The 2021 Iain McCalman Lecture: Dr Dalia Nassar
The 2021 Iain McCalman Lecture
Shallow and Deep Collaboration: Art, Ecology and Alexander von Humboldt
Dr Dalia Nassar | Department of Philosophy
The Iain McCalman Lecture celebrates SEI co-founder and former co-director Iain McCalman’s dedication to fostering and pioneering multidisciplinary environmental research. The lectures aim to highlight the work of early to mid-career researchers working across disciplinary boundaries to impact both scholarship and public discourse.
More and more people hold the view that the arts and the sciences need to collaborate in order to address the environmental crisis. But how can this be done? What should this collaboration look like? And what should its aims be?
One popular answer goes as follows: the sciences should hand over their data to the arts, so that the arts can communicate this data in an accessible and engaging way to the wider public. On this model, the arts are the “communicators” and “publicizers” of the sciences. Precisely because the arts attend to our emotional side, they possess a power, which graphs and numbers do not. And it is this power that needs to be put to use and harnessed.
Following Arne Næss’s distinction between shallow and deep ecology, Dr Nassar calls this “shallow collaboration.” In contrast to it, Nassar will argue for a form of “deep collaboration,” one that recognises not only the power of art to touch us emotionally, but also its ability to transform the ways we see and think about the world––in other words, its ability to enhance our cognitive capacities.
“Dr Nassar will argue for a form of “deep collaboration,” one that recognises not only the power of art to touch us emotionally, but also its ability to transform the ways we see and think about the world––in other words, its ability to enhance our cognitive capacities.”
To make her argument, Nassar will offer the historical example of the emergence of ecology in the work of Alexander von Humboldt. Drawing on Humboldt’s own use of art and aesthetics, she will demonstrate how art played a crucial role in the development of ecology, thereby showing that art can play a foundational role in scientific inquiry, and in our understanding of nature more generally.
Nassar will conclude by arguing that art not only can, but also that it should play this foundational role. While this form of deep collaboration should occur at all times, it is particularly important in a time of environmental crisis, which is not only a bio-physical crisis, but also, and more fundamentally, a cultural crisis.
Dalia Nassar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy. She works on German romanticism and idealism, the philosophy of nature, aesthetics and environmental philosophy. Her current project focuses on a distinctive methodological approach to nature, which emerged in the late Enlightenment and Early Romanticism, and on the ways that this methodology can be brought to bear on current environmental questions and concerns.
She is the author of The Romantic Absolute: Being and Knowing in German Romantic Philosophy, 1795-1804, which considers the meaning of the crucial notion of the ‘Absolute’ in German philosophy between Kant and Hegel, and editor of the collection, The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy. She has also co-edited a special section of the Goethe Yearbook vol. 22 (2015) on ‘Goethe and Environmentalism’ and a focus section of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science on ‘Kant and the Empirical Sciences’ (2016).