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An Ecotopian Lexicon was written and edited to be clear, engaging, and intelligible for undergraduate as well as graduate students.
As teachers we were keenly aware of the need for a book like this, so we set out to create it. Many environmentally-focused instructors search for accessible work that can provide a glimmer of (grounded) hope in an otherwise bleak semester. In addition to its measured optimism, the international scope of An Ecotopian Lexicon makes it a welcome addition to classes where the Eurocentrism of the vast majority of work in the environmental humanities is a major problem.
We have assigned the book in our classrooms and were pleasantly surprised at how successful it was at engaging students and stimulating creative thinking. So we put together a few suggestions for ways that instructors might use An Ecotopian Lexicon in their classes.
Critique and Creativity. Pair chapters from An Ecotopian Lexicon with critiques of commonly used terms, such as "nature," "culture," and "environment." Ask your class to define these common terms, and to differentiate them from terms like sila, pa theuan, and Pachamama.
Utopia Now. In his foreword, author Kim Stanley Robinson describes An Ecotopian Lexicon as a "utopian science fiction story" in the form of a lexicon. What makes it science fiction? In what ways is it "utopian"? How do specific entries address the value of utopian thinking at this moment in time, and what risks do they identify?
Write an Entry. After assigning chapters from the book, ask your students to write short essays advocating for the adoption of a term from a language they speak, a subculture they're part of, or a "text" they are familiar with. This activity can get them thinking about how ideologies are embedded in the terms that they already use, and how language and thought can be a tool for social change. We have an example of an assignment used in contributor Melody Jue's class at UCSB, including a student submission both licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License: Ecotopian Lexicon Assignment and "Capthea" by Naz Haidarian.
Use the Lexicon. Does language reflect reality, or shape it? Ask students to commit to using specific loanwords once a day, every day for a week—we would recommend ~*~, gyebale, in lak’ech—a la k’in, sila, and sueño, among others. After a week, ask: Did it make a difference? Do the words we speak affect our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings? Have students write reflections on their experiences in the form of a blog post, podcast, social media post, or vlog.
Join the Conversation. An Ecotopian Lexicon is, among other things, a transmedia conversation. Join the conversation by asking students, individually or in small groups, to express one of the entries in a different medium—a gesture, dance, song, poem, slogan, painting, sculpture, or something else. (Bonus: If you send us documentation, we'll put it on this website!)
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