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The Caribbean: Aesthetics, Ecology, Politics

This conference was part of a Leverhulme Trust-funded research project run by Professor David Dabydeen and Dr. Michael Niblett at the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies between 2009-2012. The project was entitled Literature and the Environment in the Caribbean: The Case of Guyana.

Some of the papers presented at the conference, as well as audio recordings from an evening of readings by writers and poets, can be found via the links above. An edited collection of essays based on this conference and an earlier event in Guyana in 2010 is forthcoming.

The conference explored the relationships between Caribbean environments, literature and the arts, and issues of political and socio-economic justice. Today, the twin spectres of economic and ecological crisis haunt the globe. While the world-system has been convulsed by the fallout from financial meltdown, the logic of capital continues to drive relentlessly towards the degradation of human and extra-human nature. Despite the planetary scope of many ecological problems, the intensity of their impact tends to be registered unevenly, with the poor—especially those in peripheral nation-states—suffering most. In the Caribbean, natural disasters such as hurricanes and the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010 already pose enormous challenges for the region. The intensification of, for example, extreme weather conditions with global warming will only exacerbate these difficulties. Their effects, moreover, cannot be disentangled from the long history of ecological and social exploitation imposed on the region by capitalist imperialism—from the environmental transformations brought about by early colonization to the contemporary problems wrought by tourism and penetration by multinationals.

Examining how these and a range of related issues have impacted upon cultural production in the Caribbean, the conference featured talks and performances by writers, artists, scholars, and social activists from across the world. Keynote addresses and/or readings were given by Elizabeth DeLoughrey (UCLA), novelist Oonya Kempadoo (winner of the Casa de las Americas Prize, 2001), Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert (Vassar), Janette Bulkan (ECCo Field Museum, Chicago), playwright Paloma Mohamed (winner of the Cacique Caribbean Award, 2005), and Vonnie Roudette (activist and artist from St. Vincent). Topics covered at the conference included: the intersection of aesthetics, imperialism, and ecologies; the role of cultural production in mapping and responding to environmental crises and natural catastrophes; the intersection of social justice with environmental justice; and the role the writer or artist might play in addressing such issues.