HOTB2020 Panel 6.2: Embodying Emergency



Panel 6.2: Embodying Emergency

“Which Portal Will We Go Through? Environmental Humanities and Activism in a Time of Distant Bodies”

Arlene Plevin (Olympic College)

“A Speculative Mythology for a Future of Practicing Kinship and Distance”

Agata Kowalewska (Warsaw University)

Bearing Witness in the Environmental Humanities?

Dominic Wilkins (Syracuse University)



Q & A

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9 replies
  1. Judith Wakeman says:

    Hello Arlene. Your presentation was full of interesting references and ideas which I look forward to following up. We have a curious situation in Australia where education in sciences are being encouraged while scientific evidence is ignored, and humanities degrees are being defunded, becoming costly, and yet, as tryouts point out, humanities provides the opportunity for the discussions that are so desperately needed, especially in troubling times. Thankyou for your presentation.

  2. Judith Wakeman says:

    Dominic. I enjoyed your presentation a great deal. Bearing witness is a topic I had never considered but it resonated with the difficulty many of us have when our time, energy and emotional commitment are insufficient in the face of the huge number of issues we see around us. Coming from a science background, it goes a long way towards explaining why both scientific analysis and environmental humanities can be complementary in bringing about change. Thankyou

    • Dominic Wilkins says:

      Judith, thanks so much! It’s always nice to hear that someone found something interesting after giving a paper, and I think your reflection on the need to recognize and work through the difficulties we so often run into when working to address environmental problems gets to the heart of one of the motivations behind this paper. It points to a question about how those of us doing this sort of work deal with frequent failure in our efforts–this, I think, has some synergy with Arlene’s presentation, which I’ll discuss a little more below. While necessary, I’m still only in the very early stages of thinking through this question and would appreciate thinking with others about how to continue to hope through failure?

  3. Dominic Wilkins says:

    Hi all, and especially Arlene and Agata–thanks for your presentations, as I think together these three talks all help provoke a conversation around what it means to actually do environmental humanities work.

    Agata, I found interesting your call for not just loving and caring at a distance but also learning how to do so–that’s something that I at least have had to learn how to do through this pandemic. It appears to me as well that there might be an interesting rejoinder to the renewed focus on ecotourism in recent decades. I was also struck by your story about the mass slaughter of mink, as it provided a clear demonstration of the loss, destruction, and death so often absent when we assess emergencies. I was curious about why it is that you frame what you call for as a “mythology” or a “mythos,” and I wonder if you could expand a little more on that choice?

    Arlene, I found several of the points made throughout your presentation quite interesting, particularly your emphasis on bringing activism in to spaces where it is not often thought to be. Like many of your students, I too found the “I don’g believe in global warming” photo quite interesting–I was wondering whether you might be able to provide more context around that photo? Additionally, I thought that your repeated emphasis on the lives behind every data point was a useful way to conceptualize both the links and the distance between the environmental humanities and sciences, and it resonated well with Agata’s presentation. The overarching question that your talk raised for me was how we approach the–often quite uncomfortable–question of evaluating the efficacy of various forms of activism? I am wondering whether you think this is a useful question to ask and, if so, how do you think we might incorporate it when trying to figure out which portal to go through?

  4. Judith Wakeman says:

    Thankyou Agata for your observations & insights. It is so true that being, in general, unable to perceive relationships with distant or microscopic events, may be the root cause of our lack of engagement with environmental issues. This panel has given me much to think about in connection with my own studies.

  5. Petra Kuppers says:

    Agata, I really appreciate the cats in your bathroom, and the layers of intimacy and interspecies pathologies you discuss. The playfulness of the cat’s rolling on the ground, and the tiger’s threatening/majestic presence offer a rich counterpoint to your discussions of mink killings. Moving work, with ghosts of presences. May we all roll in the dirt again… close and distant.

  6. Anne Pasek says:

    Hi Arlene,

    Thanks for your presentation! I share your interest in thinking about the pedagogical and tactical challenges of doing activist work during a pandemic, which invite all sorts of necessary and inventive reconsiderations of what activism looks like when physical gatherings are off the table (as they already were for many of us before the pandemic).

    I have two questions:
    1) How do you discuss the different kinds of tactics/activism with your students, and discuss when and how different forms of activism may be more or less useful in a given context? (For instance, I find that my students are usually drawn towards narrative work, or consumer interventions, but lack a more robust understanding of organizing and mobilization strategies, or the kinds of power mapping germane to campaign arcs. I find that students (along with many comrades) are also quick to declare victories, without analyzing gaps between awareness raising gestures and tangible actions).
    2) How do you negotiate potential conflicts with your students (and administration?) around activist work? There are many examples of controversy (legitimate or otherwise) when instructors orient students towards political actions. Have you encountered this personally, or planned around the possibility at all?

    Thanks in advance for your answers!

  7. Anne Pasek says:

    Cheers Dominic, for your great talk! I regret that I have no insightful question to offer here, just an appreciation for the questions you raise for the environmental humanities at large. Thank you for your work on this front-I think it presents a very important intervention.

  8. nseymour says:

    Thank you all for a beautiful and timely panel! Agata, a colleague and I are currently writing on “Tiger King” and may want to quote your talk. 🙂

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