Virtual Workshop: (Narrating) Environmental Displacements, October 6-8, 2021
“We live in an era of unprecedented mobility: movement of ideas, goods, money and, increasingly, of people,” opens a 2017 UN report on emerging issues of environmental concern. While mobility and migration can be significant drivers of development and progress, offering opportunities to individuals and families, as well as spreading ideas and connecting the world, they are often also involuntary: The UN Refugee Agency estimates that global forced displacement surpassed 80 million in mid-2020. Climate change and environmental destruction, such as “the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events” (UNHCR, “Climate Change and Disaster Placement”) or the newly exacerbated precarity of living conditions as a result of neocolonial extractions of geologic resources, are major causes of such forced displacements.
Concurrently to an era of unprecedented mobility, we thus live in an era of unprecedented environmental change. Human activity has harmed and reconstructed our planet so profoundly that scientists argue we have entered a new geological epoch called the “Anthropocene”, “emphasiz[ing] the central role of mankind in geology and ecology” and the “still growing impacts of human activities on earth and atmosphere” (Crutzen and Stoermer, “The Anthropocene”, Global Change Newsletter, 17). The recent coinage of “environmental displacement” captures the ways in which environmental change and degradation such as desertification, deforestation, land degradation, water scarcity and changes in climate more generally not only fundamentally redraw the map of our world, but equally fundamentally affect where and how people are able to live.
Although this issue has gained prominence in recent years, particularly in relation to small islands and coastal areas in the Pacific, it is by no means a challenge connected solely to a certain region or singular events – and North America is anything but immune to its impacts. In fact, as Julia Sze has put it, “The United States is burning, flooding, exploding” (Amerikastudien/American Studies 66.1, 259). In 2016, the residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana were the first US “climate migrants” to receive a US$48 million federal grant for their relocation as part of a program by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help communities across 13 states adapt to climate change. At the same time, “The United States has much to do with the present state of the world characterized by environmental racism, injustice, and climate disasters—a world that relies on the exploitation and cheapening of nature and peoples” (Ibid., 260). This devaluation as well as a commodification of nature is arguably a driving force of climate change and questions of responsibility clearly arise, especially when considering the impact of the US on the global climate.
We thus understand environmental displacement as a wide network of interconnected events and processes that, on the one hand, affect individuals and communities and non-human environments, and on the other, have historically often been intricately and bidirectionally linked with the devaluation of peoples within the frameworks of settler-colonialism, frontier-expansionism, and nation-building mythologies of extraction (for example gold-rushes).
Against this background, for this workshop on “(Narrating) Environmental Displacements”, we are interested in how literary and cultural productions have grappled with the unique role and responsibility of North America as a space and simultaneously purveyor of environmental displacements. We seek contributions that address how such displacements are represented in an era of climate change, specifically in Anglophone literature and culture and in reference to the United States.
Possible topics for contributions include, but are not limited to literary / medial negotiations of:
- (Forced) human and non-human displacement due to extraction / natural disasters / climate change
- Racialized / Racializing dynamics of displacement
- Displacement of Indigenous populations
- Metaphorizations of displacement / nomadic subjects (cf. Braidotti)
- Slow violence (cf. Nixon)
- Toxic places (oil spills, nuclear testing, pollution)
- Terraforming / “Earth-shaping” / geoengineering (re-routing of rivers, fracking, mining, and other practices that radically reshape landscapes)
- Extinctions and changes in migration patterns
- US involvement in wars (for oil)
- Material displacements (e.g. plastic, textiles, waste)
- Discussion of different generic forms and their ability to portray environmental displacements
We intend the workshop to be an intense discussion forum for the topics sketched above; thus, the group of participants will be limited to a maximum of twenty scholars. We also specifically encourage international and early-career scholars, as we aim to represent all stages of the academic career. Since the desired outcome of this format is the comprehensive discussion of individual proposals, applicants should be willing to prepare a 2000-word essay for distribution to all participants prior to the workshop.
We invite the submission of individual abstracts of 300 words, together with a short bio, until June 30, 2021. For further questions about the workshop theme and to submit your proposal, please contact the conference organizers (Ina Batzke, Linda M. Hess, Milena Krischer) via [email protected].