Dissertation Abstract

Climate Change in Literature and Culture: Conversion, Speculation, Education

Siperstein, Stephen J  2016  stephensiperstein.weebly.com

Department of English, University of Oregon (United States), 236 pp.

This dissertation examines an emergent archive of contemporary literary and cultural texts that engage with the wicked problem of anthropogenic climate change. Following cultural geographer Michael Hulme, this project works from the assumption that climate change is as much a constellation of ideas as it is a set of material realities. I draw from a diverse media landscape so as to better understand how writers, artists, and activists in the global north are exploring these ideas and particularly what it means to be human in a time of climate change. How do individuals learn to live with climate change, that is, with a daily commitment to navigating these chaotic and unprecedented times? Whether a memoir or a novel, an alternate-reality storytelling game or a collection of agitprop posters, each of these texts call on us to imagine different kinds of selves, different kinds of communities, or different kinds of futures.  Just as the modes of inquiry practiced in the Environmental Humanities ask us to question the political, economic, and cultural status quo that has led to climate chaos, these texts also call on their audiences to engage in modes of transformative learning incited by this ongoing disorienting dilemma.  

The project thus also offers a set of ideas and practices for teaching climate change in literary and cultural studies. I argue that climate change poses both challenges and opportunities for educators in the Humanities, particularly in the context of its psychological impacts and emotional contours, and I suggest that transformative learning is a productive framework through which to understand such education. Ultimately, transformative climate change learning requires that students question their own assumptions and identities as well as exercise their cultural agency as a way of generating hope and working together to imagine and enact more just and sustainable futures.