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Meet a Fellow: Sarah C. DiMaggio

Posted by on Monday, January 31, 2022 in Uncategorized.

Meet Sarah C. DiMaggio, a 2021-2022 RPW Center Environments Graduate Student Fellow. She is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Philosophy, and her dissertation is entitled, “Rediscovering Kin: The Ethical Significance of Kinship with Nature.”


 

What is your research about and why does it matter?

My research aims to transform traditional moral theories and concepts of ethics in order to better account for the ways that humans are interconnected with their environments and the ethical relations that arise from these connections. While many traditional moral theories fail to give moral consideration to non-human animals and nature—or do so in limited or problematic ways—my research seeks to provide an account of ethics that takes into consideration the ways that all life and our environments are interdependent.

Ultimately, kinship matters for ethical thinking because it holds the potential to transform our understanding of human relationships with our environment and the ethical obligations we have to other humans, non-human animals, and other parts of nature.

In my dissertation, I argue that recognizing the normative ethical force of kinship requires us to rethink human relationships with—and, therefore, ethical obligations to—non-human parts of nature. Understanding that humans stand in a kinship relation with other parts of nature (an idea that many indigenous cultures have held for centuries) means recognizing the significance of these relations for ethical life. While kinship is “natural,” it is also socially mediated.

This account allows us to understand the ways in which kinship with other animals and nature has been disavowed, and how this has been shaped by the hegemony of western colonial, white supremacist conceptions of human exceptionalism. However, it also offers hope for how those of us who are alienated from this connection can “re-discover” these kin by intentionally fostering these relationships through perceptual attunement and proper action.

Ultimately, kinship matters for ethical thinking because it holds the potential to transform our understanding of human relationships with our environment and the ethical obligations we have to other humans, non-human animals, and other parts of nature. By doing so, I believe that we can better find creative solutions to the environmental crises that we now face, while affirming that these solutions require the pursuit of justice for oppressed and marginalized peoples who are most deeply affected by them.

Furthermore, “re-discovering” kinship with nature also means engaging in actions that nourish, rather than disavow, this connection. Kinship in practice consists of fostering meaningful connections with our environments. My project is therefore aimed at transforming our relationships with ourselves and our environments such that we can better approach the contemporary crises that we face and with hope and creative resolve, begin to re-discover kinship so that both humans and non-human parts of nature can flourish.

Describe a discovery or a moment in your research that excited you.

While not a specific moment, the ongoing discovery of work being done in ethical theory that emphasizes the importance of ethical life has been exciting. I had found “traditional” moral theory unsatisfying, in part because much of this theorizing felt removed from the lived experience of ethical decision making.

Feminist approaches to ethics that emphasize the importance of lived experiences in theorizing has expanded ethical thinking in exciting ways that I think are better able to capture important aspects of ethical life, such as socio-political and historical context, identity, and concrete relationships and connections. I have found this exciting for thinking about environmental ethics specifically because I think it speaks to the way that tackling ecological crises involves understanding and critique of the historical and political contexts that have contributed to these, as well as a fundamental re-shaping of how we understand ourselves and the ways that we relate to others.

On a personal note, exploring the role of identity and relationships in ethics has spoken to my own experiences of the ways in which I am connected to the life and environment around me and how this has shaped my own ethical thinking.


Sarah C. DiMaggio is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Philosophy. Her research interests lie primarily in environmental philosophy and ethics, as well as the intersection of these fields with feminist philosophy and phenomenology. She is currently working on a dissertation project that explores how recognizing the normative ethical force of kinship can transform the ways that we conceive of our relationships with—and, therefore, ethical obligations to—both other humans and non-human parts of nature.