In conversation with Lori Gruen, Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching

Monday, Apr 9, 2018
by jhalsey

Lori Gruen is the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University. She is also a professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and coordinator of Wesleyan Animal Studies. This semester, Gruen is at the UCHV as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching.

“I've found Princeton to be an incredibly special place,” said Gruen. “There is an incredible seriousness as well as generosity of thought here. I come away from every event with both new ideas and deeper admiration for my colleagues; the other fellows and the faculty are truly engaged and engaging and fun.”

Gruen is collaborating with colleagues from various disciplines in both her course, “The Environmental Nexus,” and upcoming conference, “The Prison and the Academy: Exploring Critical Prison Pedagogy.”

In “The Environmental Nexus,” Gruen is co-teaching with faculty in the sciences, economics, and literature. “In order to begin to solve the environmental problems that students will inherit, they will have to have facility with multi-disciplinary skills and methods,” said Gruen. “This course is designed to introduce students not just to the interlocking problems and various disciplinary approaches to understanding them, but also to the ways that different perspectives work together to help identify paths towards solutions.”

“The Prison and the Academy” event also draws on this interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. The program, happening on April 13 from 1:30-4 p.m., just before the Students for Prison Education Reform (SPEAR) conference, will include Gruen, two formerly incarcerated men and a philosopher who administers a prison education program.

“[The] event will reflect not just on the lack of educational resources but also on some of the challenges that exist and problems that may be perpetuated by educational programs,” said Gruen. “My own experiences with prison teaching programs have led me to see that there are inherent vexations with prison education and identifying these can help shape more meaningful engagement with incarcerated people.”

At last week’s Social Criticism and Political Thought seminar, Gruen moved beyond the Foucauldian concept of the “carceral” to address domination and “the intractable hopelessness that so many in poor black communities experience in the pall of mass incarceration.” While Gruen admitted to having a “somewhat pessimistic” view of the situation changing, she remarked, “I do hold out hope that philosophical and political reflection might instigate change.”

These issues are at the forefront of Gruen’s research at the UCHV; she is working on a series of papers that emerge from reflections on nearly 10 years of teaching philosophy in prison. “In addition to recent work in political philosophy and ethics, I have turned to the black intellectual tradition, as well as legal scholarship and social theory, to help me think through a complex set of issues to address topics like dignity, self-respect, disposability, and hope and hopelessness.”

Gruen is in the final stages of finalizing an edited volume, “Critical Terms for Animal Studies,” for the University of Chicago Press.