The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) is excited to announce its next biennial conference on July 9-12, 2023 in Portland, Oregon, on the theme of “Reclaiming the Commons.” The conference will be held jointly with The Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) and will include opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, networking, and professional development with a variety of sessions sponsored by both organizations.

In light of the increased biological and political vulnerabilities of our times, the environmental humanities seek to reassess what it means to care for the commons and how the commons are conceptualized—whether it be terrestrial, aquatic, atmospheric or sociocultural. We are faced with the challenge to renew the bonds of community and to inspire the affections of care that can move us beyond the insulation and fragmentation of the present. How might we restore attention to the commons? How can we take full advantage of a deeper self-examination and rekindling of affections for place that has been facilitated ironically by the pandemic? How might individual and planetary vulnerabilities transform into opportunities for collective strength? And in ongoing colonial settings, how can the commons be reconfigured as a decolonial project, that takes into account the widespread historical exclusion and dispossession of Indigenous groups and often unequal access to postcolonial commons?

The interpenetration of land and water in islands, their often archipelagic formation, and their situatedness in postcolonial and decolonial contexts have generated relational modes of thinking for artists, writers, activists and theorists who seek to move us beyond limiting epistemological and political boundaries. These relational modes seek to restore and renew commitments to ecological thought, action, and what Marisol de la Cadena calls “uncommonalities.” A testament to the powerful work of Indigenous scientists, activists, and thinkers, these efforts are one source of inspiration in this time of increased isolation as they manifest a reclaiming of the commons—regionally, historically, politically and economically—and a renewed connection between the human and more-than-human community.

We seek papers, creative work, and other forms of scholarly engagement that approach literature, cultural artifacts, infrastructures, geographies, watersheds, borderwaters, atmospheres, and oceans as methods for reclaiming the commons and instilling and motivating a politics of care in our time. We seek understanding about the various ways in which we as scholars, activists, and artists can rise to the challenge of building community, extend our voices into new arenas, and leverage the insights of the humanities into the practices of our various cultures. We seek discussions that highlight the ways in which, during the recent covid-imposed period of isolation and its aftermath, communities have been or may be rebuilt and strengthened, especially between the human and more-than-human, the academy and local communities, the humanities and the sciences, metropolitan centers of power and the Global South, between and among regional institutions, and across languages and epistemologies. We seek papers that will explore the role of the public humanist, the public role of scientific and climate literacy, and the social, political, and scientific obligations of the scholar and artist as part of the larger project of reclaiming commons. Finally, we seek historically situated work that considers the long global history of commons.

Other questions related to the theme of reclaiming the commons include:

·       What are the community and regional obligations of the academic and the university to broader forms of commons?

·       How can we translate the language of the academy into accessible language and actionable practice in local and vernacular contexts?

·       How can we incorporate the contexts of the Global South in reclaiming the commons, and how can we create relational modes of imagining that stem from collaborative conversations, engagements and commitments?

·       How can the language of science be brought to bear in the political and cultural work of reclaiming the commons?

·       How can service and problem-solving become more central to the work of scholarship?

·       How can the work of the environmental humanities become more influential politically and culturally?

·       How might environmental scholarship become more multilingual and interdisciplinary, extending engagements with the commons beyond narrow and often exclusive cultural and disciplinary silos?

·       What are the risks associated with such efforts?

Already confirmed keynote speakers include Elizabeth DeLoughrey, whose work specializes in Island Studies, focusing especially on the Caribbean and Pacific Islands; and Cristina Rivera Garza, Mexican fiction writer, historian, and activist. Both DeLoughrey and Rivera Garza engage with the intersections of archipelagoes thinking, environmental and climate justice, the Global South vis-à-vis the Global North, Indigenous and border studies, and activism. Their work challenges disciplinary, language, and textual boundaries that seek to compartmentalize knowledge and cultures, as well as to dissociate humans from non-humans, the North from the South, and Western from non-Western epistemologies. In this sense, their work builds on and connects isolated cultural spheres in order to bring them together and create an archipelago of knowledge, voices and mutual understandings as part of the larger project of reclaiming the commons. Other keynote speakers will be confirmed later.

For a full description of the conference theme and call for proposals, including instructions on how to submit your proposal, visit ASLE’s conference website at

ASLE is a diverse professional community that is enriched by the multiple experiences, cultures, and backgrounds of its members, and we strive for access, equity, and inclusion in the conference. Contact if you have any questions.

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