Arboreality Ph.D. Dissertation Defense

Video of my Ph.D. dissertation defense presentation. Filmed on Feb. 28, 2019.

Arboreality: Revisioning Trees in the Western Paradigm

Abstract: Trees are pervasive phenomena. Our arboreal neighbors are both larger and older than humans with a dramatically different expression of livingness. Trees are intertwined with imaginative, mythological, social, and economic systems across cultures and throughout history. The Western philosophical lineage has encouraged a paradigm of viewing trees and other non-human beings as merely resource, in service to human needs and uses, resulting in our current planet-wide environmental crisis and disconnection from our cosmological situatedness. As degradation has deepened, trees have suffered extensively with increasing deforestation, species extinction, and a changing climate. How can our relationships to trees illuminate the ontological consequences of the environmental crisis? This dissertation is an inquiry into our Western human relationship to trees and an exploration of how that connection has transformed with the advent of the ecological crisis. Using a Merleau-Pontian phenomenological framework, I will show not only that our experience of trees elucidates our state of consciousness, but also that our shifting relationship to trees is exemplary of a larger shift in Western human consciousness catalyzed by the environmental crisis. Though the tragedy continues to expand, our current awareness offers an opportunity to reconfigure our paradigms regarding our non-human neighbors. Throughout the dissertation, I will further show that the experience of coming into relationship with trees provides a grounding for describing an emerging participatory awareness. The planetary environmental crisis is catalyzing a shift in Western consciousness which is exemplified by our changing relationships to trees, and by intentionally leveraging participatory paradigms, we can direct this consciousness shift towards environmental sustainability and justice.

Thumbnail photo by Richard Wormstall.