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Nationalism and the state in the era of climate collapse

Project Topic Overview

Whilst climate collapse is increasingly recognised as the most defining structural context of the present era, populist-nationalisms have concomitantly emerged as the prevailing political threat both in the West and elsewhere. It has long been observed that the governing nationalist Right, owing to its ongoing proximity to fossil capital as well as its short-termist economic interests, has engaged in a lengthy period of climate denial. This ground is radically shifting, however, where we increasingly see more prominent acknowledgement of climate collapse by both establishment but also more populist-nationalist and far-right constituencies. This PhD-research stream aims to bring these two distinctive disciplinary areas into dynamic conversation to examine the extent to which populist-nationalist responses to climate collapse jeopardise the pursuit of socio-environmental justice. In this way, the project forges new ground in studies of human-environment interaction. Candidates will be invited to ask how already ascendant nationalisms will respond to the realities of climate breakdown, and whether the appeal of nationalism stands to be either strengthened or weakened by the catastrophes undermining climate resilience. Alternatively, candidates are invited to explore how nationalism, in its often-contrasting guises, might compound ongoing catastrophe or whether it enjoys particular political properties that might mitigate and perhaps even avert fuller climate breakdown.

Several related questions arise here which we would like the successful candidate(s) to consider (the specific research questions for the project will be finalised through dialogue between the parties):

  • Will populist-nationalism be able to adapt its demands, symbols and appeal to the ravages of climate catastrophe? Indeed, as some have tentatively suggested, might we also be seeing the normalisation of eco-fascist movements? Such movements make strong supremacist claims to the appeal of ethnic/racial coherence as tied to the nation in contending with climate breakdown by drawing upon the logics of bordering, a romanticist conservationism, and support for authoritarian statism, whilst also extending already-established far-right masculinist sub-cultures as tied to survivalism and militarism. Particularly pressing here is the likelihood of mass-scale climate refugees from those countries already ravaged by legacies of colonialism.
  • Enduring questions about the place of nationalism, and the nation-state itself, remain grossly underdeveloped in much prevailing climate resilience and ‘collapsology’ research. If nationalism has become the principal terms by which current governments, ranging from the UK and Hungary to India and China, secure popular legitimacy, then to what extent can that nationalism be challenged or unlearnt when attempting to build climate resilience?
  • Similarly, in terms of climate resilience, whilst debates are beginning to address the role of an enhanced state in averting fuller versions of climate collapse, questions remain over the extent to which this state can be entered into more globally cooperative, redistributive, and post-imperial structures of accountability, reparations, and obligation. Does a potentially more authoritarian state, as partly previewed in certain public health measures taken during the pandemic, lend itself to more fascist and hyper-nationalist forms of governance or is there still scope for radical Leftist approaches to statist issues of climate justice and global accountability?

Applicant Profile

The profile of the applicant for this stream would be a student from a social science and/or humanities background familiar with current debates in either political ecology and environmental political science; or else, nationalism and populism; with evidence of an interest in the other. They will be familiar with either desk-based social scientific research methods, and/or primary data generation appropriate to the themes. They will be educated to Masters level in a cognate discipline, and have some experience of conducting prior research.

Supervisory Team

Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins, Global Sustainable Development

Dr Sealey-Huggins is Assistant Professor of Global Sustainable Development. His research centres on and around: the sociology of climate breakdown, with a focus on the Caribbean region; the conditions of contemporary higher education; and explorations in activist-scholarship. He is a Committee member of the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies.

Dr Sivamohan Valluvan, Sociology

Dr Valluvan is Associate Professor of Sociology and is the author of the 2019 Clamour of Nationalism (Manchester University Press). He has written widely on debates of race and racism, nationalism and multiculture, as well as postcolonial and social theory more broadly. He is also the co-author (with James Rhodes and Stephen Ashe) of a British Academic research report titled: ‘Reframing the Left Behind: Race and Class in Post-Brexit Oldham’ and has contributed to Salvage, Red Pepper, The Guardian, Fabian Review, Renewal and Progressive Review.

Dr Myka Tucker-Abrahamson, English and Comparative Literary Studies

Dr Tucker-Abrahamson is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies. Myka’s research areas include modern and contemporary American literature, urban geography, Marxist theory, economic history, and feminist, queer and critical race theory. Her first book Novel Shocks: Urban Renewal and the Cultural Origins of Neoliberalism (Fordham University Press 2018) argued for the centrality of post-World War II American urbanisation projects in the transformation of both the modernist novel and the emergence of neoliberalism.

External Mentorship

Breathe (UK-based NGO working on eco-fascism, climate breakdown and post-industrial decline). (Website under construction).