Blogs >> A Q&A with our new Lecturer in Engaged Ecology, Dr Sarah Elisa Kelly

A Q&A with our new Lecturer in Engaged Ecology, Dr Sarah Elisa Kelly

We're all set to welcome a new lecturer to teach on our MA programme in Engaged Ecology when it starts in January. Meet Dr Sarah Elisa Kelly, who joins us from the fields of cultural theory and environmental humanities, and whose research draws on subversive and alternative ways of thinking about the world. We caught up with Sarah to find out more about her past and what the future holds for her here at Schumacher College. 

Tell us about your career so far...

I’ve always been interested in how we think, speak and relate to ourselves, each other and the wider world. This led me to study social sciences at school and go on to take an undergraduate in Cultural Studies, which was the closest I could find to a contemporary Humanities degree at the time. I was fascinated by philosophies of language and the power dynamics tied to the idea of “knowledge”. I went on to focus on Critical Theory at MA level, with a thesis on skin and the idea of containment, permeability and selfhood.

During my MA I was asked to publish some of my poetry and this went on to become a central creative path in my life. In my late 20’s I was living and teaching English in Argentina when I stumbled across a papermaking class and fell in love with the medium immediately – I’ll never forget the first moment I put my hands in a vat of pulp and drew up a sheet. I began making text-based artworks, experimental pages that were the material manifestations of my earlier academic interests. I went on to work for a short time at a commercial hand paper mill in the UK, before applying for a scholarship to do my PhD. (I graduated from the Royal College of Art with a PhD in Cultural Theory and Environmental Humanities this summer).

My initial proposal had been an exploration into the idea of “reciprocity”, yet it developed into a thesis on radical empathy, alternative temporality, and cosmologies of imagination. At heart it asked, how might we live, think and relate in these times of social and climate crises? Too huge a question for any kind of definitive answer of course, but I encountered many forms of listening, failing, risking, undoing and remembering along the way which have shaped me irreversibly.

What most inspires you about Engaged Ecology?

When I first saw the course description, I felt the excitement of a student, it is exactly the kind of MA I would have longed to study myself. I think what makes it so exciting is the blend of practice with theory, the emphasis on a certain kind of non-dogmatic, non-binary “doing” which strives to have tangible implications. I see it as being not only how we think about our relationship to ecological issues, but also how we enact this thinking in ways which might allow these relations to become otherwise. In this sense, it invites us to become the ecological beings we are; embedded and entangled. This kind of permission isn’t always so easy to come by in traditional academic contexts, yet it offers so much potential for regenerative transformation that it feels utterly vital and relevant.

It’s my belief that contemporary approaches to ecology must be intersectional for them to be deemed truly ‘ecological’. We will endeavour to weave this approach throughout and tend to the wider nuances that are necessarily rooted in climate justice themes; questions of race, gender, cultural dominance and anthropocentricity. Alongside this, the time we give in the MA toward cultivating kinship with companion species offers a very special kind of educational experience.

Tell us more about your research interests...

My current research works primarily with the idea of “internalised capitalism” and seeks to explore the undoing of systemic structures simultaneously from the inside-out as well as the outside-in. This intimately relates to how we feel about value, what gets to count, and where we give our attention. It concerns somatic, physiological and emotional landscapes, and how they intersect with the political, social and environmental. For example, I’m interested in ideas like ‘progress’ and ‘productivity’ which invoke both a linear sense of direction, and a kind of orientation toward the world as mere human resource. I’m interested in spaces of paradox; how we might imagine moving onwards into the future without necessarily moving forwards; how we might relinquish hope yet remain hopeful; how to embody the radical strength of softness.

What brings you to Schumacher College?

I first became aware of Schumacher and Dartington over ten years ago and have long been inspired by the kind of alternative and innovative approaches to education that happen here. I’m overjoyed to be joining the team, it feels like a real honour and privilege to have been given this opportunity.

When you are not in the thick of academic research or teaching, what do you get up to?

I teach a form of non-styled dance practice called Movement Medicine, a body-based movement meditation which empowers personal and community focused change. Through this I’ve also developed an interest in nervous system wellbeing and neuroplasticity. I’ve been involved in various forms of somatic and embodiment study for most of my life and now spend a lot of time outdoors in movement, in connection/communication with the elements.

Despite being someone who lives and researches “anti-productivity” I’m also unashamedly a bit of a closet life-hack geek! I like reading blogs on routine and habit forming, time management and digital minimalism – I think it’s my way of accessing some sense of order amid the chaos. For similar reasons, I also like watching Marie Kondo tidying things which is strangely self-soothing! I have a committed mindfulness practice, and regularly find support and pleasure through journaling, walking, podcasts, herbalism and music. I’m looking forward to rekindling my art practice soon too and getting my hands back into paper.

For more information about Sarah, head to her profile page.

There is still time to apply for the MA in Engaged Ecology, starting here in January 2021. Click here to find out more about the Engaged Ecology programme and apply.

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