Assembling Common Worlds:
An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Environment and Young People’s Literature and Culture
Vancouver Island University, June 11-13, 2021
Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
In the past year, we have witnessed continents burning, islands and coastal regions flooding, and increases in extinctions of flora and fauna. While concern over the human impact on the environment has existed for decades, there is a new sense of urgency demanding a cognitive shift to transform our understanding of our place in and impact on the physical world, as well as of our relationships with the other life forms cohabiting the earth. More broadly, Tom Oliver calls for rethinking concepts of identity and the individual (The Self Delusion, 2020). Similarly, Posthumanism provides ways of rethinking the boundaries of the human and nonhuman. Donna Haraway has provided language to understand naturecultures (2003) and emphasized the importance of “staying with the trouble” as we work at making kin with nonhuman others, resisting the Western hierarchical view that values human above other lives (2016). Of especial relevance, then, is openness to multiple ways of knowing the natural world, including Indigenous ways of knowing and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) (see Nelson and Shilling, eds. 2018).
Specifically regarding children’s culture, Affrica Taylor has noted the importance of “common worlds (or common worlding) as dynamic collectives of humans and more-than-humans, full of unexpected partnerships and comings together, which bring differences to bear on the ways our lives are constituted and lived” (2013, p. 78). Too often those studying young people’s literature and culture work in isolation from those working in environmental humanities, childhood studies focused on children in the Anthropocene, and education for sustainability. Much of the most productive scholarship on these concepts and processes has been interdisciplinary. There is much to be gained in both methodology and understanding by communication and collaboration between literary scholars, educators, environmentalists, philosophers, and scholars of childhood and youth experiences and culture.
Conspicuously missing from this list are children and youth themselves. While there has been ongoing discussion in the Social Sciences and Health and Human Service fields on participatory research involving children and youth (Aldridge 2015; Dickens 2017) since Alderson first drew attention to the absence of their voices (1995), this is only recently emerging in literary studies and other humanities fields (Deszcz-Tryhubczak 2016, 2018, 2019). Since some of the leading ecological activists today are youth, such as Greta Thunberg (Sweden) and Autumn Peltier (Anishinabek Nation), and since children and youth will live the longest with the effects of environmental degradation, their voices must be part of the conversation.
Assembling Common Worlds intends not only to explore traditional disciplinary ways of understanding eco-literacy and eco-activism in children’s and youth literature and culture, but also to bring together scholars and practitioners from a range of fields to find productive opportunities for cooperation and collaboration in tackling the challenges of generating intergenerational dialogue on current environmental concerns. In addition to paper sessions, the conference will also feature a methodological workshop and involvement of child and youth participants.
Conference conveners welcome proposals for 20-minute papers or 90-minute panels on any of the following topics:
- Making kin between human and non-human in children’s or youth’s literature and culture;
- More-than-human worlds in children’s or youth’s literature and culture;
- Eco-literacy in children’s or youth literature and culture;
- Imagining the Post-Anthropocene;
- The evolving capacity of eco-criticisms to address environmental change;
- Indigenous knowledge or TEK in children’s or youth’s literature and culture;
- Regeneration of connections between children or youth and nature;
- The role of children or youth in food security;
- Young people’s eco-citizenship and/or eco-activism;
- Interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks for understanding children in and of nature;
- Intergenerational creative and/or cultural projects addressing environmental issues;
- Participatory research with children or youth on literary or cultural expressions of eco-literacy and/or eco-activism;
- Children’s and youth’s creativity is/as response to the current environmental crisis.
Proposals of 250 words and brief biographies are due June 29, 2020. This early deadline is to facilitate applications for grant monies.
The conveners hope to offer some travel support for graduate students and under employed scholars.
The conveners also plan to publish an edited collection of selected papers from the conference.