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Raging Against the Machine

WGSS professor Adrian Parr lets her outrage at social and environmental injustices motivate her to make a change.

Date: 3/8/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
In her Australian elementary school, Adrian Parr was outraged when her friend was caned by a teacher for something she didn’t do. So Parr did what any 11-year-old would do: she spent her weekend creating picket signs and rallying students in protest against the school principal.

“I ended up being the lone picketer outside. I refused to go to class,” she says with a laugh.

Adrian Parr.
Adrian Parr, associate professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

It sparked a lifelong interest in responding to and challenging social injustices. Since her childhood days, Parr has volunteered for a variety of organizations working toward change. She has worked as a youth street worker and outreach telephone counselor in Kings Cross, the red-light district in Sydney. She’s worked with the Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne. Now in the United States, Parr is donating research time (and the royalties from a book) to an outreach program that brings medical and educational services to rural parts of Tanzania.

As a new associate professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS), she lets her outreach experiences motivate her in her research as well. Parr has written books and articles about such diverse topics as sustainability, the Holocaust and Abu Ghraib.

“What motivates me is usually a sense of outrage in a situation. And that feeling of dismay and anger is usually strong enough to drive me through my research,” she says.

Parr’s background is in social and political philosophy and ethics. She received her master’s in politics and philosophy from Deakin University in Australia and her PhD in philosophy and cultural studies from Monash University.

“I have a strong background in the history of ideas,” Parr says. “It allows me to use an intersectional approach on a variety of topics that range from torture at Abu Ghraib, to children in detention centers, to women in sustainable development, or the political potential of culture.”

“That’s why the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies is a great fit for me,” Parr says. “Like most who study contemporary feminist theory, I tend to adopt an intersectional approach. I don’t study the situation of women in isolation, but also in conjunction with issues of class, political economy, race, the environment and ethnicity.”

Her most recent book, “Hijacking Sustainability,” looks at climate change and how the principles of sustainability are being co-opted by large corporations. She examines the “greening” of brands like British Petroleum and Wal-Mart, as well as the efforts of the U.S. government and military.

“The main principle underpinning the sustainability movement is  ‘constructive change’ but the growing energy and passion in support of the movement is rapidly being harnessed in a way that reinforces the very structures of exploitation and abuse that have given rise to the sustainability movement,” Parr explains. “The casualties are still women, the poor, children, the environment and animals raised for food.”

All her courses lean upon social and political theory. Parr is currently teaching a graduate course on contemporary issues in feminist theory for WGSS (see a glimpse of her teachings in the embedded video). Spring quarter she will teach a course on Environmental Justice and Equality. For her joint appointment with the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), she is teaching critical theory and research methods, and is also helping the architecture program create a sustainability major as part of the proposed PhD in architectural theory.

Before arriving as a visiting professor at UC in 2006, Parr taught at Savannah College of Art and Design. Her husband, Michael Zaretsky, is an assistant professor in the School of Architecture and Interior Design at DAAP.

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