Sustainability Conference at PSU

The Portland Center for Public Humanities at PSU is holding the second annual “Understanding Sustainability: Perspectives from the Humanities” conference. It began yesterday and runs through tomorrow.

The Portland Center for Public Humanities at PSU is holding the second annual “Understanding Sustainability: Perspectives from the Humanities” conference. It began yesterday and runs through tomorrow.

The free event is expected to draw people from diverse backgrounds to discuss the meaning of sustainability. The conference incorporates thinkers, leaders and artists from across Portland and the country.

Many of the talks will be held in the Native American Student and Community Center, but a local art gallery and the Simon Benson House will also hold events for the conference.

Leerom Medovoi, associate professor of English and director of the Portland Center for Public Humanities, said the main goal of the conference is to talk about what it is people are trying to sustain, as well as what needs to change, and the best way to create the change.

The press release for the event reports that more than 60 scholars will be present, as well as leading workshops, panel discussions and lectures on the controversies over the meaning and practice of sustainability.

According to the conference website, the conference is held to encourage dialogue between groups that may not otherwise be in conversation. It aims to bring together humanities scholars from fields such as “eco-criticism, green cultural studies, environmental ethics, philosophy of science and environmental history,” as well as city planners, local designers, artists, activists and social service providers to continue creating a leadership role for Portland in the sustainability movement.

“The purpose of this conference is to set aside a time and place to reflect on the values, assumptions and expectations that animate sustainability as a guiding principle,” Medovoi said.

Three plenary talks will be highlighted this year. Medovoi said he is looking forward to the talks by all three of the speakers.

Natalie Jeremijenko, associate professor of visual arts at New York University, gave a talk yesterday called “After Copenhagen: Emerging Strategies of Political Participation.”

“[She is] a famously inventive environmental artist and engineer,” Medovoi said.

Stephen Gardiner, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Washington, is speaking about climate justice today. Medovoi calls Gardiner “one of the nation’s most respected philosophers of climate justice.”

Cary Wolfe, professor of English at Rice University, will give a talk called “Biopolitics and Species Difference” tomorrow.

According to Medovoi, “[Wolfe is] an innovative critic of the relationship between humans and animals.”

A sampling of discussions includes: “Climate Change and Individual Responsibility,” “The Intersection of Social Sustainability, Migration and Gender,” and “A Cosmopolitan Sustainability: Interdependence vs. Self-Sufficiency.”

Last year had a great turnout and created lots of enthusiasm, Medovoi said.

“But many people felt we needed to broaden out from the humanities in the narrower sense, and open up this conversation about values, ideas and histories to all of the schools and disciplines of knowledge at PSU. We needed to include the voices of engineers, architects, business and education researchers, social scientists and policy analysts.”

The conference is funded through the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, which donated a $25 million grant to PSU in 2008. The event will be catered by Devil’s Food Catering, which won an award from the City of Portland for its commitment to sustainable practices.

For more information, and to download the conference schedule, visit The conference is free and open to the public at the Native American Student and Community Center, 710 Southwest Jackson Street.