Global Environmental Humanities: Global Ecologies, Environmental Justice, and Sustainable Permaculture

Global Environmental Humanities: Global Ecologies, Environmental Justice, and Sustainable Permaculture, Lit 290, Spring 2017

Amanda Starling Gould

Course Description:

How can we seed the humanities with the deep roots of sustainability, environmental awareness, and eco action? What might compost or e-waste have to teach us about global ecologies and environmental justice? How might we use Permaculture—a profoundly interconnected set of ethical design principles that we’ll borrow from natural farming—as a model to initiate more mindful everyday life and scholarly practices? In this class we examine texts, from novels and news stories to graphic novels and videogames, to explore how global environmental issues are registering differently in cultures around the world. Instead of focusing on post-apocalyptic fiction, we focus on texts that treat environmental change as radically ordinary. We trace the patterns, and possible solutions, that emerge when we apply environmental humanities methods to complex ecological issues like sustainability, environmental justice, climate change, waste, energy, global health, and water, and begin thinking ecologically about vital planetary interconnections.

In our hyperlinked digital age, we are more physically connected than we oft acknowledge: the cell phones in our pockets begin in mineral mines in Africa and end as electronic waste in China; the “Cloud” where we save our data now has a carbon footprint that rivals, and will soon pass, that of the aviation industry; the casing of our laptops is made of ocean-polluting petroleum-based plastic. Today more than ever we need models for thinking critically about our own personal responsibilities and ethical commitments as citizens involved in physically-entangled global ecological systems. The culminating assignment is an interdisciplinary research project that integrates course readings, outside research, and innovative design to meaningfully reflect on our individual connection to the larger world. Projects might include such elements as community eco-partnerships, global social activism, multimedia reflections, speculative design projects, land-based art or performance, written reports, graphic narratives, and collaborations with Sustainable Duke, Duke Farm, the Duke Environmental Arts and Humanities Network, or the Duke Smart Home.


Course site and syllabus forthcoming. Until then, here is a draft of our themes, major assignment, and possible course texts:

Themes:

Global Cultures: We investigate how environmental identity is constructed in various cultures and how that identity is brought into international discussions about environmental change. We examine how environmental change constructs a new ‘global’ identity in so far as physical changes in one place (e.g. deforestation, industry, agriculture, ocean pollution, e-waste, over-mining) can reverberate to landscapes and cultures across the planet.

We look at how civilizations around the world are experiencing, and dealing with, climate and environmental change. We examine global literatures that reflect cultural environmental stories and histories. We think critically about the past policies and practices that have led to present global environmental inequalities and we posit solutions for more sustainable futures.

Environmental Humanities:

In this class we examine novels, graphic novels, art, and videogames to explore how global environmental issues are registering differently in cultures around the world. We will ask how we develop our ideas about ‘nature’ and the environment and ask how we might changes those and/or convert them into action (or activism) using environmental humanities methods. We will consider the emerging hands-on, material-focused EnHu scholarship coming out of Australia as well as recent American eco-Anthropocenic work and important texts from those like Chakrabarty and Latour who introduce post-colonial themes and global environmental justice into the study of environmental history/humanities. We’ll also discuss more traditional texts to place these within their proper lineages.

We’ll ask what value literature and environmental humanities have vis-a-vis the global debate on climate change, the state of the planet, and the health of future generations.

-Earth scientists can point to symptoms and model particular (and not always accurate) possible outcomes, but climate change and global environmental justice are people problems, and that is our domain…EnHu is about people, policy, politics, etc. Fiction, especially speculative or science fiction, as Haraway, Arendt, and Jameson remind us, give us insight into possible futures.

Ethics: We will discuss the key ethical debates that are emerging alongside global environmental issues and ask if we have a moral obligation to live more sustainably. We will explore how Permaculture design ethics can be a model for ethical global ecological practice. We will create eco-partnerships with both local and online global communities to help us understand our personal responsibilities and ethical commitments as citizens involved in interconnected global ecologies

Final Project:

The culminating assignment will be an interdisciplinary research project that integrates course readings, in-depth outside research, and innovative design to meaningfully reflect on our individual connection to the larger world. The students will be required to use web, library, and hands-on research to produce an original final product. The hands-on component could be community-based, land-based, and/or creative. Projects might include such elements as community eco-partnerships, global social activism, multimedia reflections, speculative design projects, land-based art or performance, written reports, graphic narratives, and collaborations with Sustainable Duke, Duke Farm, the Duke Environmental Arts and Humanities Network, or the Duke Smart Home.

The final project is designed to bring together what we’ve learned in class with comprehensive individual research. The students will be required to use web, library, and hands-on research to produce an original final product. The hands-on component could be community-based, land-based, and/or creative. The final document they are required to produce, though it may take on various forms (see above), will represent the equivalent of a thoroughly-researched 20-page critical research and reflection essay. All projects will require a prospectus, an outline, and a developed concept shortly after midterm so that we may cultivate our projects together over the course of the second half of the semester.

Possible Course Texts:

Fiction

Oil on Water, Helon Habila (novel, Africa)

Fifty Degrees Below, KSR (novel, US)

Stonefish, Keri Hulme (short stories, Australia)

The Healer, Antti Tuomainen (novel, Northern Europe)

Pumzi (short film, Africa)

Rhyme of the Modern Mariner (graphic novel ‘updating’ Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Oceanic)

“The Gambler” Paolo Bacgialupi (short story, US) (online)

Artworks, old and new, US and global

Videogame: Urban Climate Architect (clisap.de)

Nonfiction

Selections from Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities: Postcolonial Approaches

Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 197–222.

Gayatri Spivak, “Imperative to Reimagine the Planet,” in An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 335–350.

Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain, Global Warming in an Unequal World: A Case of Environmental Colonialism (New Delhi: Centre for Science and Environment, 1991).

Eyal Weizman and Fazal Sheikh, The Conflict Shoreline: Colonialism as Climate Change in the Negev Desert (Gottingen: Steidl in association with Cabinet Books, 2015).

Selections from:

  • Bruno Latour, selected writings
  • Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, selected essays
  • Valerie Plumwood, selected writings
  • Ursula Heise, selected writings
  • Deborah Bird Rose, selected essays
  • Thom van Dooren, selected essays
  • Judy Motion, selected essays
  • Donna Haraway, selected writings
  • Anna Tsing, ASLE keynote with Donna Haraway
  • Ken Hiltner, selected Princeton lecture video clips
  • Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home (The Holy See: Vatican Press, 2015).
  • Wendell Berry, writings and poems
  • Jed Purdy, selections from After Nature
  • Fukuoka, One-Straw Revolution
  • Atwood: “It’s Not Climate Change, It’s Everything Change” https://medium.com/matter/it-s-not-climate-change-it-s-everything-change-8fd9aa671804#.ojowjja1u
  • Selections from critical and popular writing on other topics that interest the students

*Note: This is a draft syllabus*