Byron Caminero-Santangelo. Different Shades of Green: African Literature, Environmental Justice and Political Ecology

By Smith, Brady | ARIEL, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Byron Caminero-Santangelo. Different Shades of Green: African Literature, Environmental Justice and Political Ecology


Smith, Brady, ARIEL


Byron Caminero-Santangelo. Different Shades of Green: African Literature, Environmental Justice and Political Ecology. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2014. Pp. x, 214. US$27.50.

Ecocriticism has always had an ambivalent relationship to African literature. As Byron Caminero-Santangelo suggests in Different Shades of Green: African Literature, Environmental Justice and Political Ecology, the African continent has long been regarded as lacking environmental traditions--a prejudice that colors the reception of many African texts. Within postcolonial ecocriticism, careful attention to African writers is hard to find, while ecocriticism's place within African literary studies is marginal at best. Different Shades of Green thus sets out to not only show the importance of ecocriticism to African literary studies but also demonstrate how the study of African literature can help us re-examine key assumptions about the nature of both African environmentalism and African literary texts.

As Caminero-Santangelo explains, an emphasis on the social and political aspects of environmental problems, rather than on "nature" itself, distinguishes African environmental literature. "African environmental writing," he writes, "tends to prioritize social justice; lived environments; livelihoods; and/ or the relationships among environmental practice, representations of nature, power, and privilege" (7). Many of the "environmental" texts Caminero-Santangelo explores are therefore less overtly concerned with the environment than one might expect--Wangarii Maathai and Ken Saro-Wiwa figure prominently here, but so do many figures less known to ecocriticism like Okot p'Bitek, Camara Laye, Ng[??]g[??] wa Thiong'o, and Chinua Achebe. If the inclusion of such writers seems unorthodox, that is precisely the point. By arguing for the ecocritical significance of the foregoing authors, Caminero-Santangelo intends to show how "African literature can challenge dominant Western assumptions regarding African environments and environmentalism" and to "interrogate widely accepted definitions of environmental writing and the underlying constructions of nature and conservation embedded in them" (4).

Different Shades of Green therefore expands the African environmental canon and in many respects the boundaries of ecocriticism itself. For Caminero-Santangelo, ecocriticism in African literature is not interested primarily in beautiful landscapes and charismatic megafauna but the social and political contexts that make up the environments with which his texts are concerned. However, Different Shades of Green is as much about the practice of ecocriticism in African literary studies as about new ecocritical readings of African texts. The notion of "postcolonial regional particularism" becomes important for Caminero-Santangelo. As he explains,

[a] regional focus need not result in a provincializing vision, a narrowing of concerns, or its own suppression of difference at smaller scales. While emphasizing regional alterity that cannot be subsumed by a more universal imperial or postcolonial condition, ... postcolonial regional particularism still challenges imperial discourse's suppression of global entanglement in the representation of difference. (9; emphasis in original)

Different Shades of Green thus critiques imperialism from the perspective of African literary and environmental studies in order to show how attention to African texts and contexts can help us think about environmental problems on both local and global scales. Indeed, Caminero-Santangelo is concerned with not only how African texts "[bring] the local and the global together but also . …

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