Written by Andy McGlashen, Environmental Science and Policy Program
David Kim's office looks a bit different from most ESPP affiliates' work spaces, decorated as it is with pictures of Nietzsche and Foucault, its bookshelves packed with dense European thought. He is primarily interested in 19th- and 20th-century German-speaking literatures, but says cultural and literary studies provide a useful complement to science and policy research.
"Literature can challenge us to imagine what the world would look like if our relationship with nature were different," says Kim, an assistant professor of German. The environment is not simply an object of study, he says; it's something that shapes people's behavior and imagination. "It's a mutual relationship of give and take."
Among Kim's main concerns is the issue of translation, not just of words and phrases, but also of social institutions. For example, the recent Cash for Clunkers program has been modeled after a German initiative, but with American culture and politics in mind. The same is true whenever environmental programs are transferred to a different cultural context, he argues.
Kim says cultural scholars contribute to international policymaking by being attuned to the particular rhetoric and discourse of different stakeholders. The recent climate negotiations in Copenhagen "have clearly shown that there is no unique global perspective at this point," he says. "We do environmentally friendly things because of our expectations of ourselves in relation to our own surroundings." The humanities, he added, can identify how members of various cultures imagine their places in the natural world, and help craft policies that account for those diverse views.
After studying biology and German at Duke, Kim, who spent his formative years in Germany, earned his master's and doctoral degrees in German studies from Harvard.
Kim said he was attracted to MSU in part because its many excellent natural science programs offer new opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue. He joined ESPP for the same reason.
"It seems to be a very interesting and timely forum for studying something that sounds very specific but is actually a vast field of study," he said. "The environment needs to be studied in this way. It's important to keep the sciences and the humanities linked with one another. It's very important to keep the interdisciplinary collaboration in mind. "