Approaching Extinction, Contesting Extinction

deadline for submissions: 
July 31, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Miami University (Ohio) - Environmental Humanities Research Cluster
contact email: 

The Environmental Humanities Research Cluster at Miami University (Ohio) invites chapter proposals for presentation at a symposium March 3rd and 4th, 2020, and inclusion in an edited volume.

The extinction of the living systems upon which human survival depends is an urgent problem currently lacking adequate social and political response. Recent studies indicate that a mass species extinction is well underway on our planet. Wildlife populations have decreased by 60% in the last few decades and 70% of agricultural diversity has disappeared. While the statistics are alarming, the absence of consensual global action in response is perhaps even more so. The prospect of mass extinction seems to escape cultural and conceptual frameworks of meaning that could motivate and guide collective responses. By investigating entanglements between life extinction and political imagination as well as social drivers and cultural dimensions of extinction, we hope to generate strategies for countering or mobilizing fears about death and extinction and enabling collective response and action. The environmental humanities can play a pivotal role in retooling imaginaries and enabling critical and creative responses to extinction.

“Approaching Extinction, Contesting Extinction” names our spatial and temporal proximity to extinction and calls attention to extinction as a focus for concern. Conscious of a dearth of conceptual tools for imagining orientations towards extinction, we seek an array of “approaches” (exploring, for example, how attitudes toward extinction echo denial and avoidance of death). Attention to extinction reveals deep social-ecological entanglements that call for rethinking, redefining, contesting, and resisting concepts we use to make sense of our lives, worlds, and actions (growth, progress, agency, community, temporality, and scale).

Questions that essays in this volume might address include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How are the mass extinctions of biological and of cultural diversity entangled?
  • What kinds of conceptual obstacles impede our capacities to approach and resist cultural and biological extinction?
  • What connections might we notice between semiotic extinction (such as linguistic extinction) and biophysical extinction? How can these connections help us complicate and contest current extinction narratives?
  • How might linguistic preservation and revitalization clarify opportunities for other kinds of preservation and revitalization work such as non-market-oriented lifeways and practices?
  • As the process of global capital accumulation churns humans and other life-forms away from land that once sustained them (biologically, culturally, and existentially), in what new ways can we understand and articulate the relationship between the life of capital, asymmetrical exposure to the risk of death, and the extinction of the commons? How might we frame these articulations as resistance?
  • How might concepts and practices pertaining to death be refashioned and extended to extinction? How might they help us contest narratives of extinction?
  • How might narratives of death and extinction might be reframed as narratives of resistance, resilience, or revitalization?

We have already been contacted by a press interested in publishing the collection. Those whose essays are selected for inclusion in the volume will also participate in a two-day symposium on March 3–4, 2020, where they will present draft versions of their chapters. The symposium will be open to the public and the wider Miami University community and will enable volume contributors to share their works in progress and engage in dialogue. Additionally, we plan to use the event and subsequent volume to develop and expand pedagogical tools and tactics for teaching extinction across university curricula.

Symposium: March 3rd and 4th at Miami University (Ohio). 

Keynote Speakers:

  • Kathryn Yusoff, Professor of Inhuman Geography, Queen Mary, University of London. Yusoff's research focuses on earth sciences, black feminist theory, geophilosophy and political aesthetics in the Anthropocene. Recent publications include A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), a Special Issue on “Geosocial Formations” (2017) for Theory, Culture and Society and “Geologic Realism” (2019) in Social Text. She is currently finishing a book on “Geologic Life” that addresses the geologies of race under colonialism and their afterlives in the grammars of materiality in the Anthropocene.

  • Nick Estes, Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico. A citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, he is a co-founder of The Red Nation, an Indigenous resistance organization. For 2017-2018, Estes was the American Democracy Fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard. His research engages colonialism and global Indigenous histories, with a focus on decolonization, oral history, U.S. imperialism, environmental justice, anti-capitalism, and the Oceti Sakowin. He is the author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019), which places into historical context the Indigenous-led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

Please submit abstracts and a brief bio via the form at this link: https://forms.gle/hyDT916iSceoY3ce7.

More information about the cluster and symposium are available at http://humanitiescenter.miamioh.edu/envhum.
Inquiries about the volume and symposium should be sent to: envhum@miamioh.edu

Deadline for proposals: July 31st, 2019