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Warwick Seminar for Interdisciplinary French Studies: Sophie Fuggle (NTU), ‘Toxic island ecologies: the multiple lives of an island called “Mother”’

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France’s largest (overseas) department, French Guiana, is often misunderstood with multiple confusions existing around its location, size and topography. In the Anglo-American imaginary it is frequently conflated with Devil’s Island, the smallest of the Salvation Islands where Alfred Dreyfus was exiled for five years. Shortly before election to the presidency in 2017, Emmanuel Macron made the faux-pas of referring to the territory as ‘une île’. Nevertheless, French Guiana is framed by the multiple islands situated along its coastline and on the Oyapock and Maroni rivers which act as borders between neighbouring Brazil and Suriname. This paper considers the relationship of French Guiana as land mass and geopolitical space to its islands. The focus will be on a lesser-known island or islet, Ilet la Mère, the largest of the Iles de Remire located about 11km from Cayenne. The different phases of Ilet la Mère’s colonial and postcolonial histories will be set out with a view to demonstrating how the island plays an integral role in the ongoing perception and administration of French Guiana as colonial outpost and underexploited natural resource. A central thread will be the concept of ‘toxicity’ which, at different points in the island’s history, assumes a literal and metaphorical sense. The paper will draw on existing work on island studies and environmental humanities including, notably, the work of Elizabeth DeLoughrey and Malcolm Ferdinand’s Une Ecologie décoloniale.

Sophie Fuggle is Associate Professor of Postcolonial Studies and Cultural Heritage at Nottingham Trent University. She is author of Foucault/Paul: Subjects of Power (Palgrave, 2013) and is currently completing a monograph (under contract with Liverpool University Press) on the Camp des Milles memorial site. Her recent research also focuses on the cultural and ecological legacy of France’s overseas penal colonies and has been funded by the British Academy and AHRC. She has recently been awarded a British Academy small grant for a new project looking at the legacy of the Plan Vert and other post-war agricultural migration schemes in French Guiana.


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