Hypatia – Nancy Tuana Interview


C. Shaheen Moosa: Tell us about yourself.


Nancy Tuana: I’m Nancy Tuana, director of the Rock Ethics Institute here at Penn State and also a professor of philosophy and women’s studies. And I was the coeditor of the special issue of Hypatia on climate change with Chris Cuomo.


CSM: Why do we need to be attentive to gender when thinking about climate change?


NT: Gender is important to climate change in a variety of dimensions. About ten years ago, there wasn’t much attention being paid to gender differential impacts of climate change. So for example, some aspects of climate change, whether it be changes in precipitation, or changes in the frequency of storms, impact men and women differently—which doesn’t mean it impacts women more or men more, it just sometimes impacts them differently—and that work wasn’t being studied. It’s now starting to be studied and that’s very important. But in addition to the gendered impacts of climate change, we also need to do that good feminist philosophical work of looking at the conceptual frameworks and how we’re thinking about climate change, both in terms of the discourses as well as the practices.


CSM: Why do you think it is important for feminists (and/or feminist philosophers) to engage with the topic of climate change?


NT: Feminist philosophers work in all domains of philosophy and from all different philosophical perspectives. And all of them have resources to bring to bear in the question looking at climate change and the ways gender discourses impact climate change. So if you look in the domain of epistemology, for example, feminists have been looking at the role of knowledge production for many years and the significance of gender dimensions of knowledge production. Being able to take that work to the domain of climate change yields a lot of really interesting results. So for example, thinking about the epistemology of ignorance, what we do and don’t know about climate change. Also, how to think about the uncertainties of climate change from a feminist perspective in addition to thinking about gender dimensions of risks. But ethics and feminist ethics also has a very significant role to play. Much of the work that feminist philosophers have done looking at responsibility and respect, care perspectives all can be applied to the question of climate change. In fact, the whole conception of human security and a human security perspective on climate change is being profoundly impacted by not only feminist philosophical influences, but also very interdisciplinary work where feminist philosophers are working with other theorist to look at the ways in which the conception of security and human security needs to be broadened far beyond what it’s been thought of up till this point.


CSM: How does your work—academic, policy-based, or activism—address the issues raised by climate change (within an interdisciplinary discussion)?


NT: Let me talk about two aspects of my work in which I’ve been engaged in feminist philosophy and climate change. One is actually work that I’ve done in collaboration with a geographer, Petra Tschakert, who… she and I have been looking at conceptions of both resilience and vulnerability. One of the things that is often the case in discourses on climate change are actual tensions between folks who want to look at vulnerabilities to climate change and others who want to look at… focus on resilience to climate change. As you know, a lot of feminist work has questioned this whole conception of vulnerability because it’s often framed in terms of women being vulnerable and not men. And particular with climate change, if you look at who is being seen as vulnerable to climate change, it’s only women in developing countries. Lots of problems with that just from the get-go. But what we started looking at was ways in which this was actually not… they are not in tension, resilience and vulnerability. And I started doing a lot of work with a notion of corporeal vulnerability from the work of Judith Butler, but extending it beyond human vulnerability to look at the interaction and interpenetration of humans and other humans, but also humans and the world they’re of and a part of. And through that conception, we started developing a new concept of both vulnerability and resilience.


The second domain in which I’ve been doing research recently, is looking at the whole concept of the Anthropocene and using it from the perspective of the ontology that I’ve been developing now for over a decade of a process ontology but an interactionist ontology, arguing that the symbolic imaginary of the Anthropocene might provide us with a way of thinking about our relationship to the world, to others in the world—both current and future others, and not just human others—that could start to address a new ethos for responding to climate change. So in this domain, I’ve brought together resources from feminist perspectives on epistemology, as well as ontology, but also ethics, and brought them together in order to try to think differently and think about the ways in which the whole notion of being in the Anthropocene might provide a resource for reliving, rethinking how we are in the world.


CSM: What steps should be taken to address the issues raised by gender and climate change, immediately or long term?


NT: I believe we have to do many things to address climate change and the gendered dimensions of climate change. We have to make sure that research is being focused on this topic. Issues like the special issue of Hypatia on climate change is just one of many examples of the urgency of doing this work. But we also need to stop siloing our work. We need to make sure climate change is a complex and multidimensional issue. We need to make sure that our best minds are working together. And that means feminist philosophers partnering with climate scientists and people working on climate decision making, such as I’m doing the Sustainable Climate Risk Management Network that I’m a part of, which is centered here at Penn State but reaches out, works with climate scientists, climate modelers, and folks working with decision makers. We need to have people that are working at all levels of policy, from the frameworks convention to the national level, to the IPCC, to our towns. We need to do everything because this is an urgent issue that needs the best of our minds and the best of our hearts and the best of our hands to make a difference for our children’s children and beyond.

Transcribed by Bailey LePage