Literary Urban Studies and Climate Futures (MLA 2022)

deadline for submissions: 
March 20, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Association for Literary Urban Studies
contact email: 

This panel gathers papers that consider how literary urban studies might contribute to interdisciplinary scholarship on questions of equity, justice, and the material transformation of cities in the context of climate change, as they are expressed in the literature of any region worldwide or historical period. All cities are in the process of being unevenly and variously transformed by climate change. The World Bank estimates that Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia alone will generate 143 million climate migrants by 2050. Some global cities will dramatically expand to accommodate large populations of migrants. Others will be rendered uninhabitable for much of their current populations by lack of clean water, pervasive extreme heat, or risk of unmanageable flooding, drought, or storms. Within this context, we ask what role literary engagements with cities and urban change might play in interdisciplinary conversations about climate futures, and how literary urban studies might engage a range of other approaches to contribute to those conversations. This panel is organized together with the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS;

Cities play a complex role in global climate change. As environmental humanities scholars Ursula K. Heise and Jon Christensen argue “rapid urbanization is considered by many to be one of the twenty-first century’s grand environmental challenges, along with climate change, biodiversity loss, and sustainability in a world of inequality that is itself unstable.” And yet, they write, “Paradoxically, urbanization is also seen as one of the most important solutions to these other grand challenges.” How can literary engagements with cities and urban change help conceptualize equity and justice in the context of global climate emergency? What kinds of interdisciplinary conversations between literary scholars and city planners, climate scientists, and other urbanists best use the strategies of the humanities as part of a coalitional project of advocating for urban justice for marginalized communities?

Our conversation builds upon work like literary urban studies scholar Lieven Ameel’s invitation for planners and humanists alike to read literary texts and planning documents together, as well as recent work in the environmental humanities by Nikhil Anand, Julie Sze, Anna Tsing and others. These scholars suggest that the strategies of the humanities are essential to conceptualizing collaborative survival in the context of climate crisis beyond the capitalist imaginaries of progress.
We hope that the papers in this session will contribute to a conversation that reads the entanglement of literary urban studies and scholarship on climate futures to respond to what Stephanie LeMenager identifies in an essay in the January 2021 issue of PMLA as a “wish to open the door to diverse forms of scholarly and parascholarly adaptation and to follow those scholars—and doers—of antiracism and decolonization who recognize in the Anthropocene an opportunity for transition—socially, economically, even spiritually.” In this session, we aim to situate literary urban studies as an important interlocutor for contemporary conversations about climate futures in and across fields including but not limited to the environmental humanities, Indigenous studies, postcolonial critique, critical race theory, science and technology studies, and feminist and queer studies. Please send an abstract of 250-300 words and a short bio to and by March 20th, 2021.