Bradley M. Johnson, PhD Candidate, Department of Religion
Advisor: Elias Bongmba
I am writing my dissertation on the recent Cape Town water crisis. In late 2018, I conducted fieldwork in Cape Town, South Africa, to understand how Christians in three different church communities around the city were dealing with the manifestations and imposed restrictions of the three-year-long drought and subsequent water shortage. Through focused interviews with church members and leaders, I learned about the practical steps they had taken to deal with 50 liters-per-day-per-person limits, how they thought through the causes of and solutions to the crisis, and how they were conceiving of this crisis in theological and ethical terms. We discussed the future of Cape Town, given the prognosis of climate change, and what kinds of ethical obligations it demanded of Christians individually and collectively. The project is an attempt to understand how Christian communities of different traditions (in this case, Anglicans, evangelicals, and Pentecostal-charismatics) wrestled with the realities of a recent ecological crisis, its material constrictions, and how their faith and values impacted their response.
Clint Wilson III, PhD Candidate, Department of English
Advisors: Judith Roof, Cary Wolfe
My dissertation—Toxic Media: Poison, Pollution, and Modernist Aesthetics—draws on foundational scholarship in the field of modernism and the avant-garde, critical media studies, and the environmental humanities in an effort to reconjugate the concept of “toxicity” in the literary worlds of the twentieth century. I have recently completed a draft of my second chapter, which traces how the aestheticization of “space” sheds light on the means of toxic dissemination within the modern city’s infrastructure. This chapter discusses African American writers Richard Wright and Margaret Walker, whose vision of environmental racism in the mid-century lays the groundwork for understanding contemporary toxic events like the Flint Water Crisis and the chemical afterlives of Hurricane Harvey. These events, and the texts that elucidate their full meaning, bear uncanny parallels with the material that organizes my next chapter, regarding toxic waste in the novels of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, among others.
Eliot Storer, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology
Advisor: James D. Faubion
My dissertation, “Bogs Blanket Ethnography,” investigates the cultural politics of climate change solution projects. Based primarily on thirteen months of field research in the “carbon-rich” blanket bogs of northern Scotland, my project explores the Euro-American “environmentalist vanguard” project of “natural climate solutions,” the cultural politics of wetlands and scientific practices, and spatiotemporal theories of the environment, ecology, and nature. As a sociocultural anthropologist whose work is specifically concerned with the theorization of contemporary cultural forms and the bodily social life of “the everyday,” I analyze the significance of environmental land use regimes--like ecological restoration—reimagined as “carbon solutions” to mitigate climate change for an emergent environmentalist vision of a “carbon neutral” society. Are these simple solutions or do they over-simplify the problem?
Kevin MacDonnell, PhD Candidate, Department of English
Advisor: Joseph Campana
My investment in the environmental humanities has largely shaped the underlying questions that have guided the trajectory of my dissertation project, Innovating the Enlightenment: Literature, Technology, and Political Economy in Eighteenth-Century Britain. The project attends to the changing reception of the idea of innovation in Enlightenment Britain. Once a pejorative used to decry institutional reform, by the late eighteenth century Samuel Johnson could describe Britain as ‘running mad after innovation.’ Innovating the Enlightenment tracks the shifting fortunes of innovation by analyzing literary encounters with emerging techniques and technologies, and posits the literary as a domain where the union of technical production and Enlightenment notions of progress is codified. Despite continued opposition to innovation, the reimagining of these literary forms effectively sanctioned technical change and accelerated growth within the major industries I target in each of the project’s four chapters: mining, manufacturing, shipping, and urban design. What makes eighteenth-century Britain’s ranging attitudes toward innovation worth exploring further is their concurrence with the onset of the Anthropocene, the current geological epoch that is defined by humanity’s emergence as a geophysical force on a planetary scale. According to atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and ecologist Eugene Stoermer, the Anthropocene commences with the onset of industrial production in late eighteenth-century Britain, during which time large-scale fossil fuel consumption made human activity stratigraphically legible. To make sense of such profound social and environmental legacies of the eighteenth century, though, we must also consider the discursive formations embedded in the period’s cultural artifacts; technological, literary, and otherwise. Doing so, I argue, allows us to situate Britain’s fledgling culture of innovation alongside the conceptual foundations of the Anthropocene, aligning the pre-history of our current preference for all things innovative with the environmental histories whose legacies have radically shaped our world.