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2022-23 Old Dominion Public Lecture Series – The Less Selfish Gene: Forest Altruism, Neoliberalism, and the Tree of Life

Rob Nixon, English, High Meadows Environmental Institute

November 16, 2022 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 010 East Pyne

Humanities Council
Image of Professor Rob Nixon

Why has the hitherto arcane field of plant communication magnetized millions of general readers? Since the great recession of 2008, we have witnessed an upsurge in public science writing that popularizes research into forest sentience, forest suffering and the forest as a form of collective intelligence.

This talk roots the contemporary allure of forest communication in a widespread discontent with neoliberalism’s antipathy to cooperative ways of being. Nixon argues that the science of forest dynamics offers a counter-narrative of flourishing, an allegory for what George Monbiot has called “private sufficiency and public wealth.”


Rob Nixon is the Barron Family Professor in Environment and Humanities at Princeton University. His books include, most recently, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Nixon is currently an Old Dominion Research Professor in the Humanities Council and is completing a book entitled Blood at the Root. Environmental Martyrs and the Defense of Life (University of Chicago).

Nixon writes frequently for the New York Times. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Nation, London Review of Books, The Village Voice, Aeon, Orion, Critical Inquiry and elsewhere. Much of Nixon’s work focuses on environmental justice struggles in the global South. He is a particularly fascinated by the role that artists and writers can play in giving imaginative definition to the possibilities for social change.

Old Dominion Research Professors contribute to the Council’s programs and events and engage the campus community in sustained discussions about their research. This cohort of senior faculty join a yearlong program designed to provide additional research time and to enhance the humanities community more broadly. They also serve as faculty fellows in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. Old Dominion Professors are full professors in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.


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