Session: Global Ecology and Ecocriticism

Global Ecology and Culture Stream


Day 3, Parallel Session 3B: 1:30pm – 3:00pm

Location: Storey Hall (Building 16) – Main Auditorium, Level 5, Room 1

Chair: Professor Kate Rigby (Monash University)


Linda Williams Towards a Critique of Relational Aesthetics in the Context of Ecocritical Theory: Forget Bourriaud

  • Presenter: Associate Professor Linda Williams (RMIT University)
  • Abstract: This presentation proposes that whilst contemporary art has responded quite substantially to the social processes of globalization (Papastergiadis, 2012,Bal et al, 2011; Harris, 2011; Belting, 2011, Philipsen, 2010); responses to global climate change in contemporary art- though certainly nascent – remain relatively more subdued. The presentation considers some of the critical presuppositions underlying this relatively restrained cultural response, and focuses in particular on how Bourriaud’s work on relational aesthetics has become widely influential in art critical discourse. Whilst his work has come in for some critical qualifications (Bishop, 2004), and has also been subject to a well-argued Marxist critique (Martin, 2007), this presentation aims to identify the limitations of Bourriaud’s work in the context of ecocritical theory. It concludes with the observation that relational aesthetics is but one of many examples of how contemporary cultural discourse is generally complicit with the archaic anthropocentrism of conventional ontology.
  • About the presenter: Linda Williams is Associate Professor of Art, Environment & Cultural Studies in the School of Art at RMIT University where she leads the Art & Environmental Sustainability research group, currently being reformed as the AEGIS Research Group. She leads an ARC international project: Spatial Dialogues: Public Art & Climate Change, and publishes on cultural and social theory and ecological critique: particularly on histories of human-animal relations and the contemporary issues of climate change and mass species extinction. In collaboration with RMIT Gallery she curated HEAT: Art & Climate Change (2008) the first exhibition of its kind in Australia, and more recently 2112: Imagining the Future. 
Tom Bristow Ecocriticism, Literary Geography and an Urban Case Study

  • Presenter and main author: Dr Tom Bristow (University of New England)
  • Abstract: Surprisingly, recent studies in environmental psychology and human geography have clarified the need for a ‘theory of place’ (Lewicka, 2011); ecocriticism has offered substantial inroads to a place-based local/planetary imaginary via its sense of ecocosmopolitanism (Heise, 2008), bioregionalism (Lynch, Glotfelty, Ambruster, 2012), and international regionalism (Kinsella, 2000), yet no study has combined these with an attention to spatial formations that negates a narcissistic concern with personal and human scale interaction with places. As a first attempt to close that very gap, this paper looks at literary and photo-documentary responses to the construction of the site for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, 2012, to correlate literary settings and material environments, and to address space and geography as questions with a profound impact upon how cultural texts are formally assembled. By taking the method of literary geography to ecocriticism, this paper reads postulations of space as a conceptual and material site, which appear to suggest that a radical sense of place allows room for an expansive personality to rise freely within the light of the surrounding ecology and history, unlike totalitarian architectural space which does not allow the self such expression. 
  • About the presenter: Tom Bristow is lecturer in English at the University of New England, New South Wales, and is the President of the Association for the Study of Literature, Culture and Environment, Australia and New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ).  Tom’s monograph, Literary Geography and its Ecopoetic Counterpoint, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.
Kate Rigby Global Changes, Local Impacts, Cultural Narratives

  • Presenter and main author: Professor Kate Rigby (Monash University)
  • Abstract: This presentation addresses the role of cultural narratives in framing the local impacts of global environmental change from the perspective of ‘new materialist’ ecocritical theory. Consideration will be given in particular to the problematic construction of the kinds of extreme weather events that are set to become ever more frequent and intense as the planet warms as “natural disasters.” This historically relatively recent category owes its genesis to what Michel Serres terms the “Modern Constitution,” organized around the binary opposition of Nature and Culture. The presentation proceeds from a critical examination of the worrisome implications of the discourse of natural disaster in a contemporary context to a discussion of alternative forms of story-telling that disclose instead the material and ethical entanglement of human and nonhuman actants in the horizon of eco-catastrophe.
  • About the presenter: Kate Rigby is Professor of Environmental Humanities in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies at Monash University and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Her research ranges across German Studies, European philosophy, literature and religion, and culture and ecology. She was a founding co-editor of the ecological humanities journal, Philosophy Activism Nature, the founding President of the Australia-New Zealand Association for the Study of Literature, Environment and Culture, the founding Director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology@Monash and a founding member of the Australian Ecological Humanities research network.