"Energy and Infrastructure: An Environmental Humanities Roundtable" (MLA 2021)

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Association for the Study of Literature and Environment
contact email: 

"Energy and Infrastructure: An Environmental Humanities Roundtable" (MLA 2021)

Jacob Goessling, Jordan B. Kinder, and Andrew B. Ross

A non-guaranteed roundtable organized by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment

As energy and infrastructure have recently been opened up as key terms and objects of study in fields such as geography, anthropology, and media studies, these concepts are beginning to inform critical discourse in the environmental humanities. Scholars and theorists such as Deborah Cowen and Andreas Malm have convincingly argued for energy and infrastructure as an entry point into responding to questions about the unevenly distributed costs and benefits of the fossil economy in a warming world, as well as the potential for building a future otherwise. As catastrophe and precarity continue to render infrastructures—both the built frameworks of transportation, utility, communication, and power and the social infrastructures of public health, education, and civic groups—more visible, the question of how the arts and humanities will respond becomes paramount. This concern with literary and cultural responses and praxis is generated by the view that energy systems and the infrastructures of the built environment are not neutral sites of transmission or physical relations, but enact power and shape social relations. Theoretical concepts such as “repair” and “care” are meaningful phenomenological responses to understanding how infrastructure affects, in the words of Shannon Mattern, “how people arrive, depart, and inhabit places, how they relate to others, and indeed how they embody change.”  

“Beyond (In)Visibility: An Energy and Infrastructure Roundtable” invites submissions of roundtable-length papers that outline modes of critical practice capable of grappling with the significance of the social and political forces that render energy infrastructures—and the communities impacted by them—visible or erased.

Some questions that presentations might take up include: How can the environmental humanities meaningfully interpret the ways that energy sources and infrastructures mediate social, environmental, political, and economic relations? What are the limits and possibilities of the energy humanities and infrastructure studies in working towards a future beyond oil and extractivism? How might these “new kind of humanities,” in the words of Jeff Williams, “augur the shape of the university to come”? By interpreting how humans and nonhumans sense their relationship to infrastructural supports or constrains, this roundtable will unpack how infrastructures are more than simply “built”; they are lived, narrated, appropriated, and adapted in ways that are always poetic and political.

For consideration, send 300-word abstracts and short bios to andyross@udel.edu by March 1, 2020. Presenters are encouraged to identify one key question or term that they can apply in brief to argue for the value of an “infrastructuralist EH” reading practice.