Urban Pests, Ecology, and Social Justice (NeMLA 2015, April 30-May 3, Toronto)
From the major urban parks of the 19th Century—like Central Park in New York and City Park in New Orleans—to today's plethora of urban gardens, American city planners and residents have attempted to introduce "nature" into the "artificial" space of major cities. But what about those living creatures often ignored in such idyllic visions: rats, bugs, pigeons, and others "pests"? What about the weeds growing from cracks in the sidewalk and in vacant lots? Why privilege the former kind of nature and not the latter? Furthermore, how has this distinction between two kinds of nature been used to justify the pollution of animal, plant, and human communities in urban settings with dangerous chemicals? How has it been used to ascribe positive and negative values to urban residents of different classes, races, ethnicities, gender, and sexual preference leading to various forms of discrimination? In this panel, I invite papers that take up these questions by looking at cultural works, particularly literary works, films, and photographs, from all periods of American cultural production that allow us to identify and/or trouble the line between accepted and rejected nature in urban landscapes of various size and geography across the U.S. I hope that this panel will help us identify a strain of cultural works throughout the history of the U.S. that have challenged us to rethink our often narrow conceptions of nature, pests, and humanity in order to develop a more environmentally and socially responsible ecological vision. The city, as the perhaps the most developed site of human civilization, provides a crucial space in which to examine our assumptions about nature and ourselves.
Abstract Deadline: September 30th, 2014
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