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Environmentalism, Fantasy and Intersectionality

A Comparison Between the US and the EU | November 5-6, 2020

Note: This event was rescheduled to November 5-6, 2020. It was originally planned for March 26-27, 2020. This event was held virtually. All times are in US ET.

This conference takes up the question of how fantasy and science fiction are used to address minority issues, specifically as they relate to environmental concerns in the European Union and the US. Scholars will gather from the EU and the US to present and discuss work on female and ethnic minority authors and directors using fantasy to engage with environmental issues, and the impact of human society on environment. Conference panel themes include: “Rebuilding in a Post-apocalyptic Era,” “Race, Class and Future Inequalities”, “Ethics and Living with Environmental Challenges”, and “Pedagogical Approaches to Scifi and Intersectionality”.

As prelude to the conference, films Snowpiercer and Children of Men were screened in UNC-CH’s FedEx Global Education Center.

View the Conference Program

Conference Schedule

Thursday, November 5



Humanization and Belonging: Reproduction, Environment, Futurity
Sherryl Vint (UC-Riverside)

Panel 1


Ethics and Living with Environmental Challenges

Moderator: Lukas Hoffmann, UNC Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures
Deniz Göktürk (UC Berkeley), “The Secret Life of Trash”
Gabriel Trop (UNC), “Giordano Bruno Latour: Bonding as Paradigm of Power”
Christina Weiler (UNC), “Uncanny Women, Exploitation, and Animal Ethics in Ludwig Tieck’s Fairy Tale “Fair-haired Eckbert”

Panel 2


Rebuilding in a Post-apocalyptic Era

Moderator: Nancy Carr, USF College of Education
Sam Amago (UVA), “Anthropocenic Endings in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men”
Eliza Rose, (UNC), “Ultrasounds of Nothing: Antinatalist Moods in Polish Science Fiction, 1981 and Today”

Friday, November 6

Panel 3


Race, Class and Future Inequalities

Moderator: Natasza Gawlick, UNC Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures
Aidan Power (Exeter), “In Our Immense Sarcophagus We Lay: Charting the Anthropocene in EU Science Fiction Films”
Paul Bucholz (Emory), “Nomadism in the Environmental Dystopias of Sophie Klotz and Nicolas Born”
Evan Torner (Cincinnati), “Whiteness, Pessimism, and Futurity in German Science-Fiction Cinema”

Panel 4


Pedagogical Approaches to Scifi and Intersectionality

Moderator: Edana Kleinhans, UNC Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures
Renée Alexander Craft (UNC), “Afrofuturism, Ethical World Traveling, and Holding a Space for Difference”
Michele Berger, Courtney Woods and Priscilla Layne (UNC), “A Transdisciplinary Approach to Teaching Scifi”
Susan Thananopavarn (Duke), “Teaching Alternative Futurisms”


Sherryl Vint (UC-Riverside), Humanization and Belonging: Reproduction, Environment, Futurity
This paper will argue that speculative genres ably convey how politics of migration are grounded in a racialized discourse of the human. Anxieties about national belonging and a “proper” relationship to specific environments express anxieties about difference that have their roots in “the human” as a category of racialization. Both Claire Denis’ High Life (2018) and Ali Abbasi’s Border (2018) use sf techniques to interrogate the anxieties about migration intersection with discourses of dehumanization. In distinct ways, both films raise questions about familiar reproduction and its intersections with the larger question of the reproduction (or not) of the human species itself.

Renée Alexander Craft (UNC), Afrofuturism, Ethical World Traveling, and Holding a Space for Difference
Migration, world-traveling (ideological as well as physical), and navigating difference are persistent themes in science fiction. Black speculative artists and Afrofuturists often engage with these themes from a Black worldview and through characters who give readers and audience members a chance to navigate and interrogate structures of power through their perspectives. This presentation will focus on how teaching these works through an anti-racism framework can help students build critical capacities in understanding race and racism as constructed technologies of value and control that can be imagined and remade otherwise. Doing so also highlights the ways in which curiosity, empathy, and imagination are key to any liberatory movement.

Sam Amago (UVA), Anthropocenic Endings in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men
In his recent book on “postgrowth imaginaries,” Iñaki Prádanos proposes that the only way to break the neoliberal capitalist death spiral is to forge a “postgrowth, decolonial, ecofeminist, posthumanist, and postcapitalist imaginary” (15). In keeping with the themes of this conference on Environmentalism, Fantasy, and Intersectionality, this paper looks back at Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006), and asks how that film might participate in imagining different ways of thinking and being in the Anthropocene. The paper analyzes the film in terms of its ecocritical representation of ethical alternatives to socioecological disaster.

Michele Berger, Courtney Woods and Priscilla Layne (UNC), “A Transdisciplinary Approach to Scifi”
We will discuss our experience teaching a freshman seminar that focuses on the question of how the genre of science fiction (film and literature) has been used to address the world’s environmental concerns and how these concerns affect characters differently depending on their gender, race, and class. Using this lens, the course investigated longstanding global environmental challenges including water resources, overpopulation, consumption, climate change, etc. We paid special attention to texts with characters or created by artists who are women and/or ethnic minorities. We recognized that marginalized populations are often disproportionately affected by environmental hazards. And from Afrofuturism to Native American “slipstream”, science fiction, long thought of as a genre dominated by white men, is increasingly being viewed as an important space where women, racial and ethnic minorities and indigenous groups can resist dominant, oppressive narratives.

Paul Bucholz, Emory, “Nomadism in the Environmental Dystopias of Sophie Klotz and Nicolas Born”
While transnational environmentalist discourse that emerged around 1970 frequently emphasized the global scale of the ecological threats facing humanity, German-language science fiction that took up such themes in the next decades often remained focused on a strictly European (for instance, West German or Austrian) geography and a culturally homogeneous cast of characters. This presentation will examine how the environmental dystopias of Sophie Klotz (“Mission,” 1988) and Nicolas Born (“Radikale Ernte,” 1975) imagined geographies of displacement and migration, in which white Europeans who become de facto “refugees” from urban existence, which is in each case imagined as the source and center of environmental ills. The analysis will consider the extent to which these texts built on a discourse of “Betroffenheit,” common to new social movements of these decades, which placed the victimhood of the European activist at the center of political concern.

Deniz Göktürk (UC Berkeley), “The Secret Life of Trash”
Ragged scavengers are staple figures in dystopian science fiction films. The wastelands designed as a set for post-apocalyptic dramas are nowhere near as perturbing, however, as real sites in the global circulation of trash. Ulaş Tosun’s Afghanistanbul (2018), a short film about men barely making a living by sorting old paper and plastic in a decrepit building, demonstrates: what some consider waste is actually a resource of livelihood for many a poor migrant trapped in a state of permanent temporariness. Fatih Akın’s documentary Polluting Paradise (2012) looks at trash from the receiving end: a village in the Black Sea region with lush tea plantations designated as a regional landfill collection site against protests by villagers. Combining such cinematic presentations of rural and urban perspectives, I focus on negotiations about leaving or staying, dislocation and attachment to place. I argue that we can only begin to understand the massive environmental transformations underway on our planet if we stay attentive to the dreams and aspirations of trash-dwellers situated at the intersections of governmental and corporate interests.

Aidan Power (Exeter), “In Our Immense Sarcophagus We Lay: Charting the Anthropocene in EU Science Fiction Films”
This paper tracks European sf responses to the climate crisis and migration, with a particular emphasis upon the 2018 film Aniara (Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja), itself an adaptation of the eponymous 1956 epic poem by Swedish Nobel Laureate Harry Martinson. Such films, it will be argued, foreground existential struggle—of a kind routinely faced elsewhere by people across the globe—by forcing their protagonists to adapt to worlds where being European does not automatically confer advantages and where the looming spectre of the Anthropocene has eradicated privileges gained from centuries of colonialist expansion.

Eliza Rose (UNC), Ultrasounds of Nothing: Antinatalist Moods in Polish Science Fiction, 1981 and Today
In August of 1981, with Poland on the brink of martial law and the last decade of state socialism underway, Piotr Andrejew premiered his science-fiction film Tender Spots. The film displaces ongoing political and economic crises to a near-future dystopia set in devastated Warsaw. Air pollution is extreme. Water is scarce, gasoline a luxury commodity. People rarely leave their homes. Earth’s longevity as a habitat conducive to life is uncertain. When the film’s protagonist asks his lover if they might have a child, she responds thus: “A child? You and I? We could only have a mechanical kitten.” The film links the devastation of Gaia-Terra-Mother Earth to the blunders of a male bureaucratic class that had prioritized efficiency over ecology. Relying on heteronormative procreation to repopulate the planet is no longer viable: men have been disgraced, and anyway, why bring a child into an expiring world?
This paper examines the upheaval of gender dynamics in the world of Tender Spots, where the reproductive drive has been rendered null and void. The crisis depicted in Tender Spots reflects environmental anxieties specific to state socialism and not yet ascribed to global processes of climate change. The film’s production year marks a milestone for environmental management in socialist Poland with the passing of the Environmental Protection and Development Act – an overdue action to mitigate the ramifications of rapid industrialization.
I will link this film to contemporary artist Michał Gątarek’s painting cycle “Antinatalism” (2020). Gątarek’s paintings critique the cult of childbirth against fallow landscapes lorded over by hulking industrial infrastructure. Following Lee Edelman’s rejection of a universal politics of “reproductive futurism,” I will read these two aesthetic explorations of an obsolescing reproductive drive to draw out historically contingent visions of Earth as a replenishable community.

Susan Thananopavarn (Duke), “Teaching Alternative Futurisms”
My first-year writing course, “Ethnofuturism: Writing the Future of Race,” asks students to explore issues of social justice as they intersect with science and technology. The course features texts by Octavia Butler, Junot Diaz, Ruth Ozeki, and Larissa Lai, as well as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer, and Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner. Students analyze how this fiction forms a powerful critique of the ways in which racism and social inequality are entangled with the technologies of global capitalism. Through writing projects that examine these texts, students explore alternative visions of the future and think critically about their roles in shaping the world to come.

Evan Torner (Cincinnati), “Whiteness, Pessimism, and Futurity in German Science-Fiction Cinema”
If we take German science fiction films as a case study, Germans have difficulty envisioning a diverse, tolerant future that does not descend into dystopia (Kamikaze 1989) or apocalyptic disaster (Hell; Die kommenden Tage). This talk covers the breadth of a century of German sci-fi cinema in terms of its construction of racial difference and racial plurality, arguing that racial-pluralist optimism found in a German-American sci-fi co-production such as Cloud Atlas comes tempered by more socially critical works such as Transfer and Fluidø, which account for global class and racial inequalities.

Gabriel Trop (UNC), “Giordano Bruno Latour: Bonding as Paradigm of Power”
This paper will stage an encounter between two thinkers: the sixteenth-century philosopher, poet, and magician Giordano Bruno and the contemporary thinker Bruno Latour. Giordano Bruno’s writing on magic, above all his “A General Account of Bonding,” represents a paradigm of thinking about power that is highly particularized; how this particular element or body stimulates, guides, connects to, and influences some other particular element (a paradigm that resonates, incidentally, with theories of intersectionality). While Giordano Bruno’s essays on magic do not fall in the realm of “science fiction,” they do represent a form of knowledge that suspends the difference between the scientific and the occult. This contribution will argue that Giordano Bruno’s “particularist” theory of power, one in which scientific and magical discourses mingle, can help us reconfigure symbolic systems in a way that can rethink approaches to ecological challenges. In particular, Bruno Latour’s critical stance toward holistic approaches to nature in favor of self-organizing systems in his “Gaia” lectures represents an eco-critical intervention along the lines of Giordano Bruno’s particularist theory of bonding as a paradigm of power. Moreover, this paper will show how Giordano Bruno’s ontology of bonding can supplement Bruno Latour’s “Gaia” with a notion of agency that would take into account the status of subjects who are dis-placed, or subjects who seem not to occupy a stable position in already formed, relatively stable networks of power.

Christina Weiler (UNC), “Uncanny Women, Exploitation, and Animal Ethics in Ludwig Tieck’s Fairy Tale “Fair-haired Eckbert”
Using an ecofeminist approach, this paper explores the intersections between the intensified drive to dominate nature for financial gains in the eighteenth century and the uncanniness of wild women represented in Early German Romanticism. Ludwig Tieck’s tale “Der blonde Eckbert” (“Fair-haired Eckbert,” 1797), which serves as a case study, presents two wild female characters that defy societal expectations. The Kunstmärchen tells the story of Bertha, who runs away from her parents at a young age because she is unfit for the domestic labor expected of her. She runs into the woods where she meets an old woman with magic powers, who makes the girl her servant in the forest. Unhappy with her restrained domestic existence in the woods, Bertha escapes from the old woman, during which she harms several animals. These acts of violence against the domestic animals parallel the violence that she has experienced from her own care takers at her parental home. Bertha’s killing of the companion animals constitutes a crime against nature in the tale, based on ethics of kinship, for which she is later punished. Through its innovative ethics of ecological kinship, Tieck’s Kunstmärchen marks an important shift in the representation of nature. The tale highlights the suffering caused by inequality but it also presents a warning against the exploitation of nature in the name of social mobility.

Speaker Bios

Samuel Amago teaches courses on modern and contemporary Spanish literary history, cinema, comics, and culture at the University of Virginia, where he is Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

Michele Tracy Berger, Ph.D, is associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and former Director of the Faculty Fellows Program at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities. Her research, teaching and practice all focus on intersectional approaches to studying areas of inequality, especially racial and gender health disparities.

Paul Buchholz is Associate Professor of German at Emory University. He is author of Private Anarchy: Impossible Community and the Outsider’s Monologue in German Experimental Fiction (Northwestern University Press, 2018).

Deniz Göktürk is Associate Professor of German at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research areas are cultural and media studies with a focus on moving images, multilingual literature, and theories of migration, social interaction and aesthetic intervention in a global horizon. She is author of the forthcoming Framing Migration: Seven Takes on Movement and Borders and co-editor of Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration, 1955-2005 and The German Cinema Book.

Priscilla Layne is Associate Professor of German at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 2011. Her book, White Rebels in Black: German Appropriation of African American Culture, was published in April 2018 by the University of Michigan Press.

Aidan Power is a lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Exeter. He is the author of the monograph Contemporary European Science Fiction Cinemas (2018), co-editor of the collection Reality Unbound: New Departures in Science Fiction Cinema (2017) and co-founder of Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media.

Eliza Rose teaches Central European Studies in the Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages and Literatures at UNC Chapel Hill. Her areas of research are literature, art and film from East and Central Europe with a regional focus on Poland and a thematic focus on science fiction. She investigates how visual culture expresses changing attitudes toward science, technology and industry in the Socialist Bloc. She considers how utopian thought outlived the Stalinist period and persists today. She is an author of science fiction, and her stories can be found in Interzone, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Galaxies SF.

Susan Thananopavarn is a Lecturing Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. Her book, LatinAsian Cartographies: History, Writing, and the National Imaginary, explores how Asian American and Latina/o literature can rewrite dominant narratives of U.S. history. Her work can also be found in Aztlán, The Lion and the Unicorn, and the Oxford Encyclopedia of Asian American Literature and Culture.

Evan Torner is Assistant Professor of German Studies at the University of Cincinnati, where he also serves as Undergraduate Director of German Studies and the Director of the UC Game Lab. He is co-founder and an Editor of the journal Analog Game Studies. His primary fields of expertise include East German genre cinema, critical race theory, science fiction, and role-playing games.

Gabriel Trop is Associate Professor of German at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Christina Weiler is Teaching Assistant Professor and Language Program Director of German at UNC-CH.

Courtney Woods is an assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering at UNC Gillings School of Public Health. Courtney applies community-driven approaches to understand the impacts of industrial pollution and solid waste on communities of color. She is also a co-founder of a POC-led cooperative called Earthseed Land Collective.


Moderator Bios

Natasza Gawlick is a graduate of Simmons College, where she wrote her honors thesis on the way cinematic qualities facilitate an exploration of German victimhood in Günter Grass’ Im Krebsgang. She is now a second year PhD student in the Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies. Her research focuses on 20th Century Roma and Sinti literature, and modernism and trauma studies with a particular focus on Papusza, Mariella Mehr and Rajko Djuric.

Nancy Carr is a graduate of Sweet Briar College and a doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida’s College of Education. Currently, she is working on her doctorate, entitled First-generation Doctoral Students’ Perceptions of the Doctoral Experience in USF’s Curriculum & Instruction program with an emphasis on Adult Education. Her other research interests include adult learning theories and curriculum development. She is passionate about designing innovative learning solutions in order to encourage equal access to transformational learning within higher education.

Edana Kleinhans is graduate of Mount Holyoke College and a PhD Candidate in the Carolina-Duke Joint Graduate Program in German Studies. Her dissertation, The Kingdom of Venus, focuses on love and politics in four female courtly biographies of Habsburg noblewomen, including the Empress Maria Theresia, the Archduchesses Kunigunde and Margaretha of Austria, and Queen Johanna of Castile. Her research focuses on gender, diversity, manuscript studies, and literary and cultural studies in medieval and early modern German literature.

Lukas Hoffman is a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he wrote an honors thesis on the structural affinities between Augustinian theology and Adorno. He joined the Carolina-Duke Program in 2016 and is currently writing a dissertation on poetics, politics, and religion within German Modernism, where he focuses specifically on the poetry of Else Lasker-Schüler, Georg Trakl, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Paul Celan. His other research interests include philosophical aesthetics, mystical theology, and critical theory.

This conference is organized by Priscilla Layne, Associate Professor of German and Adjunct Associate Professor of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies at UNC. The conference events are co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. In addition, this conference is co-sponsored by the UNC Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures and the UNC Department of Romance Studies.

EU flag with text that says co-sponsored by the Erasmus Plus Programme of the European Union. The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Event Photos: Panels 3 & 4

Natasza Gawlick introduces panel three.
Aidan Power speaks on panel three.
Evan Torner speaks on panel three.
Priscilla Layne comments on panel three.
Edana Kleinhans introduces panel four.
Renee Alexander Craft speaks on panel four.

Flyer advertising conference on environmentalism fantasy and intersectionality on November 5 through 6 2020.

Flyer advertising keynote on humanization and belonging on November 5 2020.