Nurturing Mother Nature: An Ecofeminist Perspective on the Visual Rhetoric of Environmental Activism

By Julia Romberger and Hannah Scialdone-Kimberley.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Visual representations of animals by environmental activist groups such as World Wildlife Fund help shape audiences’ perceptions of nature. These images participate in not only creating emotional and logical rhetorical appeals that spur viewers to action, but they also have potential to reify conceptions of nature. These conceptions foment what Plumwood has identified as a “logic of colonisation,” thus helping to fuel common Western tropes of humankind’s dominion over nature such as resourcism, conservationism, and scientism, which undergird material practices that are part of the environmental crisis (1993, p. 41). This discussion will use a visual rhetorical framework employed by Buchanan (2001) and Kress and Van Leeuwen (2005) to examine the ways in which environmental groups represent animals such as polar bears as dedicated and affectionate mothers. This positioning is a rhetorical strategy that, ecofeminists contend, creates discursive connections between women, nature, and others that can perpetuate logics of colonization. Through the example of the positioning of predators as mothers, this paper will demonstrate how the visual and discursive practices of environmental groups have potential to generate unintended consequences of perpetuating colonization rhetorics. The presenters will conclude with suggestions for repositioning imagistic representations of nature in an ecofeminist ethic.

Keywords: Ecofeminism, Ecopornography, Environmental Activism, Visual Rhetoric

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.39-52. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.920MB).

Dr. Julia Romberger

Assistant Professor, English, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Julia Romberger graduated from Purdue University with a PhD in English with a focus on Rhetoric and Composition. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Old Dominion University where she runs the English Department Instructional Computer Lab and serves as coordinator of the Professional Writing Program. She has presented at numerous conferences in the field of rhetoric and writing studies. Her publications include an article on distance education and a chapter on ecofeminism and research methodology in the collection Digital Writing Research, winner of the Computers and Writing Best Book Award of 2007. Her research includes the application of ecofeminism to digital environments and visual rhetoric as well as the use of the rhetorical canon of memoria in online writing environments.

Hannah Scialdone-Kimberley

Lecturer, English, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Hannah Scialdone-Kimberley is a doctoral candidate (A.B.D.) studying rhetorical and textual studies at Old Dominion University. Her dissertation (in progress) is titled Woman at the Top: Rhetoric, Science and Feminism in the Life of Annie Smith Peck.’ She is also a instructor at ODU, where she teaches courses in literature, composition and rhetoric, including Introduction to Rhetoric and Rhetoric of the Graphic Novel. Her current research interests include the rhetoric of women explorers at the turn of the century, eco-criticism, and visual rhetoric. She has presented at several conferences in the field of rhetoric and writing studies. She has co-authored, with David Metzger, a chapter in ‘Rhetorics, Literacies, and Narratives of Sustainability’ on the Rhetoric of stakeholders’ discussion papers at the United Nations’ Forum on Forests (Routledge, edited by Peter Goggin, 2009).