Dr. Karen Houle | College of Arts

Dr. Karen Houle

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Areas of Feminist Research: Social and Political Philosophy (esp. French Feminist Thought), Environmental Philosophy

My present research interests are in the area of political theory and post-structuralist thought. I am thinking through the ways in which our dominant conceptual heritage has framed ethical and political questions, including both how the issues are seen and how particular solutions to these issues are presented as real, viable possibilities for change and resistance. My work is primarily conceptual but has points of insertion in familiar ethical and political questions, including perennial feminist questions about oppression and domination, access to resources, health and power. I have written about abortion and surrogate motherhood. I also work on environmental issues such as just distribution of waste, ecosystem health, and animality:

Recent Publications

  • "Giving) Savings Accounts." In Eugene W. Holland, Daniel W. Smith & Charles J. Stivale (eds.), Gilles Deleuze: Image and Text. Continuum (2009)


Forthcoming Work

My upcoming book is titled Toward a New Image of Thought: Responsibility, Complexity and Abortion (Lexington Press, 2013, “Out Sources” Series). It is not technically about abortion, thus not feminist in the sense of dealing with a topic of particular importance to the lives of women. Rather, I use the case of abortion as my working example to demonstrate what our entrenched habits of ethical thinking are, and how they are often maladaptive. One of the ways our dominant, or habitual ethical thinking is maladaptive is that it fails to conceive of unwanted pregnancy as an ethical opportunity. Typically, unwanted pregnancy is cast as a complete disaster -- morally and otherwise. The upshot of this is that the ethical lessons available in the event of unwanted pregancy, lessons coming forth via the bodies and lives of women, are overlooked. Recuperating those ethical teachings is a feminist project in the sense that it repositions women and women's experiences as ethical resources for humanity. I presented some of these ideas  at the 5th Christina Conference on Gender Studies, "Feminist Thought: Politics of Concepts", at the University of Helsinki, May 23-25th, 2013. (The University of Helsinki is a really fantastic place. They have a PhD in Gender Studies!).



From 2008-2012 I was a Research Team Member of the "Canadian Community of Practice in Ecosystem Approaches to Health." (Copeh-Can).  CoPEH-Canada is an adaptive community of scholars and practitioners dedicated to the understanding, teaching and application of ecosystem approaches to address current challenges to a healthy and sustainable global future. One of our key outputs was a collaboratively developed open-source Teaching Manual in 2012. The teaching manual is available for anyone wanting to integrate an Ecosystems approach into their teaching, anywhere in the world. Here is a link to the Ecosystems Approaches to Health: Teaching Manual.

      I was the lead author on the Chapter on "Sex-Gender" (pp. 93-118). Integrating a gender analysis into ones research, no matter how far the research seems from "social issues" is a central principle of the Ecosystem Approach. In this chapter, I set out the basic concepts of "gender" and "sex" and then using examples of current feminist science from embryology and toxicology I walk through some of the incredible links that exist between biological and socio-cultural reality, and discuss the value of taking on this lens, both to the advancement of knowledge and social justice. 


I am also a published poet and a fiction writer. (see image, reading at the OVC this year). Some of what I write is explicitly feminist in subject-matter (for instance, a short story on miscarriage, abortion and female friendship that was published in Dropped Threads II or some of my poems like those toward the end of Ballast one was inspired by living in house where the previous tenant, a woman, died of breast cancer. Another was inspired by reading (misogynist) instructions to Buddhist monks on how to manage sexual arousal. But even the writing that doesn't seem to be "feminist" or have a straightforward message about women's lives is very much from, and about, my embodied reality as a woman. When I teach "Philosophy and Literature" I include texts on writing by feminist philosophers like Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous and great fiction by authors like Virginia Woolf and Anne Carson.  


The University of Guelph resides on the land of the Between the Lakes Treaty No. 3, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. This land is part of the Dish with One Spoon, a covenant between Indigenous nations to live peaceably on the territories of the Great Lakes region. We recognize that today this gathering place is home to many First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and acknowledging them reminds us of our collective responsibility to the land where we learn, live and work.