Imagining Race and the Environment (Syllabus)

This graduate seminar, which I’m teaching now for the first time, explores theoretical writings and creative works that center the perspectives of Indigenous, Black, Asian, and Latinx peoples in environmental discourses. We are trying to move across racial divides, so that we aren’t treating each category as if it were fixed, even as we respect differences between groups borne by inescapable historical experiences. We pay attention to chronology, taking in big sweeps of time, while also allowing thematic concerns to shape our inquiry. The first half of the course focuses on important topics for the study of race and the environment and the second half tuns to literary case studies. What follows is the course outline (shared with the assumption that specific assignments won’t be of interest to anyone outside of the class).

Week 1/ Jan 24 How do we understand the ground beneath our feet?

  • Sylvia Wynter, “The Re-enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter,” conducted by David Scott, Small Axe (September 2000), 119-207.
  • Walter Mignolo, “Sylvia Wynter: What Does It Mean to Be Human?,” Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Duke UP, 2015), 106-123.

Week 2/ Jan 31 Genres of the Human

  • Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation–An Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3:3 (Fall 2003), 257-337.
  • Alexander Weheylie, “Blackness: The Human,” Habeas Viscus (Duke UP, 2014), 17-32.
  • Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, “On Becoming Human: An Introduction,” Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (NYUP, 2020), 1-44.

Week 3/ Feb 7 Settler Colonialism

  • Lisa Lowe, “Intimacies of Four Continents,” Intimacies of Four Continents (Duke University Press, 2015), 1-41.
  • Amitav Ghosh, chapters 1-6, Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis (U Chicago P, 2021), 5-62.
  • Nick Estes, “War,” from Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019), 89-131.
  • Iyko Day, “Being and Nothingness: Indigeneity, Antblackness, and Settler Colonial Critique,” Critical Ethnic Studies 1:2 (2015), 102-121.

Week 4/ Feb 14 Racial Capitalism

  • Cedric Robinson, “Racial Capitalism and the Nonobjective Character of Capitalist Development,” Black Marxism (UNCP, 1983), 9-28.
  • Jodi Melamed, “Racial Capitalism,” Critical Ethnic Studies 1:1 (2015), 76-85.
  • Jodi Byrd, “Not Yet: Indigeneity, Antiblackness, and Anticolonial Liberation,” Antiblackness, ed. Moon-Ho Jung and João H. Costa Vargas (Duke UP, 2021), 309-324.

Week 5/ Feb 21 Indigenous Concepts

  • David Graeber and David Wengrow, “Wicked Liberty: The Indigenous Critique and the Myth of Progress,” The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2021), 27-76.
  • Max Loboiron, “An Anticolonial Pollution Science,” Pollution Is Colonialism (Duke UP, 2021), 113-156.
  • Candace Fujikane, “Mo’oinanea’s Waterways on Mauna a Wākea: Beyond Settler Colonial Thresholds in the Wao Akua,” Mapping Abundance for a Planetary Future: Kanaka Maoli and Critical Settler Cartographies in Hawai’i (Duke UP, 2021), 86-114.

Week 6/ Feb 28 Climate Migration

  • Neel Ahuja, “Race, Insecurity, and the Invention of the Climate Migrant,” Planetary Specters: Race, Migration, and Climate Change in the Twenty-First Century (UNCP, 2021), 37-69.
  • Harsha Walia, “Fortress Europe,” Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism (Haymarket, 2021), 105-137.
  • Antonio Tiongson, Jr., “Asian American Studies, Comparative Racialization, and Settler Colonial Critique,” Journal of Asian American Studies 22:3 (October 2019), 419-443.


Week 7/ Mar 14 Julie Sze, Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger

Week 8/ Mar 21 Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

Week 9/ Mar 28 Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (except “Three Sisters”)

Week 10/ Apr 4 Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Three Sisters,” Braiding Sweetgrass

  • Caroline Levine,Introduction: The Affordances of Forms,” Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy Network (Princeton UP 2015)
  • Anna Kornbluh, “Introduction: The Order of Forms: Mathematic, Aesthetic, and Political Formalisms,” The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space (U Chicago P 2019)

Week 11/ Apr 11 Craig Santos Perez, Habitat Threshold

Week 12/ Apr 18 Ada Limón, The Carrying

Week 13/ Apr 25 Panel + Roundtable (for students to share their research)

Week 14/ May 2  Panel + Roundtable (for students to share their research)