Webinar 10 Transcript – Narrative, Biodiversity, and Multispecies Theory by Ursula K. Heise

Summary of the 10th EASLCE Webinar: Narrative, Biodiversity, and Multispecies Theory by Ursula K. Heise

Sep 23 at 19:30-21:00 CEST

Host: Dr. Ursula K. Heise, UCLA, The United States

Molina Klingler, University of Würzburg, Germany (moderator, co-coordinator)

Harri Salovaara, University of Jyväskylä, Finland (co-coordinator)
Eni Buljubasic, University of Split, Croatia

Gülşah Göçmen, Aksaray University in Ankara, Turkey

Somayeh Kazemi, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Pelin Kumbet, Kocaeli University in İzmit, Turkey

Katsiaryna Nahornava, University of Granada, Spain

On September 23rd 2017 at 7.30 pm (CEST), eight participants from seven different countries gathered for the 10
th EASLCE webinar, this time hosted by Dr. Ursula K. Heise from the UCLA. As per the webinar’s title, the discussion centered on issues of narrative, biodiversity, and multispecies theory. After initial introductions between the host and the participants, Dr. Heise opened the discussion by illustrating the importance of considering biodiversity issues within the environmental humanities and also emphasizing the importance of “thinking together” and engaging with other disciplines and fields to deal with biodiversity loss. Dr. Heise also raised the issue of biodiversity currently not receiving enough attention outside specific circles and being overshadowed by the problems associated with climate change. As Dr. Heise noted, this is surprising, given that Crutzen and Stoermer in their seminal paper, “The ‘Anthropocene’” (2000), paid more attention to accelerating extinction rates than global warming.

Further, Dr. Heise stressed that biodiversity loss and habitat destruction are deeply cultural issues, and that to tackle them effectively, the importance of storytelling and diverse narratives needs to be acknowledged. In her introduction to the webinar, she also brought up issues such as the partially different premises and emphases of animal welfare activists compared to environmentalists, and First World conservationists compared to Third World residents. Throughout, Dr. Heise insisted on multispecies justice being crucial in ethical responses to such arguments.

When the floor was opened to questions from the other participants, the topics raised included, for example, the following:

  • whether ecocritics have so far stressed the importance of imagination and cultural production too much in their work
  • the characteristics of our current anthropogenic “nature”
  • the reasons for the exclusion of the term “biodiversity” in Dr. Heise’s newest book’s title
  • the connections between biodiversity and the Foucauldian concept of “biopolitics”
  • the conflicts, especially in the developing world, between raising people out of poverty and the importance of preserving nature
  • the question of what kind of a “narrative template” is appropriate for representing the contemporary situation of biodiversity loss and anthropogenic climate change

Towards the closing of the webinar, the lively discussion expanded to include matters such as how can as many people as possible be lifted out of poverty with the least possible harm to the multispecies community, who is included in the “we” that ponders such questions, and the even more complex philosophical question of whether moral precedence should be granted to present or future generations of the planet’s inhabitants. The potential of elegy as a form of powerful and contemporaneously appropriate storytelling was also brought up, as was the need to do more research in urban biodiversity. As was to be expected, the 90–minute webinar with its wide variety of topical ecocritical issues discussed raised perhaps more stimulating questions than definite answers but also appeared to provide much inspiration for new research directions for its participants.