender, and from rhetorical spaces, where most of it is about gender. When I wrote Ecological Thinking I wasn’t particularly thinking about gender, although somehow it began to emerge that there were issues in climate change, not so much climate change as in thinking about ecology and about our place in the world as environmentally involved in protective or destructive parts of the world. So when I wrote Ecological Thinking I was not actually thinking about becoming a climate change scholar, that’s not what I was doing. I was thinking that ecologically there seemed to be a way of thinking that was transverse—that was horizontal rather than vertical—across places and people and things as opposed to linear in that kind of “silo” fashion that isolates things one from another. So I was interested particularly in profound interrelationships among knowing and thinking and being and doing, which are in some ways Heidegger’s things as well, although I didn’t come back to that for some time. And also, I guess because the most appealing thinker I started thinking about as an example of the kind of thinking I valued was Rachel Carson, I began to see some kinds of not direct and not simplistic connections between her methods of research and her femaleness (perhaps femininity), and its only then subsequently that I began to think more seriously about how there are significant connections for women in thinking intelligently and responsibly about environmental climate change issues and how they affect different segments of populations differently and by the same token how they affect gender, race, class, and all those issues differently.


Well, again, the answer’s going to be simple because I have thought all along that in theories of knowledge, place was as important as populations, and peoples, and subjectivities; and that claims to know and projects of knowing, and all those sorts of things, must have to be time, place, subjectivity, gender, race, class specific. Obviously one can’t do all of those things at once, so it seemed to me that pieces of those could nevertheless be amalgamated and drawn together in trying to think of a rather muddled and complex approach to knowledge but it need not to be so muddled and there are ways through the muddle.


I’ve not really called my work being about “climate change” at all, I’ve called it about “ignorance of ecological matters”. I’ve been particularly interested by the [Naomi] Oreskes and [Erik] Conway book Merchants of Doubt and particularly with the way doubt is promulgated to make people not need to bother making any differences in their lives in the way that their lives are damaging to, or beneficial to, the environment; or how their living practices work. I’ve only started using the umbrella term “climate change” fairly recently and I don’t use it with great comfort because I think it’s about much more than climate change, certainly it’s about climate change, whether climate change is the principle factor that governs all the others or whether all the other factors lead to a recognition of climate change as a kind of overarching phenomenon that all of these practices contribute to, or whether one can even use it generically as to talking with the whole world’s climate changing or one cannot. So I’m still searching for the right term. I’m prepared to talk about these things under the general heading climate change but I do it with a little discomfort because I’m not quite sure that’s the word I want to use. I’m interested in how a multiplicity of things that affect human lives, non-human lives, the structure and multiplicity of places, people, and things. I guess one could call them environments, although I don’t really like that word because it centers whatever it surrounds and I’m not too keen on doing any “centering”. But this is because a lot of this is really in the making, funded by a social sciences and humanity research grant, which I call manufactured uncertainty and look at the ways uncertainty and ignorance’s are politically manipulated and fed in order to grant either a sense of complacency or a sense of not needing to care about what’s happening to the world around. I have to say the world around us although I don’t mean just us and the referent of us changes all the way through. So this sounds as if it’s a muddle and in some ways it is a muddle because it’s at the beginning, although I’ve published a few things about it already. And the culpable ignorance piece which is really a little Musing [a category of essay for Hypatia], so it’s not a serious academic paper, although it is serious in its own way, the culpable ignorance piece is partly trying to ask myself the sort of “down on the ground” social epistemology question about how much can people be expected to know. And how culpable or not should they be held, and I don’t know by whom, but how culpable or not should they be held for knowing, or failing to know, or failing to estimate such things. So that’s part of it.