Humanities on the Brink: Energy, Environment, Emergency 2020 symposium

Country: USA

City: Santa Barbara

Abstr. due: 01.04.2020

Dates: 10.07.20 — 31.07.20

Area Of Sciences: Humanities; Cultural science;

Organizing comittee e-mail:

Organizers: Association for the Study of Literature and Environment


A Nearly Carbon-Neutral (NCN) online symposium sponsored by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) and hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The accelerating drumbeat of awful, depressing, terrifying, no-good, exasperating, numbing, rage- and despair-inducing news from around the globe has many of us repeating the same simple question: What can I do? How can one person make a difference, for instance, in the effort to transition to renewable energy systems? Or what influence does a single person have over governments as they deal (or choose not to deal) with sea level rise, climate migration, monster hurricanes and wildfires, and other catastrophes associated with the out-of-control overheating of our planet?  What about mass shootings, resurgent white supremacy, the rise of “illiberal democracy,” the weaponization of social media, or any number of the other ills that threaten to metastasize into full-blown planetary emergencies?

Scholars in most mainstream humanities circles, understandably preoccupied with the grim “endgame” ( of declining enrollments and budget cuts playing out in academic departments at universities all over the map, have had relatively little to say about the climate and extinction crises.  On the other hand, scholars in fields such as ecocriticism and the energy and environmental humanities have been grappling for years with questions about the rapidly worsening state of the biosphere and related social problems.  The trouble with many academic conversations about these things is that, however interesting they may be to their participants, they are, indeed, academic conversations: discussions carried out among specialists in language that ordinary people find off-putting or simply unintelligible; discussions that too rarely translate to meaningful action; discussions that perpetuate academic “business as usual,” advancing the careers of individual humanists but mostly failing to spark collective change and the growth of the sorts of inter- and extra-disciplinary alliances that hold the greatest promise of actually transforming the petrocultural impasse we currently inhabit.  And, of course, much of the dialogue still happens at conferences with enormous carbon footprints.  No matter how convivial and edifying the gatherings are, this fact lends a bitter taste of flygskam (Swedish: “flight shame”) to the proceedings.

As we continue to examine the meaning of the humanities in a time of emergency, scholars must find ways to bridge academic critique and research with the work that non-academic communities are doing in response to the existential threats of what many have come to call the Anthropocene. Extending this impulse to create bridges rather than silos, this ASLE Off-Year Nearly Carbon Neutral (NCN) symposium asks participants to take up questions of urgency and emergency in the context of the overlapping social and ecological crises that mark the present—to think within and against what we might call the “Emergency Humanities.” We seek panels and presentations that not only study texts through these lenses, but that also reflect on the limits and possibilities of doing humanities scholarship and changing our rapidly warming world. We invite you to submit panels, presentations, and programming ideas to “Humanities on the Brink” and participate this coming July...Flygskam-free!    

Panel and presentation themes may include the following:

    Climate pessimism, optimism, and/or denialism
    Energy humanities on the brink of an age of emergencies
    The “failure” of the humanities
    Salvaging the wreckage of the liberal arts
    Urgency as a mode of foreclosure
    Urgency as a site of possibility
    Energy transition and the question of urgency
    The humanities and/as resistance to authoritarian (ab)uses of emergency discourse
    Alternative or queer temporalities and the question of urgency
    Energy, infrastructure, and narrative
    Settler colonialism and the uneven experiences of “emergency”
    Creating ecological/cultural “arks” to preserve endangered beings, relationships, languages, communities, and heritages
    Community-building efforts inside and outside the humanities
    The humanities and radical forms of dissent: culture jamming, civil disobedience, mass mobilization, monkey-wrenching, and more
    Lessons for the humanities from disaster sociology, emergency management, and other relevant fields
    Rewilding and biocultural restoration and/as the humanities
    “Emergency” and the global South
    Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic imaginaries; utopian and dystopian visions
    Past “emergency humanities” failures and successes (e.g., Nazi book-burning vs. the distribution of tens of millions of Armed Services Editions in World War II)
    Current approaches to keeping the humanities alive in war zones, under conditions of economic austerity, in prison, and elsewhere outside the proverbial Ivory Tower
    Emergent genres that imagine utopian infrastructural futures (e.g., solarpunk)
    The limits and possibilities of the “new” humanities
    Research-creation and the necessity of challenging conventional academic knowledge production
    Metacritical reflections on other forms of NCN research and interactions


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