A-D | E-K | S-Z

Solarpunk: Imagining a Political and Ecological Aesthetics for the Future

David Latour

What could our ecological and social future look like? As humans living in the 21st century, what can we do to deal with the uncountable crises our planet is facing? What solutions can we bring into this world? And, most importantly, what kind of future do we need to imagine in order for us to want to change the present?

Solarpunk is an emerging genre that is “punk” in the sense that it opposes the scenarios of collapsologists as famous as Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens for instance, and dystopian works of fiction as diverse as cyberpunk movies Blade Runner (1982), the horror-survival comics The Walking Dead (2003-2019), or the post-apocalyptic novel The Road(2006) by Cormac McCarthy. It is also “solar” because it advocates for a brighter future, one that we anticipate as a community in the sense that we strongly whish for it, not a dark future that we fear and feel we will have to painfully experience. It calls for an immediate aesthetic revolution against despair and anxiety to form a new civilization that would be both more socially egalitarian and ecologically aware.

Political ecology should be beautiful according to Solarpunk. Through art, architecture, and activism, the movement brings together science and nature(s) to form a speculative projection of what our future could be like provided we deeply and collectively changed our lifestyle right away. From the “vertical forests” of architect Stefano Boeri to “The Notes towards a Solarpunk Manifesto” of Jay Springett, from the stories collected in Solarpunk: ecological and fantastical stories in a sustainable world [2012] (2018) to the music of Imperial Boy, various artists and thinkers challenge the social, ecological and aesthetic status quo. Solarpunk questions the here and now of the way we are treating nature and each other, and suggests fresh ways to harmoniously combine urban centers and natural elements through new technologies so as to provide solutions to the social and ecological crises we are facing. It empowers us with the hope to make the planet a better and more beautiful place for everyone on it.

My name is David Latour. I am 41 and I live in Lyon, France. I have studies both in France and in the US. I am an Associate Professor in English and I have a PhD. in American studies. My thesis was entitled “Henry David Thoreau’s Environmental Ethics.” I have taken part in many conferences on ecocriticism and written various articles, among which some are being published (for example, one on Sean Penn’s Into the Wild or another on McCarthy’s On the Road). I am now teaching English in Med School at the Université de Clermont-Ferrand, France.

Chaucer’s Corrupt Air: Atmosphere, Mood, Ecological Crisis

Ryan Lawrence

On October 6, 1348, at the urgent request of Philip VI, the medical faculty at the University of Paris issued a compendium of opinion on the causes of the Black Death. One of the causes cited was “the corruption of the air.” Air, “which is pure and clear by nature,” had mixed with “evil vapors,” spreading pestilence throughout France and England. The faculty held that this corruption arose from atmospheric changes, both natural and human induced. Unusual gusts of “thick, wild, and southerly winds,” brought corrupt vapor from swamps, lakes, and deep valleys. The refusal to properly bury the dead resulted in the “putrefying” of the air and water.

The early half of the fourteenth-century was the start of what we now call “the Little Ice Age,” resulting in a number of climatic changes. The cold, as well as excessive rainfall, influenced the growth of crops; fields turned either flooded or barren, resulting in famine every fourteen years, on average. The faculty at the University of Paris clearly expressed their experience of these changes: “Therefore we speak from experience when we say that for some time now the seasons have not been regular.”

Fourteenth-century ecological crisis meant that the material world was made particularly palpable as humans felt their unavoidable and dense entanglement with the environment. This paper explores fourteenth-century literary representations of climate change. I argue that climatic changes influenced the form and function of contemporary public poetry, leading late-medieval poets to develop heightened senses of “atmosphere” and “mood” in the literature they produced. In particular, I focus on Geoffrey Chaucer’s conception of atmosphere, mood, and ecological crisis in the ​House of Fame, Troilus and Criseyde, a​ nd the ​Canterbury Tales.

Ryan Lawrence is a fourth year PhD candidate at Cornell University. He works on late-medieval literary conceptions of matter, atmospheres, and things.

Queer Environmental Futures

 Sabine LeBel

For the last several years, my creative collaborator, Alison Taylor, and I have been working on a project called Queer Environmental Futures. It consists of collaborative short experimental films, a series of video installations, and an art residency in collaboration with Anima Casa Rural, a permaculture project in Jalisco, Mexico led by Director Julian Calleros. From the AIDS crisis of the 1980s to the rash of queer youth suicides in recent decades, we suggest that queer communities have created art and activism that imagine “impossible futures,” and thus bring a unique perspective to environmental catastrophe, including the current climate crisis. Since Anima Casa Rural is a place that is literally reworking our interactions with the environment, it is an ideal space in which to do this work of reimagining environmental futures. In June 2019, we ran a “Queer Environmental Futures” residency at Anima and it brought together queer multi-media artists from across North America, including writers, painters, ceramic and video artists. It culminated in a group show at Estudio Teorema in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The residency was due to run again in May 2020 but had to be cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. Since the pandemic hit my part of the world, I have been following with interest the connections being made between COVID and earlier pandemics, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and the climate crisis. I have also been participating in many shared, online, and collaborative queer art projects, many of which have a clear environmental bent. For my contribution to the ASLE 2020 virtual conference, I would like offer some preliminary thoughts – both theoretical and creative – to how some of these COVID projects fit into and disrupt our Queer Environmental Futures project.

Dr. Sabine LeBel is an Assistant Professor in the Culture and Media Studies Department at the University of New Brunswick Fredericton. Working in the area of environmental media studies, her research is in the areas of waste, affect, and the visual. Her research has been published in Globalizations, NANO: North American Notes Online, and Canadian Women Studies/ les cahiers de la femme, among others. She also has an art practice, mostly consisting of video work, with pieces screening internationally. Her most current project brings together is titled Queer Environmental Futures.

Leveling Up by Digging Down: The Portrayal of Mining and Sustainability in Video Game Genres

Brian James Leech and George Boone

In the last two decades, most young people have encountered mining through video games, not other forms of popular culture, and almost never in real life; yet, the prominence of mining in such games has elicited little scholarly investigation. The authors of this presentation suggest that analyzing mining’s portrayal through the lens of video game genre will help us to understand what gamers learn about the mining industry–particularly in terms of labor and environmental sustainability. In many real-time strategy games like the Starcraft and Warcraft series, resources are often very limited and players must compete with opposing factions in order to access those materials and expand their armies. In open sandbox games like Terraria and Minecraft, however, players often take the role of miners themselves and search the depths of the game world for rare, limited resources to turn into useful goods. Massively online role-playing games like World of Warcraft, however, emphasize virtual environments where resource nodes replenish after variable timeframes. Depending on the genre, digital games therefore teach gamers very different things about extraction. Gamers might learn that mining is sustainable and easy-to-do or that mining is complicated and strategic minerals tough to find.

Brian James Leech is Associate Professor of History at Augustana College. He coordinates the college’s First Year Inquiry general education program and co-directs its minor in Food Studies. As an environmental historian, Leech’s research focuses on natural resource industries, particularly mining. His book The City That Ate Itself: Butte, Montana and Its Expanding Berkeley Pit (University of Nevada Press, 2018) won the biennial Clark C. Spence Award for the best book in mining history from the U.S. Mining History Association.

George W. Boone is a Continuing Lecturer in Business Administration and Communication Studies at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. His research primarily focuses on storytelling and technological development within the late 1980s video game industry. At Augustana, his teaching responsibilities include business writing, communication theory, and classes that focus on the social effects of technology.

Regenerative Dwelling in the Age of Collapse: A Story

Giulia Lepori and Michał Krawczyk

We are living an epoch of collapse. We are living through the collapses that derive from the Anthropocene. To live through (Ingold 2011) means that we are not occupants of a collapsing world, but we are inhabitants in the world’s collective collapsing performance. Being aware of the Earth’s state of degradation is a way to be mentally prepared for the challenges that we will be presented. This, in our opinion, shall be the underlying statement behind the current humanities. Nevertheless, our doctoral researches in the environmental humanities propose neither the doom and gloom nor the apocalyptic storytelling. They propose to allow places for difference. We feel the responsibility to offer media that show how the world can be different from the ways it is. In the context of positive solutions, this exposition is a joint multimodal storytelling of two ethnographic fieldworks in the permacultural site of Centre for Development of Consciousness – Thar dö Ling, in Sicily, Italy. For six months we lived with a family of permaculture designers, to experience and document a manner of dwelling that creates human habitats in sustainable relations with the more-than-human biotic and elemental communities. In the two researches, moving images and writings are both methodological tools and artifacts that narrate while affecting. In this collaboration, we argue that multimodal storytelling is a practice of enhanced mediation that can affect the audience at intellectual and sensorial levels, promoting the imagining of regeneration. Thus, we exhibit four short films accompanied by four readings, which tell stories of/for a culture of ecological consciousness. Far from suggesting the one-for-all solutions for a universal culture of ecology, this presentation is an ethnographic fragment to witness that in our age of collapse, regenerative imagination is still enacted.

Giulia Lepori is a doctoral candidate in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University; within the Environmental Humanities, informed by Material Ecocriticism, she works on the regeneration of the imaginaries of water, plants, food and waste through human and more-than-human forms of communication as experienced in two permacultural sites.

Michał Krawczyk is a doctoral candidate in the Environmental Futures Research Institute at Griffith University; within the Environmental Humanities, he combines ethnographic research with ecocinema to create portfolios of moving images on permacultural forms of dwelling.

In 2016, they created the independent photo-narrative activist project Echoes of Ecologies, in South America, through which they produced the ethnographic film Yuyos (2018) currently being screened at film festivals and conferences worldwide. |

How Literate Responses to Technical Communication Can Promote Practical Responses to Environmental Change

Mary Le Rouge

My dissertation research project is studying public communication surrounding development of what could be the first freshwater offshore wind farm in North America, on Lake Erie. Through this study, I hope to provide a synthesis of information surrounding contemporary environmental communication that will help push the next iteration of policy to better address environmental problems in ways that attend to the concrete manifestations of environmental change. Global warming is described as a slow-moving disaster by many, which makes addressing its consequences seem less urgent, but we are living today in a world that is currently experiencing the effects of environmental change. How the problem is shared and ideologically constructed makes a difference to varied populations, either to their detriment or benefit. I would argue that improved communication of these issues will allow for a more practical response to environmental change and promote environmental justice.

The subject of research is a proposed wind farm to be situated offshore on Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio. The organization that has developed this project, LEED Co. (Lake Erie Energy Development Co.), is a “public-private nonprofit partnership devoted to catalyzing the offshore wind industry in the Great Lakes Region” (LEEDCo, 2019). The company hopes to install 6 Vestas wind turbines 8 miles offshore of Cleveland, Ohio, in a pilot project called Icebreaker Windpower Inc. However, recent regulations, including energy bill (H.B. 6), weaken Ohio’s renewable energy standards, and approvals for construction of new projects has stalled (Tomich, 2019). The Icebreaker project is a highly contentious example of an attempted move toward sustainable energy production that is enmeshed in issues of political controversy, regulatory hurdles, environmental concerns, and local values.

Mary Le Rouge is a 3rd-year, ABD PhD student and Teaching Fellow in Kent State University’s English Literacy, Rhetoric, and Social Practices program. She teaches composition and argumentation classes focused on the theme of environmental sustainability. She also works as Associate Publisher for Monographs, Collections, and Conference Proceedings with the WAC Clearinghouse. Her research interests include environmental communication, visual literacy, social media and technology, and publishing. She has published articles with the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative and Reflections journal and has spoken at national and international conferences about climate denialism, environmental memes, and public responses to technical communication about environmental topics.

Climate Storytelling and Active Learning in Rural America

Kyhl Lyndgaard

Teaching climate change through active learning and the literary arts requires foundational work to connect people while providing the space and setting to initiate and sustain conversations about their experiences. Through the process of discussion, students discover that they do have personal climate stories to tell. They also become aware of channels which allow them to further their own interest and advocacy, and in which their voice can be heard. This exploratory process is particularly critical when working in communities located away from major metropolitan areas, given the political fault lines around climate change which mirror how population is distributed. Further, climate justice demands that we work with communities who disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change and fossil fuel infrastructure and this awareness must also be built into active learning processes.

My presentation will include a description of projects that I helped organize and lead in 2019-20. For each, I will suggest ways to make similar or parallel events happen in the context of other institutions/organizations. Events include: students writing about their climate stories as published blog posts; bringing Climate Generation facilitators to campus for a two-day storytelling workshop open to the public; working with a theatre professor to be a host site for the 2019 Climate Change Theatre Action; hosting the Minnesota location for the Solve Climate by 2030 webcasts in April 2020 (featuring Winona LaDuke and others).

I will briefly discuss the importance of making interdisciplinary connections across college campuses and with local community groups, activists, and non-profits. I’ll share key findings and survey results, emphasizing the importance of motivation and community building. In conclusion, I’ll note the value of celebrating successes.

*Note that this presentation is an update of my work given at ASLE in summer 2019 at UC-Davis, which was about planning such events (none had happened when I had given that talk!), and which garnered significant interest from the audience.

Kyhl Lyndgaard’s forty publications include Captivity Literature and the Environment (Routledge, 2017), as well as an anthology co-edited with Scott Slovic and Jim Bishop entitled Currents of the Universal Being: Explorations in the Literature of Energy (Texas Tech UP, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. from the Literature & Environment program at Nevada and was a professor of environmental studies at Marlboro College in Vermont for four years prior to returning to his home state of Minnesota. He teaches in the Environmental Studies department at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, and is also Director of the Writing Center.

“Got to hate fences”: Infrastructure and Anarchy in Lonely are the Brave (1962)

Kelly MacPhail

Using visual presentation of film slides with voiceover, my presentation examines the complex intersections of individuality, independence, civil disobedience, and anarchy with the demands of increasingly oppressive social, government, police, and military power within the context of the southern border of the United States in the 1950s. A rare leftist Western, Lonely are the Brave was directed by David Miller from Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay based on The Brave Cowboy (1956) by Edward Abbey, who remains well known for environmental classics including The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975). The film is an American parable that centers on Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas), an anarchist cowboy defined by his independence and loyalty to his few friends, most notably his horse. As a Christ figure, Burns is an outsider who represents the downtrodden, the poor, and undocumented immigrants against postwar commercialism. Burns himself is paperless, refusing all government ID as symbolic of bureaucratic authoritarianism. As a spiritual anarchist, Burns breaks through several layers of modern infrastructure that destroy the Western landscape, including barbed wire fences, urban sprawl, prison bars, and a seemingly impassible superhighway. Echoing Christ’s descent to Hell, Burns breaks into prison to break out his friend Paul, serving two years for providing sanctuary for “illegal aliens.” Ultimately, Burns loses with no hope of redemption. For much of the film, a tractor-trailer hauling new toilets travels America’s new highways until it inevitably collides with Burns and his horse, sadly representing the victory of entrenched American mechanization, conservatism, and commercialism over natural spaces, open borders, individualism, and spiritual freedom. Thus, the film’s ethical question is to whom we have duties: to our families and fellow citizens alone or also to the larger human community, to animals, and to ecosystems? In short, who is our neighbor in times of crisis?

Kelly MacPhail is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he teaches Philosophy and English. His interdisciplinary research focuses on Transatlantic literary modernism, environmental criticism, and belief studies, and he has published on subjects as diverse as animal domestication, Puritan sermons, film noir, and the Western.

Was a Climate Change Catastrophe Really Responsible for Frankenstein?

Alan Marshall

Frankenstein has been offered up as the first ‘Climate Change’ novel for it was supposedly published by Mary Shelley as an unacknowledged response to the 1816 global cooling event caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in the East Indies the year before. Though the link is highly speculative, the story has become a well-repeated ‘scientific myth’ within science media and science education. For an introduction to the Tambora – Frankenstein connection, you can view this movie made by the author.

Whilst the story is intriguing, it also moves to devalue Mary Shelley’s creative ability, concocts geologically-determinist views of history, ignores or dismisses two hundred years of humanities scholarship, and operates to rescue the entire the scientific endeavor from Shelley’s potent critique of it. My presentation will detail the exact ways the Tambora – Frankenstein link does this, and what’s at stake for the humanities if it subjugates itself to scientistic explanations such as these.

Dr. Alan Marshall has a BSc (hons) in ecology, social science, and the history of science from Wolverhampton University (UK), an M.Phil in International Development from Massey University (NZL) and a PhD in STS from Wollongong University (AUS). Currently, Marshall is a visiting professor of Environmental Social Sciences at Mahidol University (Thailand). Previously, he’s held environmental studies research fellowships at various institutes and universities around Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region, including the IAS-STS (Graz, Austria), Nirex-UK (Great Britain), Masaryk University (Brno, Czechia), UPJS (Kosice, Slovakia), Curtin University of Technology (Perth, Australia), and the Asian Institute of Technology (Bangkok, Thailand). Marshall is the author of five eco-humanities books and coordinator of various eco-humanities projects such as: the Ecotopia 2121 project, the Frankencities project, and the Ecomimicry project.

The Soul, The Snake, The White Road: Adelaide Crapsey’s Translations of Cherokee Incantations

Lucien Meadows

Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) is most often remembered and studied for her invention of the cinquain, a five-line syllabic poetic form she developed and used in 1911-13, but little scholarship exists on her two translations of incantations from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, among the 600 incantations originally collected, translated, and published by anthropologist James Mooney. While most critics overlook these translations, some dismissing them as exercises in sound or potential causes for her spelling difficulties, a few scholars, namely Cherokee scholar Rose Gubele (2018), engage substantively with Crapsey’s translations. Even so, these engagements often focus on the failures of Crapsey, who knew no Cherokee and held little knowledge of Cherokee culture, to translate in a way that fully honors the cultural context.

However, in contrast to the dominant translation practices of embellishment and poeticization in Euroamerican translations of Native American texts in the nineteenth century, Crapsey approached her translations in ways that honored the pared-down, stark lyricism of the original Cherokee incantations. Her approach launched a sensitivity both to metrical craft and incantatory elements that continued to develop in documentable ways across her brief life and limited, but consequential, creative and critical oeuvre.

These translations do not just react to dominant perceptions of Native individuals; rather, they interrogate these perceptions and offer translations sensitive to the sociopolitical context—and possibilities—of the nineteenth century. By situating her translations in a dialogic and ethical space between the Cherokee-language originals, Mooney’s English-language prose translations, and Euroamerican readers, Crapsey, in a remarkable move for her time, counteracts the dominant impulse to embellish Native texts by instead paring down and offering incantations that retain their otherness even as, at the same time, they illuminate urgent spaces for connection, work we, as Native and non-Native scholars alike, can continue.

Lucien Darjeun Meadows is a scholar of English, German, and Cherokee ancestry born and raised in Appalachia. His work has been published in journals including Appalachian Journal, Contemporary Rural Social Work, and Plath Profiles. A recipient of fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, American Alliance of Museums, Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference, and National Association for Interpretation, he lives in Northern Colorado and pursues his PhD at the University of Denver. (

The Way to Utopia in an Environmental Crisis

Sheryl Medlicott

In this paper I treat ‘utopia’ as a verb, in the manner that China Mièville does when he states in his introduction to Verso’s 2016 edition of Thomas More’s Utopia ‘We should utopia as hard as we can’. This provokes the question, how should we utopia as literary critics, and specifically as ecocritics?

The environmental crisis impels us to imagine new and better ways of being. As such, utopianism would seem to be essential; however, the literary genre of utopia is not an easy fit for ecological ideas. In More’s foundational text, King Utopus establishes his perfect society by conquering the land of Abraxa, naming it for himself, and bringing the ‘rude and uncivilized inhabitants’ into ‘good government’. He then forms the land into an island by ordering ‘a deep channel to be dug’ to ‘separate them from the continent’. This precedent suggests utopia entails the absolute domination of others and the environment.

Ursula Le Guin suggests a new way to utopia in her feminist, ecological utopia Always Coming Home. In her critical essays, Le Guin rails against the literary tradition of the ‘rationalist utopia’ that ‘has as its premise progress, not process’. Her utopia is instead premised on process, and this informs the narrative, imagery, and structure of her text. As I will argue in this paper, her process-driven utopia supports ecological ideals in a way the ‘rationalist’ utopia cannot.

Ecocriticism can be a utopian act, wherein we ask whether a text helps us imagine new ways to thrive. Does it portray human flourishing in concert with the ecosystems within which we reside? And is the form of the text true to the ecological vision espoused in its content? This paper demonstrates how this approach allows us to identify texts, like Always Coming Home, to take us from the brink and into the unchartered territory beyond, with hope.

Sheryl M. Medlicott is an advocate for utopianism in scholarship, and particularly in ecocriticism. Her manifesto ‘A Provocation to Practice Utopianism in the Face of Climate Crisis’ was published in the Utopian Acts special issue of Studies in Arts and Humanities, 5.1 (2019). She has an MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment from Bath Spa University and convenes the Bristol Utopian Book Collective, Bristol, UK.

Fantasy and Urgency: Climate Change and Rewilding the Imagination in Richard Powers’s The Overstory

Timothy Miller

Richard Powers’s The Overstory, a celebrated highbrow mainstream novel firmly grounded in American history and the latest in botanical science, may at first seem far removed from more fantastic literary traditions. Yet the novel features key elements that suggest ruptures with realism: plants that speak and direct the course of human lives; a number of resurrections; and scenes of first contact with alien consciousnesses. I argue that Powers deploys various ambiguously fantastic elements in the novel — and otherwise engages with speculative fiction — as a urgent strategy for radically recentering plants in a fatally anthropocentric realist literary tradition. Further, Powers’s perspective on the role that storytelling might play in stabilizing our teetering biosphere demonstrates a surprising degree of agreement with Tolkien’s supremely influential theory of fantasy fiction, as articulated in his lecture-turned-essay “On Fairy-Stories.” Unlike Tolkien’s fantasy fiction, however, The Overstory‘s epic sweep relies not on secondary world-building, but a strategy of re-enchantment we might call a re-worlding, a rewilding of the imagination. Powers’s ultimate goal is in fact nothing less than reconfiguring what the concept of “the real world” should mean to us in the Anthropocene, and, above all, The Overstory flirts with the fantastic in order to evoke a sense of wonder about the unseen reality of life on Earth, playing the nonhuman beings with whom we share our world are themselves the “fantastic plants” of The Overstory.

Finally, because Powers seeks to evoke the wondrousness of real trees with this ambivalently fantastic device of trees that talk, it is essential to trace his own ambivalent relationship with genre speculative fiction as a writer working outside traditional genre markets. In interviews and in the novel itself, Powers treats genre speculative fiction with a mixture of respect and condescension, and The Overstory‘s interfaces with these traditions are numerous, varied, and complex, combining admiration with critique. For instance, Powers seems to suggest that commercial fantasy has demonstrated a certain failure of the imagination when it comes to nonhuman life, asking us to reject the logic of the D&D Monster Manual, to move away from conjuring endless “plant perils” in fantasy fiction, and instead use the fantastic to engage in new ways with the “plants in peril” we can find in our own warming world.

In the fall, Timothy S. Miller will begin his first semester as Assistant Professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, where he will teach primarily science fiction and fantasy literature. Originally trained as a medievalist, he has published articles on both later Middle English literature and various works of contemporary speculative fiction. His current work explores representations of plants and modes of plant being in literature and culture, with a particular emphasis on ecocriticism and the climate emergency.

Ecological Gyre Theory: Vortextual Thinking After the Ecological Turn

Chantelle Mitchell and Jaxon Waterhouse

Our research continues the momentum guiding the ecological turn which has come to dominate the humanities in 21st Century. Extending this, we propose Ecological Gyre Theory: the turn growing unfixed, unsteady and gyroscopic as acceleration and flows destabilise contemporary frameworks of being. EGT – building from Aristotelian law, an hyldromorphism – refers to the twinned role of ‘gyre’; as noun, the vortex or whirlpool, but also as act; to whirl about or gyrate. The original Greek, ​guros,​ the ring – a symbol of completeness – speaks to the gyre’s ontological nature, as a state of being and being-in; the totalising nature of the ecological crisis a force underpinning not only our research but our everyday actions.

EGT operates as both object and method of study, one reflexive to our current critical context. Through this, we work through and into contemporary ecological and Anthropocene discourse to reframe possibilities of knowing and being within a vortextual frame. Operating within wet/sea ontologies, the gyre is volumetric space, a vessel for reworlding. As methodology, EGT endorses volumetric thought within a tidalectic view, as terrestrial fixity/dialectics is countered by whorling forces that both enable and produce destabilised possibilities of being. We propose EGT as a way to make sense of and work within that which remains and flows amidst continued acceleration and destabilisation and will present our paper with a hybrid video – encompassing both video lecture and screen recordings as we utilise film, documentary footage and still images to present EGT as concept and methodology.

Jaxon Waterhouse is a writer, publisher and PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania, exploring greening philosophy and seeking new ways to talk about the natural world and our place within it. Chantelle Mitchell is a researcher, curator and writer leveraging fragmentary and archival approaches to address structure and place in ecological frames. Under the auspices of their ongoing research project, Ecological Gyre Theory, Chantelle and Jaxon have presented their research at ​Crisis,​ the 2019 ANU Humanities Research Conference. 2020 sees further realisations of Ecological Gyre Theory appearing in ​Unlikely journal, ​On_Culture,​ and ​art+Australia​, as exhibition and as lecture-performance in institutions across Australia, and under peer review.

Nobody Knows Anything for Sure: Uncertainty as Monstrosity in Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God

Matt Morgenstern

In times of crisis, individuals faces choices tinged with uncertainty. Do they cling to regressive modes of power to offset the anxiety affected by radical change? Or do they believe in protecting those affected by regressive responses to uncertainty, promoting cognizant, equitable, and compassionate, ways of being for all? Just as these questions determine our societal responses to climate change, they also shape Louise Erdrich’s 2017 novel Future Home of the Living God, where an accelerated, not-to-distant future of climate change causes the “reverse evolution” of humans and nonhumans alike. In the totalitarian and theocratic prison state that results, women are dehumanized because of uncertainty around humanity’s reproductive futurity.

In analyzing Erdrich’s novel as an “emergent” dystopia where speculative fiction’s trademark necessity of world-building never ends, I want to consider how we make “monsters” of others during periods of change. As the environment makes nonhuman species newly “monstrous” in Future Home, so does it alter pregnant women’s bodies, as they inflect anxiety because their fertility is no longer assured. Erdrich’s novel is thus concerned with how we recognize and act on on-going dystopian developments in responding to environmental apocalypse. We can either move ideologically backward with the reverse evolution changing the somatic realities of nonhuman animals and women, or we can adapt, reconsidering what it presently means to be “human” and what it means to be “monstrous” in volatile times. To consider these shifting signifiers that destabilize the “human” in line with animal studies and environmental humanities scholarship, I utilize the work of Jeffery Jerome Cohen, Lee Edelman, and Rosi Braidotti, to argue for Future Home’s model of a “monstrous agency,” a posthumanist subject position equipped for an actionable and evolutionary rejoinder to the alarming onset of climate change.

Matt Morgenstern is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature, Theory, and Cultural Studies, at Purdue University. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in May 2020 with a master’s degree in Literary and Cultural Studies, and presented his research at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf as well as last year’s Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. Matt’s research interests include contemporary, Modernist, and speculative fiction; affect theory, especially as it relates to romantic relationships; and climate change’s function in literature as “ordinary emergence.”

Making Sense of Climate Change: Stories From the AnthropoScenes Competition

Alexandra Nikoleris, Johannes Stripple, Paul Tenngart, Ludwig Bengtsson-Sonesson

A proliferation of stories on climate change can be observed across the globe, from cautionary tales to stories of ongoing disaster – these stories tell us a lot about how the urgency and existential threat of climate change is perceived and imagined. To collect such stories, and encourage their writing, AnthropoScenes – A climate fiction competition was launched as part of the Climaginaries research project in January 2019. The only entry requirement (other than a 5000 word limit) was that anthropogenic climate change had to be the central theme. The contest ended in August 2019 – at that point, we had received 44 stories from three continents (America, Europe and Africa). Entries were submitted in five categories: rural, urban, ecosystems, travel and making. One winner was selected in each of the categories and their stories were released as a short story collection.

With all the stories submitted to the competition at hand we now ask: with these instructions for writing a story about climate change – what was climate change made out to ”be”? How is it represented and how does it become an urgent and important issue? We analyse how climate is made to matter in the story and for the story. We focus on three different aspects of how climate change is made sense of: socially, technologically, and existentially. A few observations can be made from the first reading of the material. Many of the stories in the competition do not include a “big” climatic event – the one that changes everything, and therefore do not focus so much on how humans react to and experience extreme situations, which is common in many climate fiction novels. There is also a lack of guilt and responsibility in these stories. Climate change is quite often simply happening – or has already happened, and the perpetrators are “all of us”.

Alexandra Nikoleris is a postdoc in Environmental and Energy System Studies, Johannes Stripple  Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Paul Tenngart is Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Languages and Literature and Ludwig Bengtsson-Sonesson is communications officer at Lund University Sustainability Forum. We are all part of the Lund-based research network Narrating Climate Futures, gathering scholars across faculties and practicioners from different fields in a knowledge-exchange and joint exploration of how to understand and develop climate narratives which can enable processes of change.

“The Ship of This World on Its Voyage to Eternity:” Allegories of Ecological Apocalypse in Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools

Lydia Nixon

Katherine Anne Porter’s 1962 novel, Ship of Fools, has long been read as an allegory of globalism—her numerous characters hail from all around the world, and critics interpret their hostile interactions with each other as symbolic of the violent conflict of World War II. In my paper, I extend this common critical interpretation through an ecocritical reading, blending Yi-Fu Tuan’s theories of space and place, Fredric Jameson’s discussion of the effects of globalization, Lawrence Buell’s work on environmental studies and literature, and Elizabeth DeLoughrey’s recent book on allegory and the Anthropocene to argue that Porter’s novel illustrates an allegory of global ecological apocalypse. Porter situates her cast of characters within the restricted space of a ship in order to create a microcosm of a global ecosystem. Her intimate examination of the characters’ interactions with each other and with their natural environment highlights the interdependent relationship among all elements of an ecosystem, and underscores humanity’s responsibility to consider how their actions impact their environment. Specifically, Porter emphasizes humanity’s precarious position within our global ecosystem: far from illustrating some idealized global ecosystem in which all parts coexist harmoniously, Ship of Fools illustrates the inevitable violence that occurs when humans do not acknowledge their ecological interdependence. I will use a hybrid verbal and visual presentation to demonstrate how Porter’s overwhelmingly pessimistic assessment of the human tendency for violence and ecological disaster grows increasingly relevant in the twenty-first century, and is a particularly grim warning now, as the coronavirus sweeps across the globe. Ultimately, Porter’s ship acts as an allegory for our growing ecological crisis, pointing to the inevitable apocalyptic end for humanity so long as we refuse to acknowledge our presence and responsibility within our global ecosystem.

Lydia Nixon obtained her bachelor’s degree in English Education from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and was the 2012 recipient of the B.G. Knepper Award for English. She will graduate in May 2020 with her master’s degree in English from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, where she was the English department nominee for ASU’s Outstanding Graduate Student Award in 2020. In the fall of 2020, she will begin her PhD at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she will study ecosystems and identity-making in 20th century American literature.

Teaching Environmental Justice with Ana Castillo’s So Far From God

Sarah Nolan

Devon Peña writes that “[c]hicanos and other workers of color are disproportionately concentrated in occupations and industries that ‘pose greater risks of work-related injuries, unsafe working conditions, and environmental hazards.’” (191). In a time at which young people are inundated with messages about immigration, inequality, and environmental risk, arguments like Peña’s are not only of interest to students, but also important areas of inquiry for well-rounded citizens. Yet, helping first-year college students to understand how theoretical ideas of environmental justice, social inequality, race, class, gender, and income function together and transfer to the real world can be, at best, a challenge, especially for students who have had little experience with adversity. I contend that students need to formulate more personal relationships, even with fictional characters, in order to develop genuine empathy and meaningful understanding for struggles they themselves have been fortunate enough to avoid. This paper will address how I use Ana Castillo’s novel, So Far From God, within my first-year writing courses in order to help students more effectively contemplate the definition of environmental justice and how it applies to people in the real world. For many students, these are entirely new concepts, issues far removed from the lives they have lived themselves. By combining fiction alongside examples of real communities contending with environmental injustice and scholarly work on the topic, my students gain a greater understanding of the nuances of environmental justice and a greater sense of empathy for communities that are faced with these kinds of hazards.

Postcolonial Apocalypse and Pessimistic Aesthetics

Rebecca Oh

In the global South, environmental apocalypses are often historical events and present circumstances rather than imagined futures. When apocalypse is history rather than speculation, what is the role of the novel? I suggest that works like Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things mobilize a pessimistic aesthetics to historicize world- ending destruction and turn apocalypse into a genre of witnessing and resilience.

Sinha and Roy’s novels, which depict the destruction of a city and a family respectively, reveal how unevenly the world ends. While not purely realist novels, they feature historic and local apocalypses that track how modernizing processes of industrial capitalism and systemic exploitation led to their devastated worlds. In doing so they suggest that destroyed presents cannot be changed while simultaneously witnessing forms of human and nonhuman endurance within the apocalyptic present. Similarly, their narrative pessimism is not divorced from futurity. Indeed, in these realist apocalypses, futurity is keyed to ordinariness and non-teleological progression. In contrast to the utopian impulse to ‘save the future’ that underlies speculative apocalypse, I argue that postcolonial apocalyptic novels historicize local apocalyptic presents through a pessimistic aesthetics that makes visible forms of living after the end of the world.

Rebecca S. Oh is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois. Her research lies at the intersection of postcolonial studies and the environmental humanities. Her current book project examines how postcolonial subjects live in environmental damage and navigate disastrous presents through forms of political and aesthetic complaint. She has wider research interests in new materialism, speculative fiction, the Anthropocene, the novel, cultural materialism, and feminist theory.

Virtual Conferences on the Brink: Critical Reflections on Research-Creation and Digital Collaboration in Times of Crisis

Anne Pasek, Emily Roehl, Caleb Wellum

Over the last six months, the Postdoctoral Fellows in the Transitions in Energy, Culture, and Society program at the University of Alberta (Anne Pasek, Emily Roehl, and Caleb Wellum) have been organizing a virtual conference on site-based research-creation in the energy humanities entitled “Energy In/Out of Place.” Scheduled for June 2020, the conference brings together international teams of scholars, artists, and activists to conduct creative, multimedia research on energy’s many roles in shaping and mediating the places where they live and work.

While this conference was always designed to take place online, the coronavirus has radically altered the character and pace of research and has limited access to research sites. Accordingly, participants have had to negotiate the challenges of doing research-creation and place-based inquiry under conditions of social distancing, additional care work obligations, and all the stresses that attend to life amid a pandemic. The conference organizers, in turn, have had to question the protocols and infrastructures of the academic conference, seeking to build an environment for robust and collaborative discussion outside of institutional walls and norms. The results will be experimental and comparative, documenting different regional pressures and innovative approaches to studying the overlapping emergencies of climate and Covid-19.

For the “Humanities on the Brink: Energy, Environment, Emergency” virtual conference, Postdoctoral Fellows Anne Pasek, Emily Roehl, and Caleb Wellum will speak to the stakes and challenges of pursuing research-creation methods in times of crisis, which is to say always and especially now. Reflecting on their experience producing a virtual conference that addresses questions of method in the energy humanities while acknowledging the limits of both human and planetary energies, the goal of this conversation will be to offer a set of best practices for lower- carbon research in the context of global emergency.

This panel will consist of a pre-recorded conversation in two parts. In the first part, Pasek, Roehl, and Wellum will discuss the process of organizing the “Energy In/Out of Place” conference with particular focus on methods for conducting and sharing site-based research during a pandemic. In the second part, Pasek, Roehl, and Wellum will invite participants from their virtual conference to reflect on their experience in short video essays, which the organizers will combine into a single video to which they will offer concluding remarks and pose lingering questions. This two- part presentation will offer meta-critical reflections on research-creation and virtual conference formats while challenging conventional academic sites and routes of knowledge production.

Anne Pasek researches carbon imaginaries and climate communication. She holds degrees from New York University, McGill, and the University of Alberta. Her work is interdisciplinary, drawing on the traditions of new materialisms, feminist STS, culture, queer, media, and communication studies. She is the reviews editor of The Journal of Environmental Media and has been published in journals such as Culture Machine, Feminist Media Studies, andPhotography and Culture. She is a profligate knitter, a strong proponent of low-carbon research methods, and an occasional labour organizer.

Emily Roehl is an artist and energy humanist who holds a PhD in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Her work in cultural history and media studies focuses on artists and activists who address the unevenly distributed risks of energy development. Roehl is the co- founder of Mystery Spot Books, an artist’s book publisher based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is currently producing a multi-publication project on the externalities of energy and industrial waste.

Caleb Wellum is a historian of ideas, culture, and politics in the 20th century United States. His work has appeared in Environmental History and Enterprise and Society, as well as in edited volumes. He is currently working on a book titled “Energizing the Right: The 1970s Energy Crisis and the Making of Neoliberal America. He earned his PhD from the University of Toronto in 2017.

Pesticide “Chemically Castrates” Endangered Male Frogs: The Rhetoric of White Male Decline in the Biodiversity Crisis

Meg Perret

This talk argues that the future of endangered frog populations exposed to estrogenic pollutants has become a proxy for the future of humanity, and normative masculinity in particular. I illuminate how the narrative of white male decline frames portrayals of endangered frogs in scientific publications, environmental regulatory documents, popular science depictions, and alt right media commentary. I analyze experiments conducted in Dr. Tyrone Hayes’s laboratory which found that the most common herbicide, Atrazine, “feminized” and “chemically castrated” male frogs at levels below that allowed in drinking water in the United States. Although Atrazine’s manufacturer, Syngenta, defends its safety, Hayes demonstrated a link between Atrazine and threats to public health and wildlife. Scientists, conservationists, and environmentalists were concerned that Atrazine could contribute to global amphibian extinctions. Public health agencies, men’s rights groups, and the media asked if Atrazine could affect the gender, sex, and sexuality of human men exposed to that herbicide. This case study explores how the scientific representations of contemporary biodiversity crises encode and provoke cultural anxieties about disruption of normative masculinities amidst ongoing environmental catastrophes. Working with the framework of environmental justice, I argue that the metaphorical construction that compares the future of endangered frogs with that of white men obscures the true cost of Atrazine: vulnerable human populations—such as Latino farmworkers and Black agrochemical workers—and vulnerable amphibian populations—such as those threatened by habitat loss and invasive species—are the ones most likely to suffer health complications from Atrazine. I argue that eco-critics have an urgent responsibility to intervene into cultural narratives about possible environmental futures, and propose new narratives compatible with intersectional feminism. This article contributes an analysis of the role of discourses concerning race, gender, and sexuality in the cultural imaginary of the future of humanity in an increasingly toxic world.

Meg Perret is a PhD candidate in history of science and women, gender & sexuality studies at Harvard University. She is a recipient of the presidential scholarship, which recognizes the top admitted graduate students at Harvard for their leadership and innovation potential in both public policy and academia. Her dissertation, The Future is Species-Queer: Race, Gender & Sexuality in the Sciences of the Biodiversity Crisis examines the rhetoric, metaphor, and images that scientists use to conceptualize and depict their research on species extinctions. She is a senior fellow with the climate justice organization, Our Climate Voices, where she leads their initiative on intersectional feminism.

Sustainability Studies and the Unsustainable University: A View from the Brink

Dan Platt

The well-documented trends of declining enrollment, the forecasts of greatly reduced populations of high school graduates (particularly in the Upper Midwest), and the growing threat of institutional closures offer a unique challenge for faculty who are involved in sustainability education: How can we help our students imagine a just and livable future when we’re devoting so much of our time and emotional energy to the present-day survival of our institutions?

In the spirit of the conference theme, “Humanities on the Brink,” this presentation will make an argument for integrating discussions of institutional precarity in higher education into our classroom- and community-based sustainability pedagogy. I intend this talk as a way to frame a few key questions-and offer some tentative recommendations-about the intersection of these two topics: How can discussions of the higher education crisis meaningfully inform our sustainability curriculum? In what ways do our visions for a sustainable planet and our visions for sustainable institutions of higher education align, and in what ways do they diverge? What obligations do we have to our institutions when discussing these issues with students or colleagues? In the presentation, I will draw on research from critical higher education studies, on my experience teaching narratives of sustainability in film and literature classes, and on my work launching a new (avowedly budget-neutral) interdisciplinary degree program in Sustainability Studies in an atmosphere of institutional austerity and precarity. The presentation format will be a hybrid of video “talking head” presentation and screen-recorded powerpoint.

Dan Platt grew up in New Jersey, went to graduate school at the University of Oregon, and now teaches in the English and (brand new!) Sustainability Studies Departments at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. His research focuses on contemporary U.S. literature and environmentalism.

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

Ariel Plevin

In “The Pandemic is a Portal,” Arundhati Roy writes: “It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

It is a time we can “imagine another world.” This is the world—however it is conceived– that activism rooted in the environmental humanities, in the stories and research that can lead the world to a new way of thinking, a new way of being, can help create. It is a world that at this moment calls for a kind of activism that really IS the pronoun “we,” that also finds and values new ways of engaging all cultures and all educational levels.

Consequently, this presentation will propose and consider what activism as encouraged by and shown by the environmental humanities could look like, whether it’s in the online classroom, in rhizomes of groups of like-minded people, or even as presented in Facebook (but going beyond the dreaded Facebook “activism”). As Roy’s own words suggest, it is a world that could choose to leave behind the damage done to the environment and our own bodies. While focusing on Roy, this presentation would use work by Rebecca Solnit , Sandra Steingraber, and the Union of Concerned Scientists to consider activism and, yes, even teaching in a time of distant bodies. What could this look like? Who could it involve/invite that prior activisms might not have?

Arlene Plevin teaches at Olympic College. A former member of ASLE’s board, her publications include: “Navigating the Difficult: Teaching for Sustainability, Activism, and the Recognition of Modern Slavery,” “The World is Our Home”: Environmental Justice, Feminisms, and Student Ideology,” “Home Everywhere and the Injured Body of the World: The Subversive Humor of Blue Vinyl, and others. Pleven was awarded two Fulbrights (India and Taiwan).Nominated for Washington State Environmental Educator of the Year, she has presented at Washington Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference, including “Shades of Sustainability: Strategies for Deep, Ethical and Anti- Racist Practices in Sustainability Education.”

Snaking from Old to New Pathways: A Lyrical Critique

Sue Pyke

My settler advantages rest on a protracted period of violent theft, marking my words with the fluidities and fractures of fraught affiliations. The pandemic is remaking my social landscape, repatterning me towards a new future. It is changing my relationships with Indigenous Country, making me more than ever aware of the complicities in my past that provide me this country refuge in a time of crisis. I follow the shifting pathways that have emerged through my life. I feel them as lightly pressed, unlike the deep routes followed by Indigenous locals, including a snake I attend to in my body and imagination. Selena. This autumn, as Selena’s babies enter this world, my adult children are, for the first time, hunkering down in this place. My old paths are crossing with my kin’s new modes of being here. As my human kin spend time with non-human families with deeper anchorage to this land, perhaps they will see them as place-holders for the human ancestors that will, in time, return. Cognisant of the settler spread I have waged against this place, I ask them to tread softly, so we may be led along less invasive paths that hold our bodies to account.

Sue’s presentation speaks to a lyrical memoir under development that centres on her responses to a Tyakoort Woorroong tiger snake, Selena. Selena shares Sue’s habitat in the Stony Rises, a region long cared for by the Mullungkil gundidj. Sue also writes fiction and teaches with the University of Melbourne’s creative writing program and Indigenous studies program. Her scholarly work, Animal Visions: Posthumanist Dream Writing, was published with Palgrave Macmillan in 2019. She is general editor for Swamphen, the scholarly journal for ASLEC-ANZ.

Can Truck Sluts Be Environmentalist?

Nicholas Tyler Reich

This presentation introduces readers to a radically rural, gender outlaw, insidiously sexy, intimately dangerous, fossil-fueled archive of photographs in the form ofTruck Sluts Magazine. With this zine as case study, my presentation also articulates an iteration of what Nicole Seymour calls “trashy environmentalism,” in which ecological ends are achieved through ironic, irreverent, low-class, and dirty means of art performance and media production, asking: If the iconography of the working truck along with its petroleum life-fluids can be trans-ed, what new highways open between a petrol dream, rural ecology, and a trans futurity?

Nicholas Tyler Reich works toward his Ph.D. in English at Vanderbilt University. There, he studies how queer/trans responses to ecological duress, particularly coming out of Southern Appalachia, manifest in various media – whether in print, on screen, or otherwise.

Re-thinking Home in Refugee Picturebooks and Graphic Novels

Barbara Katharina Reschenhofer

In this video presentation, I discuss emergency narratives in children’s literature. I specifically examine narratives of refuge and displacement in children’s picturebooks which feature child protagonists fleeing war. Drawing on Buell’s (2005) thoughts on first- and second-wave ecocriticism and how the current wave specifically focuses on contemporary environmental issues, I want to highlight war as an ecocritical problem, which affects human as well as non-human life, thereby addressing the ambiguity which man-made war may represent in an ecocritical discussion. I also address Walters’ (2004) concept of domopolitics in an attempt to challenge traditional ideas of home. To then further elaborate on the concept of “home” in a refugee context, I draw on Julia Hope’s (2017) three ecologies of migration to illustrate in how far widely perpetuated expectations of “home” may become problematic in a refugee context. For the methodology of my analysis, I aim to conduct a multimodal analysis of nature as an agent, object, as well as backdrop to anthropocentric storylines within selected picturebooks. The systemic-functional approach to my analysis will heavily draw on Painter et al.’s (2013) theoretical framework, which will guide my analysis. In line with Painter et al. (2013), I will analyze characters, settings, and how these are constructed in the texts. Specifically the environment plays a key role in refugee picturebooks, as the stories develop and spatialities change along the journey. I am interested in how non-human and human nature are constructed to convey complex emotions to young readers as well as in how far the displacement of human protagonists is constructed by using flora and fauna as witnesses to and victims of human emergencies.

Barbara Katharina Reschenhofer obtained her Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English and American Studies at the University of Vienna in 2016, where she obtained her Master of Arts (MA) degree in Anglophone Cultures and Literatures in 2018. Since 2019, she has been working toward obtaining her PhD in English and American Studies. Her PhD thesis is concerned with contemporary, anglophone children’s picturebooks about refuge and forced migration and how these texts construct places, identities, and complex emotions. Along with refugee narratives, children’s literature, and ecocriticism, her research interests include digital humanities, gender studies, as well as contemporary U.S. pop culture.

Contemporary Literature: The Politics of Aesthetics in The Handmaid’s Tale

Beatriz Revelles-Benavente 

What is literature? How do we identify literature? Is it possible to define a literary language? Or more precisely, how does literature matter contemporarily? The definition of literature nowadays is a very disputed one (Fluck 2019; Díaz & Bourne, 2017; Flusk, 2015; Eagleton, 2012). There are multiple reasons that blur clear distinctions about what does it means literature and how is it important for understanding socio-cultural discourses. The crisis in the humanities (Griffin, 2011) is not helping either to construct a solid definition of this discipline. Nevertheless, interrogations are questionings and dismantlers of rigid structures. Rhizomatically speaking, interrogations are also possibilities to become, openings to think through and relational statements that unite positive and negative answers.

Nevertheless, perhaps it is important to start with questioning what is a discipline and how does it matter. Knowledge production and dissemination contemporarily is going more and more towards a model coming from the natural sciences that tends to hegemonize methodological approaches (González, 2018). Therefore, the construction of particular disciplines can also imply a prefixed categorization of how a determined knowledge is created. If we question the nature of a discipline itself, we are already looking for an opening of those barriers that contemporary objectivity imposes in particular knowledges.

Feminist theory helps to contextualize these particular modes of knowledge production and dissemination, as for example Haraway’s situated knowledges (1988). Thinking through a situated objectivity opens up for conceptualizations of particular knowledges through their relationality, through their context and, especially, through an onto-epistemological focus that requires an intra-action (Barad, 2007) as the minimum unit of analysis. Thus, I argue that contemporary questioning of the definition of literature is, indeed, an opening of possibilities to think on how we would like to see literature developing and entangling with contemporary society in order to pursue social justice.

In this paper, I am at providing a definition of contemporary literature  via feminist new materialism (Revelles-Benavente, 2020; Colman, 2020; van der Tuin, 2015) offering a link between  contemporary society and The Handmaid’s Tale. I will focus on the methodological implications that it has, not only for thinking the  discipline of literature in particular, but also the humanities in  general.

Beatriz Revelles-Benavente is lecturer at the English Language and Literature Department at the University of Granada. Formerly, she hold a Juan de la Cierva scholarship at the University of Barcelona. Nowadays, she is the main editor of the new journal Matter: The Journal of New Materialist Research and the co-editor of the monograph Teaching Gender: Feminist Responsabilities and Pedagogies in Times of Political Crisis (published with Routledge). She has been board member of the European feminist association ATgender; as well as management committee of the COST Action IS1306: Networking European New Materialisms: How matter comes to matter.                   

We Are in Crisis, and the Importance of a Petro-politicized Classroom

Kimberly Richards

The mischaracterization of water protectors as protestors in the mainstream media has resulted in increased policing and criminalization of Indigenous bodies. In order to disrupt the narrative of Indigenous political action as “irrational terrorism,” and establish water protection as an issue of common concern, educators across the arts and humanities (not just in boutique classes on “oil cultures”) need to provide a petro-political education informed by, and responsive to the teachings of Indigenous scholars, knowledge keepers, and leaders of frontline conflicts. This paper provides recommendations for holding conversations about state-sanctioned pipeline development projects in arts and humanities classrooms. I argue water protection is an embodied expression of sovereignty and an anticolonial practice best understood through its embodied dimensions. I share strategies for increasing student’s capacity to think critically about embodied forms of political expression, such as assemblies of water protectors who pose a challenge, in corporeal terms, to the development of pipelines across Indigenous land. As I do so, I draw on the representations of water protectors and prayer camps by the photographer Josué Rivas (Mexica/Otomi) and the artist collective Winter Count. Composed of drone footage of the land surrounding the Standing Rock reservation, Winter Count’s film, “We Are in Crisis,” is a form of land acknowledgment which works to cultivate awareness of the ecological crisis which we are all in. It establishes water protection as a shared responsibility of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, one premised on the recognition that “we are in crisis” and that the emerging sense of crisis is both “the point in the course of a serious disease as which a decisive change occurs” and “the change itself.” During the conference, I welcome further discussion about pedagogical strategies for fostering a “petro-political consciousness” in arts and humanities classrooms.

Upon completing her PhD in Performance Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, Kimberly Skye Richards began teaching in the English department at the University of the Fraser Valley. She is concerned in practical and theoretical ways with how non-Indigenous people can support Indigenous-led movements of water protection and land defense. Her book project, Crude Stages of the Frontier, examines how Indigenous and anti-colonial artists and activists living on oil frontiers in Canada, the United States, and Nigeria use embodied practices to foster a “petro-political consciousness.” She recently co-edited an issue of Canadian Theatre Review on “Extractivism and Performance.”

Wildfire in an Uncertain Time: Photography and Regeneration

Andreas Rutkauskas

Since 2017, I have been investigating the ecological effects of forest fires, including the mechanisms and procedures involved in various fire regimes. During this period, I have witnessed firsthand the two most devastating wildfire seasons on record for the province of British Columbia.

It is in our nature to fear fire, and perhaps this is why popular media representations of wildfire focus on narratives of threat and loss. Yet wildfire has another side; one that rejuvenates and restores the land. This history goes back thousands of years, involving Indigenous ways of knowing, and living cooperatively with wildfire. While my fieldwork has been taking place primarily in Western Canada, wildfire now affects global populations. My artistic approach seeks to reveal diverse perspectives, act as a critical foil to dominant media representations, and open up space for the consideration of practices of resiliency, including the reintegration of fire within fire-adapted ecosystems. Through an examination of the indelible marks that wildfire and its control leave on the landscape, I hope to address questions of how to live cooperatively with fire.

This presentation will cut between views of the speaker and a presentation involving photography and video. I will address how visual art can be deployed as a means of promoting academic con- versations within a broader public, and in particular, how photography acts as an accessible tool for education. My creative visual research is framed within the context of a collaborative project involv- ing colleagues from the departments of Sustainability and Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences at UBC’s Okanagan Campus. The role of the visual arts will be examined as a means of interpreting raw data, providing a bridge between aesthetic exploration and scientific inquiry, including the collection of LiDAR information for the purposes of modeling fuel loads in North American forests.

Andreas Rutkauskas is a visual artist and Lecturer at The University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. His projects involve photography and video, often focusing on landscapes that have under- gone changes due to a range of technologies; examples include surveillance along the Canada/U.S. border, cycles of industrialization & deindustrialization in Canada’s oil patch, and most recently, the aftermath and regeneration following wildfires in Western Canada.

Rutkauskas is the inaugural recipient of a residency with the Fondation Grantham pour l’art et l’environnement. In 2018, he was a Research Fellow with the Canadian Photography Institute, and he was a finalist for the Gabriele Basilico International Prize in Architecture and Landscape in 2016. His work has been exhibited in artist-run centres, public art galleries and museums across Canada, as well as internationally.

Literary Ethnobotany as a Site of Possibility? Poetry and Traditional Knowledge of Vegetal Life in the Planthroposcene

 John Charles Ryan

This presentation will delineate the idea of “literary ethnobotany” through a reading of the work of contemporary Central American, South Pacific and Aboriginal Australian poets. I define “literary ethnobotany” as any literary production that narrativizes traditional knowledge of plants as foods, fibers, medicines, ornaments, totems, ritualistic objects, sources of cultural sovereignty and embodiments of resistance against neocolonial hegemony. In short, literary ethnobotany brings ecocriticism (literary and cultural studies) into dialogue with ethnobotany (the social and natural sciences). I argue that literary ethnobotany proffers an integrative framework for appreciating the botanical dimensions of literary works that might otherwise be marginalized, dismissed or overlooked in scholarly appraisals. However, rather than uncritically endorsing the positivist foundations of ethnobotany, the concept aims to reflect advances in anti-colonial theory and decolonial praxis by Indigenous scholars such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith.

As an example of literary ethnobotany, Kakadu Elder Bill Neidjie’s versal narratives Story About Feeling (1989) and Old Man’s Story (2015) disclose a complex view of plants as responsive and expressive agents within Gaagudju cosmology, or Dreaming. Respect for—and dialogue with—the vegetal world is integral to Neidjie’s poetics of place. What’s more, Old Man’s Story textualizes a range of ethnobotanical knowledge forms, including traditional nomenclature for paperbarks; the preparation of bush foods such as honey; and caring for Country through intimate, experiential, and seasonal understanding of tree cycles (growth, decay, regeneration). Literary ethnobotany, as such, preserves and disseminates cultural-botanical knowledge of plants increasingly under threat in postcolonial societies such as Australia (Bill Neidjie and Charmaine Papertalk-Green), Papua New Guinea (Steven Edmund Winduo) and Nicaragua (Pablo Antonio Cuadra and Esthela Calderón). I conclude by characterizing literary botany as an urgent intervention necessary to actualizing what Natasha Myers calls the “planthroposcene.” In addressing biocultural loss, literary ethnobotany becomes a site of possibility for human-plant relations.

John Charles Ryan is Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Arts and Humanities at Southern Cross University, Australia. His interests include ecopoetics, critical plant studies and the environmental humanities. He is the author of Plants in Contemporary Poetry: Ecocriticism and the Botanical Imagination (2018, Routledge) and co-editor of Australian Wetland Cultures: Swamps and the Environmental Crisis (2019, Lexington). His poetry collection Seeing Trees: A Poetic Arboretum, co-authored with Glen Phillips, is forthcoming with Pinyon Publishing. In 2020, he is Writer-in-Residence at Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Virginia ( and Visiting Researcher at University of 17 Agustus 1945 (UNTAG) in Surabaya, Indonesia.