European Association for Studies of Literature, Culture and the Environment

“Ecological Othering and Biopolitics in the Environmental Humanities”

EASLCECall for Papers

Postgraduate Workshop: 

“Ecological Othering and Biopolitics in the Environmental Humanities”

10-11 October 2014, Munich, Germany

The development of modern environmental thought and environmental discourses is inextricably intertwined with the historical expansion of colonialism and imperialism. European colonial occupation and settlement of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas depended on the notion that the white European colonizer was ‘naturally’ predestined to rule over occupied, non-white populations and their lands. At the height of British colonialism, misappropriations of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” provided a convenient theoretical justification for colonial politics and the often brutal dispossession and relocation of Native populations. Furthermore, colonial discourse cemented inferior subject positions for racial others as “closer to nature”, as critics have shown by analyzing the binary opposition between “primitive savage” and “noble savage” (Moore, Pandian, and Kosek 13). The ideological foundation of such “ecological othering” in many cases persists into the post-colonial (and neo-colonial) contexts of the present. Assumptions about the particular ‘closeness’ and ‘traditional’ – often implying non-modern – relationship to nature of indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest, for example, remain. Similar prejudices are attached to Native American populations throughout the American continent in general. Such stereotyping, on the one hand, extols the idea of an “ecological Indian” (Krech). Appropriated by Native populations, on the other hand, it can also have an empowering potential because it provides the “means [...] to articulate an alternative response to the pervasive Western, techno-industrial attitudes” (Schweninger 16, Krech).

In regard to the US, Sarah Jaquette Ray has shown in her recently published book The Ecological Other (2013) that white supremacist convictions still pervade American culture and in particular modern environmentalism. In her analysis, Ray reveals how environmental discourse constructs and enforces social hierarchies “along lines of ‘purity and pollution’” in that it establishes a differentiation between “natural and unnatural bodies, and between bodies that are ‘good’ for nature and those that are not” (2). In this context Foucault’s concept of biopower proves to be helpful to further investigate the regulatory mechanisms of “ecological othering” and to analyse how the framing of environmental problems often reflects exclusionary tendencies.

Taking Ray’s concept of the “ecological other” as a starting point for discussion, this workshop wants to explore how environmental discourse draws on the notion of “good bodies” and “bad bodies” and how the “healthy body” comes to play an important role for nation-building and population control (biopolitics). Furthermore, analyzing how this particular rhetoric has turned environmentalism into a white middle class movement, the workshop also discusses the role of environmental justice in opening the discourse and including a multitude of environmentalisms.

We invite contributions from postgraduate scholars in the environmental humanities that engage with a variety of concepts and theories related to this vast research area, which can include but are not limited to:

biopolitics (Foucault, Agamben), necropolitics (Mbembe)

purity and immunity versus contamination and contagion

illness, disability, deviance

normativity and othering

environmental justice and environmental health (e.g. toxic contamination, workplace safety, risks)

theories of materiality and the corporeal (e.g. Latour, Alaimo)

The workshop will open with a panel discussion with Dr. Clare Barker (University of Leeds) and Prof. Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray (Humboldt State University) on late Friday afternoon, which will serve as an introduction to the workshop’s topic.

Interested young scholars can either participate with a poster, an excerpt/chapter of their dissertation/MA thesis or by suggesting a relevant secondary text for discussion. Workshop space is limited to a maximum of 15 participants. The workshop language is English.

If you are interested in participating, please send an email until July 20th, 2014 to [email protected], including a short biographical note, your current project topic and state in which form you’d like to contribute.


Antonia Mehnert, Rachel Carson Center, LMU München

Hanna Straß, LMU München