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Uprootings: Autochthony, Race, and the Literature of Place

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Organizer: Cynthia Quarrie

Co-Organizer: Mérédith Laferté-Coutu

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Metaphors of roots and rootedness, and their obverse — rootlessness, deracination, even “eradication”— are, as Christy Wampole puts it, “site[s] of extreme figuration," which suggests the extent to which humans are marked in one way or another by their connection (or lack thereof) to place. Moreover, attachment to place is at the heart of anti-colonial struggles, as well as debates around environmental protection and conservation, from on one hand the idea that Indigenous Land and Water defenders should be at the forefront of North American climate movements, to on the other, eco-fascist anti-immigrant nationalisms around the globe. The figuration of roots also intersects with both ecophenomenology, with its pervasive reliance on rootedness, and the phenomenology of race, in ways that writers, critics, and artists across media have recently begun to explore in a number of productive ways.
In this seminar, papers will trouble and stretch our conception of roots and the way they work metaphorically to attach us to notions of belonging and place. We will investigate some of the ethical, political, affective and material dangers, limits, and affordances of roots, from the root-based mysticism at the heart of European (and other) nationalisms, to the liberatory potential of Black and Indigenous writing and activism, and the contested politics at the heart of contemporary environmental thought. We are interested in exploring other metaphors for the relationship between race and place, for example as Levinas figures Jewishness as migrancy (over and against Heideggarian Bodenständichkeit); as Blackness is often understood through the imagery of watery routes over roots, for example in ideas like the Black Atlantic, the Wake, the Black Shoals, and the Archipelagic; and as Robin Wall Kimmerer begins to theorize belonging to place as a bryologist, as rootless moss that clings to the surface of things.
Our overarching questions concern the ethics of place, and how to care for the land as a people or peoples without this care depending on or turning into either land essentialism or nationalism. Thinkers we imagine at the heart of this discussion include Edouard Glissant, Sylvia Wynter, Robin Kimmerer, Tiffany Lethabo King, Mark Rifkin, Michelle M Wright, Nandita Sharma. We are especially interested in papers that challenge settled notions of race and roots/routes, in and beyond the Western context.
Topics we imagine include:
* Narrative/lyrical texts that explore race and place
* Ecophenomenology and the phenomenology of colonialism and race
* Nomadism and migrancy: affordances and constraints
* The problem of scale, in terms of local and global attachment and belonging
* Bryology and Modes of Belonging
* Works connected to the Land Back / Water Defenders movements on Turtle Island
* The relationship of gender, sexuality, and class to roots and mobility
* Black Rurality
* Indigenous vs autochthonous belonging

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