Louise Westling

Louise Westling

Professor, Department of English; University of Oregon

Westling has worked as professor of English and Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon since 1985. An expert in modern British and American literature, she was one of the creators of the field of ecocriticism, an international interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities linked with evolutionary biology, animal studies, climate change, geography, and geology.  She utilizes the concept of Ecophenomenology derived from the philosophy of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty and engaged with the new field of Biosemiotics developed in Denmark and Estonia by Jesper Hoffmeyer and Kalevi Kull.  Westling is an advocate of non-Darwinian evolution and the relation of human semiotic and cultural behaviors to those of other animals with which our species co-evolved.

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Louise H. Westling received her B.A. in English from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in 1964 and her Ph.D. in English from the University of Oregon in 1974. After teaching for several years at Oregon State University, she returned to the University of Oregon where she has been ever since.  She has also been a visiting professor at the University of Tübingen (1981) and was a Fulbright Professor at the University of Heidelberg (1996). A founding member of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment in 1992, she was its President in 1998.  She has published five books, edited four others, and published more than thirty scholarly articles and book chapters.

Westling has been active in the University of Oregon's Environmental Studies Program for more than twenty years, serving as a member of the ENVS Executive Committee and Core Faculty member teaching environmental humanities and supervising interdisciplinary graduate student research projects in biology, policy studies, and cultural studies.

Westling’s recent work has been focused on critical animal studies in relation to evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, and ethology, exploring evidence for biological and cultural continuity between humans and other animals. Central to the theoretical aspect of this work is the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, particularly the Nature lectures he gave at the Collège de France from 1957 until his death in 1961.  Present research draws connections between Biosemiotics, epigenesis, biocultural environments, and human language.

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"[I take] a position within debates about animal language, asserting that human linguistic behavior gradually emerged in the course of evolution from neural structures and physical behaviors we share with primates and other animals, that it remains embedded within shared abilities and cultures in a continuum of animal behaviors that are themselves part of a myriad of communications in the living world . . . ."

(The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language, p. 103)

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