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Hydronarratives: water and environmental justice in contemporary U.S., Canadian, and Pakistani literature and cultural representations

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This dissertation examines cultural representations that attend to the environmental and socio-economic dynamics of contemporary water crises. It focuses on a growing, transnational body of “hydronarratives” – work by writers, filmmakers, and artists in the United States, Canada, and

This dissertation examines cultural representations that attend to the environmental and socio-economic dynamics of contemporary water crises. It focuses on a growing, transnational body of “hydronarratives” – work by writers, filmmakers, and artists in the United States, Canada, and the postcolonial Global South that stress the historical centrality of water to capitalism. These hydronarratives reveal the uneven impacts of droughts, floods, water contamination, and sea level rise on communities marginalized along lines of race, class, and ethnicity. In doing so, they challenge narratives of “progress” conventionally associated with colonial, imperialist, and neoliberal forms of capitalism dependent on the large-scale extraction of natural resources.

Until recently, there has been little attention paid to the ways in which literary texts and other cultural productions explore the social and ecological dimensions of water resource systems. In its examination of water, this dissertation is methodologically informed by the interdisciplinary field of the energy humanities, which explores oil and other fossil fuels as cultural objects. The hydronarratives examined in this dissertation view water as a cultural object and its extraction and manipulation, as cultural practices. In doing so, they demonstrate the ways in which power, production, and human-induced environmental change intersect to create social and environmental sacrifice zones.

This dissertation takes an interdisciplinary environmental humanities approach, drawing on fields such as indigenous studies, political ecology, energy studies, cultural geography, and economic theory. It seeks to establish a productive convergence between environmental justice studies and what might be termed “Anthropocene studies.” Dominant narratives of the Anthropocene tend to describe the human species as a universalized, undifferentiated whole broadly responsible for the global environmental crisis. However, the hydronarratives examined in this dissertation “decolonize” this narrative by accounting for the ways in which colonialism, capitalism, and other exploitative social systems render certain communities more vulnerable to environmental catastrophe than others.

By attending to these issues through problem water, this dissertation has significant implications for future research in contemporary, transnational American and postcolonial literary studies, the environmental humanities, and the energy humanities. It demonstrates the potential for a focus on representations of resources in literary texts and other cultural productions to better grasp the inequitable distribution of environmental risk, and instances of resilience on a rapidly changing planet.

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2018

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Disconnected: investigating the social and political conditions shaping Mexico City's air quality regulatory environment

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Mexico City has an ongoing air pollution issue that negatively affects its citizens and surroundings with current structural disconnections preventing the city from improving its overall air quality. Thematic methodological analysis reveals current obstacles and barriers, as well as variables

Mexico City has an ongoing air pollution issue that negatively affects its citizens and surroundings with current structural disconnections preventing the city from improving its overall air quality. Thematic methodological analysis reveals current obstacles and barriers, as well as variables contributing to this persistent problem. A historical background reveals current programs and policies implemented to improve Mexico’s City air quality. Mexico City’s current systems, infrastructure, and policies are inadequate and ineffective. There is a lack of appropriate regulation on other modes of transportation, and the current government system fails to identify how the class disparity in the city and lack of adequate education are contributing to this ongoing problem. Education and adequate public awareness can potentially aid the fight against air pollution in the Metropolitan City.

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2018

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The “New Human Condition” in Literature: Climate, Migration, and the Future

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This thesis examines perceptions of climate change in literature through the lens of the environmental humanities, an interdisciplinary field that brings history, ecocriticism, and anthropology together to consider the environmental past, present and future. The project began in Iceland,

This thesis examines perceptions of climate change in literature through the lens of the environmental humanities, an interdisciplinary field that brings history, ecocriticism, and anthropology together to consider the environmental past, present and future. The project began in Iceland, during the Svartárkot Culture-Nature Program called “Human Ecology and Culture at Lake Mývatn 1700-2000: Dimensions of Environmental and Cultural Change”. Over the course of 10 days, director of the program, Viðar Hreinsson, an acclaimed literary and Icelandic Saga scholar, brought in researchers from different fields of study in Iceland to give students a holistically academic approach to their own environmental research. In this thesis, texts under consideration include the Icelandic Sagas, My Antonia by Willa Cather, Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita, and The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. The thesis is supported by secondary works written by environmental humanists, including Andrew Ross, Steve Hartman, Ignacio Sanchez Cohen, and Joni Adamson, who specialize in archeological research on heritage sites in Iceland and/or study global weather patterns, prairie ecologies in the American Midwest, the history of water in the Southwest, and climate fiction. Chapter One, focusing on the Icelandic Sagas and My Antonia, argues that literature from different centuries, different cultures, and different parts of the world offers evidence that humans have been driving environmental degradation at the regional and planetary scales since at least the 1500s, especially as they have engaged in aggressive forms of settlement and colonization. Chapter Two, focused on Tropic of Orange, this argues that global environmental change leads to extreme weather and drought that is increasing climate migration from the Global South to the Global North. Chapter Three, focused on The Water Knife, argues that climate fiction gives readers the opportunity to think about and better prepare for a viable and sustainable future rather than wait for inevitable apocalypse. By exploring literature that depicts and represents climate change through time, environmental humanists have innovated new methods of analysis for teaching and thinking about what humans must understand about their impacts on ecosystems so that we can better prepare for the future.

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2019