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Do We Own Our Thoughts?

awkwardturtle's picture

Do We Own Our Thoughts?

Both Stacy Alaimo and Paulo Freire do not mention “ecological intelligence” explicitly, but they both support ecological intelligence as an awareness of and resulting from the porous bodies and permeable membranes that prevent the complete separation of humans from all other bodies. I will look at the permeable membranes of the different classroom locations, the students (me included) and Anne themselves, and the words we use and lack thereof. Also, I will explore the role that the power dynamics described by Alaimo and the  classroom hegemony in our class and described by Freire plays into ecological intelligence.

The classroom is a body, and “it’s clear that bodies contain other bodies and that the activities of the smaller bodies contained within a larger body can be very different than those of the larger bodies” (Alaimo). With the many different classroom locations, we have inserted our own bodies into other larger bodies. These class locations have “different ‘aims’” (Alaimo) than the student choosing the location, and they do not work well “for our sake” (Alaimo). The “classrooms” along with its weather conditions is its own permeable body we insert ourselves in, and “every body is a heterogeneous and complex network of entities that is itself an entity or unit” (Alaimo). We (the students in the class, Anne, and Aniya) are inseparable from the environment, as seen in our postings of how the locations have impacted our class discussion. In addition, our surroundings take in the contents of our bodies, not only because it is impossible to leave a location without changing it, but also because our aim is mostly to help ourselves, as seen in Madi’s post about Taft Garden, “It would no longer be M. Carey Thomas's private space and display of her wealth, but a place where we would feel safe discussing issues, about the environment, racism, social justice in general...” (“Taft Garden”). In other words, “As...information pass through these bodies, they are transformed by the machine of the body into parts composing the entity” (Alaimo). However, it is the aims of M. Carey Thomas, a body which had interacted with Taft Garden, rather than the aims of Taft Garden itself, further demonstrating this complex network of porous bodies (Alaimo).       

Our class discussions involve interactions between bodies rather than inside or outside. According to Freire, the words used in discussion are “laden with the meaning of the people’s existential experience...pregnant with the world” (10). All of us take our life experiences into the class that are included in all of the thoughts we share. We form “codifications, pictures imaging real situations” (Freire 11), associating these words with the people who have spoken them, the environment in which they were spoken, and all other interactions between us and the words. The words (and phrases, sentences, etc.) are like bodies within themselves, entering and exiting bodies such as humans, changing themselves and the external environment through transforming what comes in and inserting themselves into the voices of humans and other larger bodies. In my experience, class discussions were often the springboard for my essays or the source of essay ideas themselves. Ecological intelligence seems to make intellectual property nonexistent; our essays are merely our bodies’ transformation of the intake of our surroundings (Alaimo), or the “writing it or re-writing it, that is, of transforming it by means of conscious practical work” (Freire 10). Our selectively permeable membranes take in and process the words of our fellow students and surroundings based upon our previous experiences, but without the awareness this process, it is much harder to see the inherent subjectivity of our ideas. In addition to words, there is also silence in our discussions, which I find analogous to the empty space found in all bodies as described by Alaimo. The empty space is where the transformations take place, where all of the words we take in are transformed by our own life experiences, or the words put into our classroom location are recontextualized with the current classroom location, forming new codifications. The empty space is just as significant as the words, giving bodies the capacity to release and take in the contents of the world.

Both Freire and Alaimo discuss power differences that occur from the interactions between membranes. Freire describes students as the subject of their own learning, while the teacher still plays a very political role of teaching (10). Despite the nuances with the teacher-student relationship, such as teaching not being “a which the teacher fills the supposedly empty heads of the learners with his or her words...the teacher cannot put it together for the student; that is the student’s creative task” (10), the naming of these roles imply the existence of a hierarchy. On the other hand, the power structures defined by Alaimo are much more fluid, in which every interaction between bodies results in a transfer of power. I previously defined ecological intelligence as the just the awareness of these interactions, but the existence of unequal shares of power raises the question of whether ecological intelligence is characterized by individual and reversible exchanges of power (Alaimo) or seemingly benevolent hegemony (Freire). Anne said in class that she agrees with Freire’s philosophy, and doesn’t refrain from expressing her views in class. Furthermore, we, the students, are not forced to take in those views, but I find almost always find myself in agreement with Anne anyway. According to Alaimo; however, there should be moments in which the students remove power from Anne, which also makes sense due to the structure of our discussion. Ultimately, both of these ideas seem to coexist in the E-sem class, with the students fulfilling their roles as learners with Anne being the obvious teacher, but also a discussion based learning to allow for the exchanges that disrupt the hegemony, all of which have a part in ecological intelligence.


Larval Subjects (Levi R. Bryant), Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality (May 24, 2012).

Paulo Freire, The Importance of the Act of Reading. Trans. Loretta Slover. Brazilian Congress of Reading, Campinas, Brazil. November 1981. Rpt. Journal of Education 165, 1 (Winter 1983): 5-11.

“Taft Garden.” Web blog post. Changing our Story 2015. Serendip, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 5. Dec. 2015.


Anne Dalke's picture

awkward turtle--
this just makes me shiver! especially this line--"Ecological intelligence seems to make intellectual property nonexistent; our essays are merely our bodies’ transformation of the intake of our surroundings." (This reminds me of a crack once made by my colleague Mark Lord, that "intellectual property is an oxymoron.") SUCH a different (really, revolutionary!) description of the work we are doing together here; compare it, for example, to the claims on the college website that the "mission of Bryn Mawr College is to provide a rigorous education [that] teaches and values critical, creative and independent habits of thought and expression."

Couple of further thoughts, which we can explore together during your conference tomorrow:
* you say that "without the awareness this process, it is much harder to see the inherent subjectivity of our ideas." Latour gets rid of subjectivity, along with objectivity--so think a little bit more about its role in your definition of eco-intelligence?
* the paper gets really interesting to me when you start to bring in questions of you want to do a re-write, considering the relationship of porosity and power? does power impede porosity? fuel it? can you think of some examples of either, happening in our classroom? or in your writing tutoring relation?
* is it time to move on from the 'shell' of the 'awkward turtle,' find a user name that is more 'open' to 'porosity'?? ;)