Academic journal article ARIEL

Introduction to Postcolonial Ecocriticism among Settler-Colonial Nations

Academic journal article ARIEL

Introduction to Postcolonial Ecocriticism among Settler-Colonial Nations

Article excerpt

Abstract: The introduction to this special issue considers the intersecting concerns of postcolonialism and ecocriticism as well as the complexities that divide the two fields. Inspired by ongoing nonliterary events that highlight the irrevocable link between humans and the environment, the special issue recognizes the ways in which ecocriticism can inform achievable and effective strategies for postcolonial critics and activists. The assembled essays, which focus on literatures from settler-colonial nations, offer fresh ways of negotiating the intricacies of postcolonial ecocriticism.

Keywords: postcolonialism, ecocriticism, environmental justice, literature, settler-colonial nations


A search of the Modern Language Association database (as of January 2014) for postcolonialism and ecocriticism results in articles and books by, among others, the ground-breakers and established names in the merging fields since the 1990s: Graham Huggan, Susie O'Brien, Simon Estok, Rob Nixon, Helen Tiffin, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, and Laura Wright. Each of these critics offers foundational yet different approaches to considering the intersecting concerns of postcolonialism (a long-established critical theory) and ecocriticism (an established but relatively young critical theory). We are delighted to feature O'Brien and Estok in this special issue. The remaining featured authors (and guest editors) are much indebted to these scholars' mentorship, innovation, and ongoing work in the emerging field of postcolonial ecocriticism; however, we also feel, in the spirit of good scholarship, the pull to engage with the established critics' ideas and expand the critical ground by introducing new voices and directions. A key motivation for this special issue is a desire to create space for new perspectives and methodologies reflective of twenty-first century social and environmental concerns.

We are also inspired by ongoing non-literary events that urge critical reflection informed by both postcolonial and ecocritical theory. The 2012 Marikana miner's strike near Rustenberg, South Africa revealed a long-standing tension between multinational mining corporations and workers mining for platinum and highlighted economic and social disparity more than two decades after the legislated end of apartheid. When members of the South African Police Service responded to strikers' protests with violence on a scale not witnessed since the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the legacy of colonialism became impossible to ignore. In North America, protests against oil pipelines and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have been dominated by First Nations and other Indigenous groups whose treaty rights continue to be violated in favour of corporate interests. The people affected by these decisions and practices--the dozens of miners killed in Marikana; the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam nations in British Columbia; the Elsipogtog nation in New Brunswick; the Khoisan fighting fracking in the Karoo region of South Africa's Eastern Cape--remind that the effects of colonialism reverberate well into the twenty-first century, particularly for Indigenous peoples. So long as the "post" in postcolonialism serves to recognize those reverberations--and not, as some critics have argued, to imply that colonialism has ended or that Indigenous knowledges are meaningful only following European contact--postcolonial strategies remain helpful in the face of neoliberal policies and neocolonial realities. They also demonstrate the unavoidable link between humans and the environment. Shaft and strip mining, tar sands extraction, pipeline construction, fracking--all of these practices affect the environment as well as the people who live at or near the locations of these practices, not to mention those further afield. For that reason alone, ecocriticism offers significant strategies for postcolonial critics and activists.

Some words about our national focus are warranted here. …

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