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Cultural responses to environmental displacements

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Organizer: Sophia Brown

Co-Organizer: Sayantika Chakraborty

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There are now widespread fears over climate change, which increasingly are yoked to existing anxieties and myths about migration, fuelling sensationalist and inaccurate portrayals of a world where climate, conflict and mass migration will be inextricably and dangerously linked (Parenti 2011; Miller 2017; Selby, Daoust and Hoffmann 2022). Through policy decisions and political and media discourse, wealthy nations in the global North present climate change as a security threat that requires the enforcement of racialised borders. This has meant that the figure of the ‘climate refugee’ is narrowly conceived as a problem, as opposed to a subject impacted by interrelated histories and effects, including colonialism, capitalism, racism and environmental degradation. In Planetary Specters (2021), Neel Ahuja asserts that ‘there is an opening for critical refugee studies to chart a new path to analyze the complex environmental, economic, and political determinants of migration’. This seminar seeks to contribute to a new approach by exploring how cultural production challenges the increasing simplification – and weaponization – of climate migration concerns, emphasizing as opposed to minimizing the complexities that characterize human (and more-than-human) mobility and climate change. Examples of texts that come to mind are Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island and its blending of Bengali folklore, extreme weather events and human and more-than-human migration; Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book and the disparate experiences and perspectives of European climate refugees and displaced Aboriginal Australians; and the lesser known Indian film Kadvi Hawa (“A Rough Wind”) that explores indigeneity and environmental justice in relation to climate change and the eventual displacement of marginalized farmers.

This seminar therefore adopts a broad and diverse perspective on the ecological crisis and the concept of environmental displacements. We invite submissions that engage with the representation of any aspects of the ecological crisis, whether climate change, mass extinction, biodiversity loss, extractivism, air and plastic pollution, freshwater contamination, land loss and deforestation, in relation to any form of displacement, whether internal, transnational or global, and that focus on human or more-than-human subjects, or adopt a multispecies approach. Additionally, we are interested in papers scrutinizing texts that do not adequately contextualize climate-related migration and thus reinforce the existing circulation of dystopian and alarmist visions of the future that fail to break away from the nexus of military-security concerns. We hope to generate conversations that bring together multiple forms, genres, periods, languages and geographical areas.

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