Ways of speaking

After turning away from the idea nine years ago, these Sea Crow letters track a cautious return to the notion of undertaking a practice-based PhD.

Thus far ‘doing a PhD’ has remained a rather future-tense affair: the slow and careful re-packaging of pretty much the same question I rocked up with nine years ago.

It’s about the ecological crisis, and what responding to it means. But it’s not about ‘raising awareness’ or telling people what they should be doing. Mainly, it’s about how different ways of speaking offer us different ways of being, and what learning to speak – and listen – differently has to do with ecological healing.

Borrowed Time: fostering response-ability to biospheric collapse through poetic practice.


climate & ecological emergency (CEE) / ecological grief / eco-spirituality / the Anthropocene / creative writing/ authorial illustration

The context of investigation is the anthropogenic global crisis referred to as CEE. The PhD assumes CEE’s socioecological effects will continue to unfold as a nonlinear and rapidly worsening predicament. It treats this assumption as an unchosen psycho-spiritual affliction which – irrespective of predictive accuracies – weighs heavily on the contemporary imagination and therefore warrants thoughtful and creative attention. The PhD thus addresses the sense of irretrievable loss, affective overwhelm and ethical paralysis which already surrounds CEE. Faced with an intractable predicament, the PhD turns to the spiritual for a suitably unconditional reservoir of generative response-ability. Counselling neither magical thinking nor quietist despair, the PhD proposes relational fidelity to our troubled moment (Haraway 2016) and to who or what a dying biosphere requires us to become. It will achieve this through: (1) a body of illustrated poetry; (2) a blog that evolves in reflexive praxis with this poetry and with associated socio-ecological activism; (3) a formal dissertation framing the PhD’s contribution to knowledge within the discourse of eco-spirituality.


Faced with the intractable predicament of biospheric collapse, how might poetic practice foster an appropriately unconditional response-ability?


Coming to this practice-based PhD with a background in authorial illustration, research will be focussed on a turn towards creative writing, with the intention:

  • to inhabit and respond to the predicament of biospheric collapse at an affective, imagistic level
  • to bring the modes of response-ability available to discursive reflection, socio-ecological activism and critical analysis into reflexive praxis with the territories of thought and being navigated by image- based poetic experimentation
  • to articulate a regenerative, post-anthropocentric understanding of the spiritual by which to navigate the inescapable implications of biospheric collapse


The PhD comprises three enfolded outcomes jointly negotiating the affective overwhelm and ethical paralysis generated by the near-term implications of biospheric collapse.

  1. 1)  Create an open-access blog (Sea Crow) evolving in reflexive praxis with a body of illustrated poetry and with related socioecological activism. The blog will open a non-linear, integrative space which welcomes self-contradiction, dissonance and unease. It will be edited for publication as a book-length meditation on the eco-spiritual at the conclusion of the project.
  2. 2)  Make a series of illustrated poetry chapbooks (Strandline Books) which turn to creative writing as a primary vehicle through which to navigate CEE at an affective, imagistic level. The chapbooks’ image-text format will integrate illustration, book and page design as auxiliary processes which serve to catalyse, amplify and unsettle the writing.
  3. 3)  Complete a dissertation situating the project’s contribution to knowledge within the emergent discourse of eco-spirituality and demonstrating the value of diverse, locally rooted poetic re- articulations of the spiritual: the necessarily un-orchestrated regenerative culture(s) required for citizens of collapsing industrial consumer societies to adapt to the predicament of CEE.


The PhD’s intentions emerge from a year-long symposium that I convened for my research network Art.Earth. Borrowed Time: on death, dying and change (2020-2021) set out to bring the burgeoning phenomenon of ‘ecological grief’ into conversation with the insights, knowledges and practices of palliative care and death culture. The PhD addresses the (widely shared) personal dilemma which both provoked that collaborative inquiry and was deepened by it. The PhD asks in what sense might ‘adapting’ to CEE be understood as a fundamentally spiritual proposition? A primary research context is the growing chorus of ‘doomist’ despair within popular culture and social commentary. Such discourse variously frames the anticipated near-term systemic collapse of industrial consumer societies as grounds for civic passivity, numbed resignation and cynical dissociation. The PhD will counter this contemporary trend towards quietist despair by demonstrating the intrinsic and existential value of generative response-ability.


In seeking to articulate a suitably unconditional basis for sustainable response-ability to CEE, the PhD addresses the contemporary re-imagining(s) of the spiritual commonly referred to as ‘eco-spirituality’ (Abram 1997, Taylor 2004, Berry 2005, Morton 2016, Ghosh 2021).

Approaching this territory primarily through creative writing, the PhD looks to Bangladeshi novelist Amitav Ghosh’s argument that the thought structures of post-Enlightenment literature have unwittingly rendered the near-term implications of CEE ‘unthinkable’ within contemporary literature, whose ethic of plausibility mitigates against any affective grasp of the radical unpredictability of (eg) runaway global heating. Ghosh’s contribution to the PhD lies in his identification of this involuntary process of systemic denial. (Ghosh 2016). In pushing back against this unwitting silencing of the contemporary imagination, the PhD also builds on the work of the late US phenomenological depth-psychologist James Hillman. As practice-based research it investigates imagistic experimentations through which to inhabit the ‘underworld perspective’ (Hillman 1979) characteristic of both the dreaming mind and of the fabulist premodern narratives posited by Ghosh as our more eloquent climate literatures. This underworld perspective will be mobilised to voice the radical vulnerability and unpredictability of our collective predicament.


The PhD’s initial focus will be the creation of an open-access blog weighing the knowledges available to discursive critical reflection and to socio-ecological activism. The blog brings these into reflexive praxis with the territories of thought and being navigated by poetic experimentation and\as eco-spiritual inquiry. The blog will therefore co-evolve with a series of illustrated poetry chapbooks experimenting with affective, imagistic languages by which to apprehend the underlying causes and the ontological implications of CEE. The latter phase of the PhD will focus on a formal dissertation framing the project’s contribution to knowledge as one local gesture towards a regenerative, post-anthropocentric understanding of the spiritual, through which to navigate our collective radical vulnerability to and entanglement within CEE. The PhD’s threefold practice-based inquiry will test the limits and the specific contributions of each mode of response discussed (discursive reflection, socio-ecological activism, poetic experimentation) in terms of their ability to apprehend and generatively respond to CEE. At the conclusion of the PhD the project blog will be edited for publication as a book-length meditation on the eco-spiritual.


Microsoft Word – Mat Osmond_Practice-based PhD AFR_May 2022.docx

Abram, David: The Spell of the Sensuous: language and perception in a more than human world, Vintage 1997

Bendell, Jem & Read, Rupert: Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Crisis, Polity 2021 Berry, Wendell: The Way of Ignorance and other essays, Counterpoint 2005

Bringhurst, Robert: The Solid Form of Language: an essay on writing and meaning, Gaspereau 2004; with Jan Zwicky: Learning to Die: wisdom in the age of climate crisis, University of Regina 2018

Bould, Mark: The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture, Verso 2021
Chapman, Hannah: Words for a Dying World: stories of grief and courage from the global church, SCM 2020

Cheetham, Tom: Imaginal Love: the meanings of imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman, Spring 2015;

Ghosh, Amitav: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Chicago 2016; The Nutmeg’s Curse: parable for a planet in crisis, John Murray 2021

Haraway, Donna: Staying with the Trouble: making kin in the cthulucene, Duke University 2016
Hillman, James: The Dream and the Underworld, Harper 1979; The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World, Spring 1993

Jenkinson, Stephen: Come of Age: the case for elderhood in a time of trouble, North Atlantic 2018

Kingsnorth, Paul & Hine, Dogald: The Dark Mountain Manifesto, Dark Mountain Project 2009

Lawson, Anthea: The Entangled Activist: Learning to Recognise the Master’s Tools, Perspectiva 2021

Machado de Oliveira, Vanessa: Hospicing Modernity: facing humanity’s wrongs and the implications for social activism, North Atlantic 2021

Morton, Timothy: The Ecological Thought, Harvard 2010; Dark Ecology, Columbia 2016; Being Ecological, MIT 2018

Ortiz Hill, Michael: Dreaming the End of the World: apocalypse as a rite of passage, Spring 1994

Rember, John: 100 Little Pieces on the End of the World, University of New Mexico 2020

Romanyshyn, Robert: The Wounded Researcher: on research with soul in mind, Spring 2013

Scranton, Roy, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: reflections on the end of a civilisation, City Lights 2015; We’re Doomed, Now What?: essays on war and climate change, Soho 2018

Tamás, Rebecca, Strangers: essays on the human and nonhuman, Makina 2020
Taylor, Bron: Dark Green Religion: nature spirituality and the planetary future, University of California 2010

Tsing, Anna: The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins, Princeton 2015

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