Professor to Discuss Trash in Engel Lecture
might trash—all the discarded
materials considered no longer of use—say
about its former owners? What can be inferred about the one casting out his or
her refuse based on what is contained in the heap?
Elizabeth V. Spelman
Elizabeth V. Spelman, the
Barbara Richmond 1940 Professor in the Humanities, will explore
such questions during her talk “Combing Through the Trash: Philosophy Goes Rummaging,” the
53rd annual Katharine Asher Engel Lecture, on Tuesday, March
22, at 5 p.m. in Seelye Hall room 201.
The lecture is free and open
to the public. ()
“By its very definition, trash is what we throw out, get rid of, implicitly pronounce
as no longer belonging to us,” explains Spelman. “At the same time, there are
many reasons we may not want anyone going through it, even though it is the very
same stuff we’ve come to regard as no longer really ‘ours.’ The fact that some
cases of trash-combing and garbage-divining have captured the attention not only
of celebrity watchers but the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States
suggests that we’re anxious and uncertain about just what our garbage does or
doesn’t tell about us, should or should not be used to tell about us.”
The Engel Lecture is granted
annually to a Smith faculty member who has made a significant
contribution to his or her field. The lecture was established
in 1958 by the National Council of Jewish Women in honor
of Engel, its onetime president and a 1920 Smith graduate.
Spelman joined the Smith faculty
in 1982 after completing her doctorate in 1974 at Johns Hopkins
University (bachelor’s degree, Wellesley
Spelman became interested in
trash as an academic topic when participating in the 2007-08
Kahn Liberal Arts Institute seminar “The Meaning
of Matter,” coordinated by Dana Leibsohn, Priscilla Paine Van der Poel Professor
of Art History, and Brigitte Buettner, direct of the art department.
“I’ve been filling trashcans at Smith for almost 30 years,” Spelman jokes. “But
I am drawn to topics involving common features of human life that are both very
ripe for philosophical reflection and on the whole have not been systematically
addressed by philosophers.”
In recent years, Spelman’s teaching and research interests have included the
work of repair, the nature and function of desire in the context of consumer
society, the uses and abuses of ignorance, and, most recently, the life and times
of trash. Her published works include three books: Inessential
Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought; Fruits
of Sorrow: Framing Our Attention to Suffering; and Repair:
The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World.
will follow the lecture in the Paradise Room of the Smith
College Conference Center.