DoIP PhD Spotlight: Lydia Baan Hofman

Thinking figures. Training response-ability for ecological regeneration

In a monthly interview series, the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative turns the spotlights on one of their PhD candidates. We learn more about their research projects, their link with inclusive prosperity and their long term goals. This edition features Lydia Baan Hofman who studies how we can become ‘response-able’.

What is your research about?

Ecological crises, like the covid-pandemic, unsettle us. They undermine how we have always learned to think about ourselves: as autonomous, independent human beings who make their own world.
We need other concepts and ways of thinking about what it is to be human on Earth in a time many now call the Anthropocene. As philosopher and biologist Donna Haraway, the central author in my dissertation, puts it: we are not well equipped to think what is happening in our troubling times, how we relate to ecological crises, let alone that we are able to respond to them through our actions.
In my philosophical, conceptual research I investigate how we can become ‘response-able’. What other ways of thinking do we need in order to be able to respond constructively to ecological injustices?

How are you progressing so far and what are your main findings?

For Haraway, the notion of ‘response-ability’ is mainly of importance in scientific contexts. As a philosopher of science, she stresses that to become response-able all sciences need to dispose of an anthropocentric worldview and need to stop seeing humans as autonomous individuals. Sciences need to acknowledge that ‘we’ are in dependency and kin relations with all kinds of beings, human and non-human, globally and locally. We are tied up in dynamic string figures in which all players constantly need to respond to each other.
I find the notion of response-ability promising also outside of academic contexts. In my research I am therefore investigating four aspects of the notion (care, thinking-with, imagination and agency) so that I can construct a broader formulation of response-ability: as something that can, in principle, be trained by everyone. Most importantly, I aim to lay the groundwork so that ‘response-ability’ can be trained in schools.

In what way is your research project contributing to inclusive prosperity?

The notion of response-ability takes nonhuman beings into account: they, too, need to prosper – without multispecies flourishing there is no human flourishing. But in my research I also problematize what ‘human’ or ‘we’ means. In Haraway’s words: not every human being is equally the ‘Anthropos’ of the Anthropocene. Nor do the ecological crises of the Anthropocene hit each human equally as hard. They intensify existing inequalities; hence the term ‘ecological injustices’. E.g. covid has strong consequences for migrant communities, dependent on public transport and working in vital occupations, and for working mothers who take up more care tasks with children home than their partners – let alone for poor parts of the world that barely have access to vaccines.
This attention for material inequalities runs through my dissertation. I insert myself in a feminist tradition in which material inequalities and the need for inclusion have always been important issues, more pressingly so than in the work of many canonical philosophers.

What is the added value in doing your PhD at the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative?

The great, driven team! It is inspiring to see researchers from several disciplines work for a slightly better world. As a philosopher, I think in abstract terms, and it is fun and helpful to see colleagues work on more concrete projects – it sparks my thinking. It is also great to be embedded in the Initiative for their support: they enabled me to invite inspiring, diverse speakers from outside academia in the course I designed on ‘making philosophy inclusive’.

What are your ambitions for the future?

First, of course, to continue writing on interesting topics for my dissertation. Besides that, I have a strong drive to disseminate my research and to write and speak for a broader audience. I hope to keep on doing that after my PhD, in whatever way possible.

PhD student

Lydia Baan Hofman

CV

Baan Hofman's research interests lie in (intersections between) ecophilosophy, (feminist) science and technology studies and aesthetics. In her PhD project, she elaborates Donna Haraway’s notion of response-ability towards the urgencies of climate change.

More information

Promotor: Prof.dr. Marli Huijer (ESPhil)
Co-promotor: Prof.dr. Alessandra Arcuri (ESL)

Starting date of PhD: 2018
Expected end date: 2022

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