Workshop on Extinction Rebellion, the Environment, Civil Disobedience and English and Children’s Literature

Karin Lesnik-ObersteinMCRn

This proposed workshop sets out to engage both in its form and in its content the most urgent, current, environmental and ecological questions in relation to English Studies and ‘Shared Futures’. At the forefront of much media attention and social activism internationally is Extinction Rebellion, which as an activist organisation draws on and is allied with eco-critical precedents and historical environmental activisms, including those which in turn come from literary inspirations such as, perhaps most famously, Henry Thoreau’s Walden or Life in the Woods and ‘Resistance to Civil Government’. The fifth core principle of XR is: ‘We value reflecting and learning, following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action (learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences)’. This principle links to the aspects of English Studies which engage with critical thinking and learning with and through reading how to both question and develop and implement ideas and actions that challenge social and cultural norms and vested interests.

Carolyn Sigler has argued that Ecocriticism is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that has developed over the past twenty years in response to growing academic concern about the responses of literature and literary theory to the global crisis of environmental degradation. Both ethically and practically, ecocriticism decenters humanity’s importance in nonhuman nature and nature writing […] and instead explores the complex interrelationships between the human and the nonhuman […]. Despite this deemphasis on humanity’s place within the world, ecocriticism does not ignore ethical or practical concerns […] Analogous to the decentering of patriarchal assumptions and values enacted by feminist theory and practice, ecocriticism’s biocentrism instead allows writers and critics to explore the interconnectedness of all nature […]. As Cheryll Burgess-Glotfelty explains, ‘ecocritics ask questions like “How does literature function within the ecosystem?” or “How does a given textual representation affect the way we treat actual nature?” (2)’.

The proposed workshop will therefore also be working through the principles of these challenges in not being a hierarchical, pre-determined, delivery of papers by individuals, but instead a fully participatory space for ‘reflection, learning and planning for more action’ through engagement in critical thinking through certain texts. These texts will include children’s literature on the environment and global warming since children have long been the designated carriers of futurity, as argued for instance by Lee Edelman in No Future. The designation of children as the saviours of their own future is at the heart of considering how and whether the reading of children’s literature or any literature can both be seen to uphold a status quo and vested interests while at the same time being a means of critically reflecting on and challenging that status quo and those vested interests, as Edelman too argues.

As a non-hierarchical learning space, the workshop will engage the conference attenders in the reading and the thinking and planning. It is intended that the participants who facilitate the critical thinking will include the named academics below, but also selected undergraduate, MA and/ or PhD students, one of whom is already named below, but some of whom will be drawn from students who have participated in the Part 3 Children’s Literature module at the University of Reading or other, related, modules.

The Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL) at the University of Reading runs the world’s oldest cultural studies and critical theory M(Res) in Children’s Literature in the world (from 1984; instead of an Educational or Librarianship MA course in Children’s Literature) as well as the Part 3 Children’s Literature module and has a long and eminent history of both eco-criticism and animal studies in relation to childhood and children’s literature, including histories of educational and historical environmental activism in education and literature. The facilitators will include:

As stated above, it is hoped to include undergraduate students and the conference audience on a participatory basis in the workshop. This may require some funding support from either the conference organisers or the University of Reading to support the ability of students to partake in the conference.

As Director of CIRCL and the M(Res) in Children’s Literature, Professor Lesnik-Oberstein published a chapter on children’s literature, eco-criticism and the environment in one of the first specialised edited volumes on eco-criticism in the UK, Richard Kerridge and Neil Sammells’ Writing the Environment: ecocriticism and literature (London: Zed Books, 1998) and has continued to publish and teach in this area. She also was a signatory to one of the first XR letters published in the UK press: https://www.scientistswarning.org/act-now-to-prevent-an-environmental-catastrophe/

Dr Sue Walsh: Dr Walsh completed her PhD in Childhood and Animal Studies and has published key articles on children’s literature, childhood, constructions of the animal and environment and animal rights and continues to teach in these areas.

Dr Neil Cocks: Dr Cocks has published and teaches extensively on ideas of children’s literature, children as readers and learners, pedagogy and educational philosophy as well as on ideas of childhood and the animal. He is also a political theorist with an edited book forthcoming on Ayn Rand from the Left.

Soma Das (BA, M(Res) in Children’s Literature): Mrs Das is a CIRCL PhD student working on interdisciplinary ideas of time and futurity.

Dr Krissie West: Dr West completed her PhD thesis on ideas of childhood in the work of the American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson and has written two books (forthcoming), one on the writings of Louisa May Alcott, the daughter of the environmental, educational and social activist Bronson Alcott, and another on ideas of gender and childhood in the American history and literature of the Salem witch trials.

Dr Bonnie McGill: Dr McGill completed her PhD thesis on ideas of vision in Quantum Physics and has an ongoing interest in transdisciplinary critical theory across the humanities and sciences.

Sat 9:15 am - 10:30 am