Race, Class, and Environment in 19th- and Early 20th-Century Literature (ASLE panel) (Seminar)


Comparative Literature / American

Jill Gatlin (New England Conservatory)

Sponsored by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE)

Drawing on the conference theme, this session interrogates how intersecting concepts of race, class, and environment have undergirded “processes of trans-culturation that have characterized modernity,” with a particular focus on narratives of ecological inequity that preceded the environmental justice movement—nineteenth- to mid-twentieth-century literary or popular accounts of power relations structuring inhabitation and embodiment, differential access to ecological resources, and uneven exposure to environmental hazards.

Participants might address the following questions: How have concepts of race, class, and nation informed the definition and legitimation of ecological subjects or the designation and delegitimation of “ecological others” (Ray 2013)? How have notions of ecology, territory, terrain, and landscape supported racialization and class distinctions? How do gender, sexuality, ability, and other hierarchical classifications intersect with these formulations of race and class? How have workers and residents disproportionately exposed toxicity been characterized as national and ecological pollutants, in need of erasure or reform? How have polluted or otherwise damaged environments been aestheticized and glorified as sites of privilege and progress, and how do bodies fit into these narratives? How are these concerns figured not only spatially but also temporally, in narratives of progress or decay that shape perceptions of pollution, resilience, evolution, or adaptation? How have linear temporal narratives and visual epistemologies been privileged in environmental humanities analyses of race, class, and environment? Which genres have been privileged or underexamined in these discussions? What kinds of narratological elements are important to examine in these conversations? How have writers imagined and constructed their reading subjects in relation to scenes of environmental injustice? What kinds of theoretical approaches might enrich these discussions (e.g., new materialism, social movement theory, narratology, queer theory, postcolonialism)?
Drawing on the conference theme, this ASLE-sponsored seminar interrogates how intersecting concepts of race, class, and environment have undergirded modernity’s “processes of trans-culturation,” focusing on narratives of ecological inequity that preceded the environmental justice movement—19th- to mid-20th-century literary or popular accounts of power relations structuring inhabitation and embodiment. Topics might include the determination of ecological subjecthood; the characterization of those exposed to toxicity as pollutants; the construction of reading subjects in relation to scenes of environmental injustice; and the spatial and temporal figuration of these concerns in narratives of progress, decay, resilience, evolution, or adaptation.