Friday, April 4, 2008

Margaret Shannon Speaks on Making Feminist Theory a Part of Sustainable Forest Management

As part of the course requirements for FOR 797-2, students share the responsibility for reporting on the speakers in the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series for distribution to co-sponsors and the Knothole.  The following was prepared by Kaity Cheng and Laura Sullivan. 
Dr. Margaret Shannon, Associate Dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont addressed “The Essential Role of Research for Sustainable Forest Management: Feminist Theory and Practice” on April 4, 2008.  Dr. Shannon’s stated goal for her lecture was to make people think differently about their research. To that end, she encouraged an examination of our ideologies and the use of feminist theory to challenge the validity of key normative ideas.  She then proceeded to examine ideologies central to the field of forestry.

Shannon offered several reasons why feminist theory contributes to research.  She emphasized that women are the appropriate starting point for examining inequality. The role of women reveals structures and systems of power and privilege. She gave examples of societies where women locate or gather forest resources that sustain their communities, but have been excluded from forest management discussions.

Feminist theory emphasizes the lived realities of research participants. Incorporating the lived experience of all stakeholder groups results in more comprehensive research findings, and enhances the social agency of participants. Feminist theory is oriented toward social change; feminist research is conducted for participants, as opposed to about them.

One focus of the discussion was the research ideal, or the practice of high quality research. Shannon shared her conviction that research should involve interrogating knowledge systems. This process of inquiry should reveal structures and systems of power and privilege. Scientists should integrate theories of social power with theories underpinning forestry research.  Furthermore, research as critique should draw the invisible from its shadows and make it known.

Through paintings and words, Shannon discussed sustainable forest management, which she noted is distinct from the concept of sustainable forests.  Sustainable Forest Management is more about developing a sustainable management ideology that, it is assumed, will in turn help sustain forests.  She believes it should be in opposition to ‘single objective’ forest management. Vivid in her descriptions, Dr. Shannon compared treating the forest as if it has a single value to pornography, which treats women as if they had a single value.

The lecture was sponsored by the Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management and the ESF Women’s Caucus as C. Eugene Farnsworth Memorial lecturer and part of the  Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Seminar Series.  For information about upcoming lectures in the series, please visit 

Shannon is a former SUNY ESF faculty member.  She participated in the development of the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management.  Shannon was a Senior Fulbright Fellow at the University of Freiburg, Germany, in the Forest and Environmental Science Department.  She has also directed the Environmental Law Program at SUNY Buffalo Law School.

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