Jake Robert Nelson wrote “For a Postcolonial Ecocritical Approach to International Relations” as part of the 2014 Humanity in Action Diplomacy and Diversity Fellowship. The research essay was first published in Transatlantic Perspectives on Diplomacy and Diversity (Humanity in Action Press 2015). The complete book is available for purchase on Amazon. Nelson is a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Government.
By mainstreaming the problematization and deconstruction of the meanings of contested spaces and resources, a postcolonial ecocritical approach to international relations could help create more cogent foreign policy structures.
How does an understanding of the earth and the ways in which processes of domination and control have been mapped onto it throughout human history affect the way in which we understand foreign policy? Drawing from work in literary criticism, particularly of French-language literature, this paper puts forward a postcolonial ecocritical approach to international relations. After defining postcolonial ecocriticism, this paper will argue for a new paradigm for understanding historical and contemporary events of global significance, developing foreign policy at the governmental and intergovernmental levels and training future policymakers and policy influencers. At its heart, this paper proposes a more holistic approach to the ways in which space, land, identity and power can fit into international relations, far beyond simply focusing on environmental or ecological issues in the traditional sense. By mainstreaming the problematization and deconstruction of the meanings of contested spaces and resources, a postcolonial ecocritical approach to international relations could help create more cogent foreign policy structures, particularly as these issues continue to fuel violent conflict and international disputes.
“For the native, the history of his or her colonial servitude is inaugurated by the loss to an outsider of the local place, whose concrete geographical identity must thereafter be searched for and somehow restored.” (1)
It is becoming harder and harder to ignore the role that spaces and land play in the happenings of the international system.
Even in a world in which the marvels of twenty-first-century technology seem to leave people feeling deracinated and disconnected from the concrete spaces around them, human beings remain inextricably connected to the land. Our deep connection to arbitrary political borders is such a key part of identity formation that people around the world ¬– in Iraq and Syria, in Gaza, in Ukraine and in any number of other contested areas – are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the sustenance of the national community. Global powers continue to vie for spaces and resources in the developing world to fuel a neo-mercantilist world economic system, with public diplomacy taking the place of the civilizing mission and development assistance taking the place of direct rule.
It is becoming harder and harder to ignore the role that spaces and land play in the happenings of the international system, but, at the same time, there does not seem to be a strategic and political-level approach to understanding events and constructing policy that is conscious of the ways in which land, particularly in the developing world, is wrapped up in issues of history, violence, identity, nationalism and economics. Borrowing from the field of literary criticism, this paper will argue for a postcolonial ecocritical turn in international relations, one that can shift the ways in which policymakers can process international crises, develop policies and train future practitioners. Simultaneously, substantive engagement between postcolonial literary criticism and international relations policymaking would allow for crosspollination between two fields that seldom interact but that address many of the same questions and themes, a process that could prove mutually beneficial by allowing literary critics to better connect theory to lived experience and allowing policymakers to recognize the multivariate effects of their engagement with the developing world.
Understanding Ecocriticism and its Variants
But it is not simply a post-colonialization of ecocriticism: it is as much a critique of postcolonial theory’s disregard for nature as it is of ecocritcism’s disregard for the global South.
Ecocriticism is a relatively new subfield of literary criticism. The early major works of ecocriticism in the 1990s focused almost exclusively on British romanticism and American nature writing, with a particular attention to the work Henry David Thoreau, and “became especially identified with the project of reorienting literary-critical thinking toward more serious engagement with nonhuman nature.” (2) This first wave of ecocriticism sought a raised awareness of the natural settings in works of classic, Anglo-American literature. In the years since, the basic ecocritical gesture – an increased scrutiny of space and land as more than a passive, neutral stage upon which human action occurs – has been applied to works outside the Anglo-American canon and has slowly begun to merge with other forms of literary criticism, such as critical feminism and postcolonialism, though not without some contestation. Some critics, for example, have claimed that traditional ecocriticism’s focus on only the most superficial aspects of the environment only serves to concretize the “split between nature and culture that founds a structurating antinomy even in the face of constitutive and intractable hybridities.” (3) Others, approaching ecocriticism from the perspective of postcolonial studies, have claimed that ecocriticism “has tended to reflect the interests and concerns of countries in the North” (4) or that superimposing Thoreauvian ecocriticism onto postcolonial landscapes is just “another attempt to ‘white out’ Black Africa by coloring it green.” (5)
The postcolonial variant of ecocriticism that has emerged from these critiques of traditional ecocriticism is rooted in the idea that colonized and third world spaces are fundamentally different from places like Walden Pond or Wuthering Heights, and that the process of understanding and problematizing those spaces should reflect this difference. But it is not simply a post-colonialization of ecocriticism: it is as much a critique of postcolonial theory’s disregard for nature as it is of ecocritcism’s disregard for the global South. Postcolonial theorists have presented the earth as the source of more than just basic human needs – in Fanon’s words, it provides not just bread but also human dignity to a colonized people – but these invocations of nature rarely address the ecological aspects of colonialism in detail, phenomena like the extraction of natural resources, the forced changing in human and animal settlement patterns and the dissolution of traditional means of arranging and using land. More often, “land” is made into an abstract, amorphous concept and blended with concepts of the “people,” the “nation,” the “country.”
Writing is not the only way in which persons can affirm their attachment to contested spaces: political organization, armed groups and civil society activism can perform a similar function in staking a claim to a place.
What is postcolonial ecocriticism, then, and how can it be understood outside of the most theoretical realms of literary criticism? Postcolonial ecocriticism, as I will define it, is a way of thinking that seeks to understand how top-level, elite-driven processes like (neo)colonialism, capitalism, international development, interstate alliances or the centralization or devolution of power are connected to the spaces in which people live and act, while at the same time recognizing that the reclamation of space, land and resources is a key part of the process of peoples’ liberation. It consciously understands “spaces” as broadly as possible, taking into account both the physical and metaphysical spaces with which humans interact. In a practical sense, this postcolonial ecocriticism is not so much about the beauty of flowers or trees as it is about mineral mines, oil fields, river deltas and urban areas whose ownership and meaning are still wildly contested. For many writers from the developing world, writing about their lived environments is a way to “position themselves in natural settings in order to reinhabit a landscape or place that is intrinsic to their philosophies of being in the world,” to give irrefutable meaning to places of deep significance. (6) Writers do this in various ways – from Albert Camus’s lyrical, Whitmanesque lounging in the wormwood at the ruins of Tipasa outside of Algiers (7) to Ferdinand Oyono’s depiction of a black soldier who sees a white woman for the first time in a North African brothel (8)– to describe places as diverse as childhood homes, sites of coming-of-age rituals, exclusively masculine or feminine spaces or funereal grounds.
But writing is not the only way in which persons can affirm their attachment to contested spaces: political organization, armed groups and civil society activism can perform a similar function in staking a claim to a place. To approach the top-down process of international relations policymaking from a perspective informed by grassroots postcolonial ecocriticism forces one to think about how ownership and identification with land and space plays a role in individuals’ and groups’ actions in a globalized world.
Postcolonial ecocriticism can play a role as a descriptive tool in international affairs by highlighting the continuity between human and natural security, particularly in instances of lingering political and economic inequality due to the effects of colonialism, as well as postcolonial, elite-driven processes such as capitalism or the nationalization and denationalization of land and natural resources. The key ideal of postcolonial ecocriticism – that places and spaces have meaning beyond their role as a stage upon which action plays out – is useful in understanding both “hard” military histories and “soft” socio-cultural histories. This section will engage in postcolonial ecocritical readings of two cases, the colonial exportation of haussmannisation and the drawing of the Syria-Iraq border, in an attempt to demonstrate how this way of thinking has practical and not just theoretical value. The first case addresses issues of concrete and tangible space, while the second considers a more intangible conception of space; in both cases, the French state used the manipulation of space as a means of surveying and controlling a localized subaltern. In both cases, as well, understanding the relationship between the individual, the state and space can provide important insight into both history and the present.
At the heart of Haussmann’s project was control.
In the early 1850s, before Baron Haussmann began his massive project to redesign the French capital city, Paris could still be described as “a picturesque mediaeval city, in which dens of thieves, escaped convicts and arrogant prostitutes held court […] protected by tortuous and labyrinthine slums.” (9) Haussmann’s plan for Paris most notably included open public spaces, wide boulevards and a sewage system. At the heart of Haussmann’s project was control: broadening the streets would make popular rioting more difficult (especially since Haussmann successfully argued that public safety would become a matter of the city government rather than the police), (10) while creating a subterranean sewage system would efficiently bring water to Paris’s wealthy residents. (11) In Haussmann’s redesigned city, “the political power of the state was incessantly focused on Paris,” and the omnipresence of the French state in the new, more open Paris significantly changed the Parisian way of life. (12) As a result of Haussmann’s destroying and rebuilding of the city, there were stark lines between cleanliness and filth, between public and private space and between pre-modern and modern.
While Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris can certainly be understood as part of an internal French state-building process that borrowed many tactics from the French colonialist project, the fundamental assumptions of haussmannisation have a much more direct parallel to the colonial struggle. Given the apparent success of Haussman’s redesign of Paris, the French replicated the process across the growing empire, using many of the same reasons as justifications. Most of what became the French colonial capital cities – including Bamako, Dakar and Ouagoudougou in French West Africa and Tunis and Algiers in the Maghreb – were planned and constructed at the end of the nineteenth century, in the wake of Haussmann’s urban renewal of Paris. (13) These new Europeanized cities were constructed only after preexisting sections of cities were demolished and populations relocated, leaving a clearly delineated space for the colonizers (la ville) and for the colonized (la cité), with the “medieval connotations” of cité conjuring up images of a pre-Haussmann Paris. (14) And just as public health concerns underwrote the Parisian sewer system, similar concerns in the colonies that Africans carried diseases led to the separation of residential areas (effectively a cordon sanitaire), the uneven distribution of resources and services and the requirement that the colonized be constantly monitored. (15)
When the opportunity came for the colonized to reclaim control over their land and space, there was sometimes a sort of de-haussmannisation.
The French exportation of haussmannisation to its colonies – and its success as a tool both in France and throughout the French empire for effectively managing populations – reveals the extent to which those who control the ways in which space is organized and used also control the people who live there. When the opportunity came for the colonized to reclaim control over their land and space, there was sometimes a sort of de-haussmannisation, such as through the nationalization of vacated apartments (biens vacants) in Algiers and the almost immediate population of the European quarter with Algerians. (16) By taking back those apartments, the “‘type haussmannien d’immeuble’ [that] had become the very essence of a public building,” the newly independent Algerians pushed back against the universalization and surveillance of Haussmann’s model and made the colonizer’s most intimate and private space into a public good. By understanding this transfer of ownership and power through an ecocritical lens, it is possible to draw a straight line from an 1850-era French Baron to a group of 1960-era Algerian nationalists. The act of decolonizing Algeria can be understood in large part as a diametric response to the methods of spatial governance that characterized both imperial and republican France.
That diagonal line drawn through the Levantine desert would eventually become the border between the French and British League of Nations mandates after the 1920 San Remo Conference.
While Haussmann’s Paris represents a concrete and tangible manipulation of space, the French also managed space in more intangible and abstract ways. The most-feared terrorist organization du jour, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has announced its desire to establish an Islamic caliphate across the Levant, seeing in the regeneration of a Mohammedan state a clear historical antecedent that predates contemporary political borders forged by wars and European colonialism, in particular the British and French Sykes-Picot Agreement that divided the Levant into spheres of influence by drawing a diagonal line (the southeast border of Syria) that divided British from French territory. The actual text of the agreement is less about the control of people or resources than it is about railways, ports and naval bases, determining which places would be on and off limits for the free transit of French and British goods through the region. (17) That diagonal line drawn through the Levantine desert would eventually become the border between the French and British League of Nations mandates after the 1920 San Remo Conference, in the face of earlier claims of Syrian pan-Arabism and later attempts at resistance against the colonial powers. (18) Today, national governments in the successor states of the Levant – Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine – continue to operate mostly within the bounds set forth by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, though many have struggled to effectively govern their predefined territories, with large swaths of land remaining essentially ungoverned spaces in which violent non-state groups (like ISIS) take on the functions of traditional institutions. (19)
In the face of governments that are unable to maintain control of their territories, violent non-state groups claim ownership of spaces through highly public acts of gruesome violence as well as pragmatic acts of resistance.
In the face of governments that are unable to maintain control of their territories, violent non-state groups claim ownership of spaces through highly public acts of gruesome violence as well as pragmatic acts of resistance. Groups like ISIS seek, in the words of Frantz Fanon, to “mark out the lines on which a decolonized society will be reorganized,” to take into their own hands the power to determine what land belongs to whom. (20) They seek not only to make previously ungoverned spaces governable but also to actively subsume these purportedly neutral spaces into a new state system, the caliphate. At the same time, people living along the border act as if it is not even there, with the result being that “the Iraqi-Syrian border had been permeable for generations, owing to the nature of the terrain and the large tribal confederations on either side whose economic interests require that the border not impede their movements.” (21) To those actually living on the border, maps drawn 100 years ago have absolutely no relevance, and every act of migration or trade across that border is a small act of resistance.
The contestation of political borders in the Levant reveals the extent to which few spaces are actually value-neutral. Unlike many sustaining political borders, which are drawn to follow natural geographic features such as rivers or mountain ranges, the linear border between the French and British spheres of influence, what would in part become the Syria-Iraq border, is the result of “the absence of other permanent markers.” (22) The drawing of that border was meant to provide meaning to a purportedly meaningless space by linking up the desert to the British and French railways, ports and naval bases that would be built throughout the territories.
If postcolonial ecocriticism can help us understand events from a different perspective, how can we create policy to reflect that understanding?
To understand events through the lens of postcolonial ecocriticism is to ask oneself the question: what is the meaning of the space upon which the events are occurring? In the case of the Syria-Iraq border, groups are vying for control of spaces that were partitioned out 100 years ago by colonial powers but which remain ungovernable today. The lack of governance in the Levantine desert is due almost solely to its natural setting, resulting in a no-man’s land that remains illegible to official state powers and leaves room for sub-state or non-state groups to claim ownership and leadership. These groups see official governments as the maintainers of colonial-era divisions, and the struggle to establish an Islamic caliphate that transcends current borders can be read as an act of decolonization. In Haussmann’s Paris and its colonial counterparts, as space is destroyed and rebuilt, the question of ownership becomes increasingly important. Particularly in the rebuilt cities of Africa and the Maghreb, it is clear that no amount of physical destruction can fully erase the significance of spaces and places. Decolonization then, with the habitation of the Algerian biens vacants as a particularly clear example, becomes an act of attempting to return spaces to their original meanings and reclaiming ownership.
If postcolonial ecocriticism can help us understand events from a different perspective, how can we create policy to reflect that understanding? More simply put, what would a postcolonial ecocritical foreign policy look like? At its heart, a postcolonial ecocritical foreign policy would be attentive not only to the ways in which land and space shape human society, but also to the ways in which colonialism and its 21st-century successors shape land and space. This section will outline policymaking maxims that take into account this increased focus on spatiality.
A postcolonial, ecocriticism-informed foreign policy would recognize that states are not naturally occurring phenomena and that political borders are not permanent.
Spaces Rarely Belong Solely to One Person
We tend to think of land ownership as a zero-sum game, often at the elite level – states “own” the land over which they govern, and individuals “own” the land to which they hold a deed – but the ownership of space is often contested and unclear, and this contestation is rarely taken into account in the carrying out of foreign policy. The UN Charter, for example, claims that countries have “territorial integrity” and that outside governments may not use or threaten to use force against another state’s territorial integrity. (23) The very idea of integrity, the condition of being whole and uniform, lies contrary to the heterogeneous reality in almost every state around the world, and vesting this territorial integrity in the state serves to erase sub-state or transnational players who also have claims to territory. When a centralized government claims ownership of a territory in opposition to a subnational group, the government usually wins the day. There are, however, numerous important exceptions, from any number of successful decolonization movements to the recent Crimean independence referendum. A postcolonial, ecocriticism-informed foreign policy would recognize that states are not naturally occurring phenomena and that political borders are not permanent, that a government’s decision to hand over land for a military base or resource extraction to the highest bidder does not immediately erase any other claims of ownership. Policymakers must think ahead to the human and natural systems affected by the second- and third-order effects of policy decisions and not think only at the state level.
To Sufis, these temples were a thousand-year-old testament to culture and history; to Ansar Dine, they were anathema to a particular fundamentalist understanding of Islam.
Spaces are Inherently Polysemic
In reality, the temples were both
Just as spaces often have contested claims of ownership, most spaces also have contested meanings and significance, particularly in a postcolonial setting. The process of colonization is, in part, a process of forcibly imposing a new meaning on an old space. But even more fundamentally, we have a tendency to narrowly define spaces to utilitarian ends – the Pyramids of Giza are a World Heritage Site, the Catoca diamond mine in Angola is an economic site, the Nebraska state capitol building is a political site, the beaches of Normandy are a historical site – as if spaces can have only one meaning. The reality is that spaces have multiple meanings, albeit some with broader recognition or acceptance, that ought to be taken into account by policymakers. Attempts to create a sort of Linnean system of narrowly categorizing spaces erase that nuance and further marginalize those whose views diverge from majority or dominant views. Sahelian violent extremists operating in Northern Mali, for example, destroyed Sufi temples in Timbuktu in 2012 in an attempt to Islamicize the city, with one Ansar Dine spokesman saying, “What doesn’t correspond to Islam, we are going to correct.” (24) While this may seem an extreme case, the heart of the problem is the inability to imagine a space having simultaneous, even contradictory, meanings. To Sufis, these temples were a thousand-year-old testament to culture and history; to Ansar Dine, they were anathema to a particular fundamentalist understanding of Islam. In reality, the temples were both, as traditional Sufism came to take on a resistant character in the face of gruesome Islamist violence propagated by groups in the Sahel. A postcolonial ecocriticism-informed foreign policy would seek to understand the infinitely various meanings that spaces inherently possess and, when eventually choosing one meaning as the dominant one, seek to mitigate the loss of meaning that can come from changing a space. The destruction or changing of a space carries a greater significance than the physical toll, and policymakers must be attentive to the emotional value that comes along with such significance.
Attempts to Engineer Spaces May Be Irreversible
The world is not a board game: you cannot simply wipe the board clean and start over. As environmentalists have argued for decades, there are certain changes to the natural world that are simply irreversible. Glaciers melt, the ozone layer depletes, species go extinct and desertification takes its toll. This is clearest in the areas of energy and other extractive industries, where an immediate economic interest is weighed against the eventual environmental impact, with the former often winning. While the environmental effects of a policy are important to consider, there is also often a deeper human impact beyond the geographic changes. Whether land is privatized and sold or nationalized, the processes of industrialization and resource extraction serve to make spaces off-limits to people who may feel a deep connection to it. The Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal comments on this theme in several of his works. In a passage about an industrializing post-1990s Algeria, he wrote, “We beg to the sky, forgetting that it had been nationalized with the earth.” (25) The earth and sky have been rendered inaccessible by the state, with the decolonial nationalization that was intended to overturn exclusionary French land policies being, in effect, more of the same. Whether writing about supermarkets, international airports, highways or tourist traps, Sansal describes settings that have cut humans off from nature and from understanding the world around them: “for us as humans, there is not a single landmark, no sign, no sense of time, no possibility for human warmth.” (26) Development, while bringing with it certain positive aspects of modern connectedness, can also bring an irreversible separation of people from the places that are the most meaningful to them. A postcolonial, ecocriticism-informed foreign policy would seek out development and industrialization that is actually sustainable and involves local communities in a meaningful way in the changing of landscapes.
Perhaps the most obvious change in international affairs education should be a more conscious mainstreaming of environmental issues into policymakers’ training.
Training Future Policymakers
While postcolonial ecocriticism may have descriptive and prescriptive utility in international affairs, it is only as useful as much as it is actually used. With that in mind, this section will propose how the basic ideas of postcolonial ecocriticism can be incorporated into international affairs education and training, highlighting deficiencies that exist in many current ways of training future policymakers. At its heart, the professionalization of international affairs education through a focus on skills-based learning and simulations should be matched with a revived attention to both theory and regional expertise, including a greater attention to spatiality and the environment within specific localities.
Mainstreaming of Ecological Thinking
Perhaps the most obvious change in international affairs education should be a more conscious mainstreaming of environmental issues into policymakers’ training. The goal here is not to create a cadre of politicized Green thinkers or to indoctrinate students into any specific agenda, but rather to encourage students to consider for themselves how policy areas not traditionally associated with the environment have an impact on the spaces in which people live. What are the environmental costs of war or pandemic? How does the assimilation of minority cultures into the majority affect the ways in which people use land? To what extent does building a new school divert human activity away from agricultural spaces? There are few policy areas that have no affect on the environment, and it is important to consider these factors when we think and talk about policy, not merely in the narrow context of environmentalism or ecology.
Specialization over Generalization
The goal of providing students with a baseline level of financial literacy is a good one, but it calls to question the whole purpose of graduate education.
There has been an increased generalization in international affairs, both in training and practice. The U.S. Foreign Service, for example, explicitly hires generalists as U.S. diplomats, and the hiring process is entirely focused on “skills, abilities, and personal qualities” rather than subject-matter knowledge. (27) Similarly, international affairs master’s programs at schools such as Georgetown University (28) and Columbia University (29) require a considerable number of skills-based courses in management, finance and quantitative analysis. These programs seek to build policymakers who have a basic competency in several skills but not a deep knowledge of any particular subject-matter area in which those skills could be applied. A one-semester course in financial management, part of the core for Columbia’s Master in International Affairs, is most likely not enough to become an expert in finance or to make a student competitive for jobs in the financial sector. The goal of providing students with a baseline level of financial literacy is a good one, but it calls to question the whole purpose of graduate education: is it to instill broad and general knowledge in students, serving as an extension of liberal arts undergraduate education, or is it to deepen students’ knowledge in a particular area (history, political science, language) or skill set (accounting, statistics, econometrics)? Future policymakers would benefit more from a close and deep understanding of a field or skill, leaving more time in international affairs training and education for international relations theory – including the development and incorporation of new theoretical frameworks to understand the world and from which to create policies.
The imperative remains for policymakers to think ahead and to view state actions within the context of a rapidly changing world rather than to view policies in a vacuum.
Strategic Thinking and Planning
At the heart of postcolonial ecocriticism is a call to recognize the second- and third-order environmental effects of humans’ actions, to think ahead to the future and to understand the fragility of ecological systems. This could be translated in more traditional international affairs terms into a need for strategic and long-term thinking and planning. Many, including the COO of the Monitor Institute consulting firm, have criticized governments’ inability to act strategically, particularly in an increasingly globalized and nonpolar world:
‘The world has become a more turbulent place, where anyone with a new idea can put it into action before you can say “startup” and launch widespread movements with a single Tweet. This has left organizational leaders with a real problem, since the trusted, traditional approach to strategic planning is based on assumptions that no longer hold. The static strategic plan is dead. (30)’
In a context of heightened political polarization, unpredictable global events and shifts in power within the international system, it is without a doubt increasingly difficult for governments to act in a strategic way; however, the imperative remains for policymakers to think ahead and to view state actions within the context of a rapidly changing world rather than to view policies in a vacuum.
The very idea of incorporating ecocritical thinking into international affairs is inherently interdisciplinary and grew out of exposure to contemporary writing and thinking outside the field of international affairs. Just as some in the humanities are seeking to emphasize the real-world relevance of their fields, those in the social sciences should extend a hand to the humanists who work on similar issues and who study the same regions of the world. Even informally and extracurricularly – such as through guest lecturers, reading groups or panels at conferences – this could spur new thinking and introduce new ideas within international affairs academic circles. The goal would not be to develop any specific competencies in humanist theories but rather to allow for the free exchange and cross-examination of academic fields that often have little reason to interact in a substantive and mutually beneficial way.
An increased attention to theory and strategy within the classroom is an important component of the training and education of international affairs practitioners; however, this should be coupled with experience in the field. For a biologist, the basic theories of biology must be coupled with work in the laboratory. For a scholar of medieval French literature, the basic theories of historic literary criticism must be coupled with work in the archives. For an international affairs practitioner, the basic theories of international relations must be coupled with work in the field, to establish the regional and local contexts through which one can better understand events. Fieldwork can teach as much about the past as it can about the future. One can imbibe physical histories by walking through the ruins of Pompeii or the gentrified Lower East Side, but one can also retain the spatiality of a place long after one leaves. There is a strange simultaneous feeling of unrootedness and attachment when one sees photographs of a childhood neighborhood on the front page of a newspaper. By seeing and living within one’s area of focus, it is possible to better understand both the human dynamics at play and the significance of spaces and places.
Is arguing for a postcolonial ecocritical approach to international relations really just another way of saying “pay attention to space?” Perhaps, but the value of postcolonial ecocriticism can resonate on a deeper level, as well. It is an exercise in thinking about international affairs from a new perspective, in connecting the abstract realm of literary criticism to burning issues on the global stage, in drawing lines between ideas and events that do not necessarily come instinctively or naturally but that reveal new layers of meaning. This paper has argued that postcolonial ecocriticism has functional utility in international relations at the levels of processing events, creating policy and training future practitioners. The fundamental urge of ecocriticism – understanding the relationship between spaces, peoples and meanings – can expose connections and continuities that are easily overlooked. As global crises continue to center upon land and space in both concrete (such as fights over energy or public health scares) and abstract (such as conflicts over borders) ways, attention to ecological detail will only become more important.
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Nelson, Jake Robert. “For a Postcolonial Ecocritical Approach to International Relations.” In Transatlantic Perspectives on Diplomacy and Diversity, edited by Anthony Chase, 139-150. New York: Humanity in Action Press, 2015.
- Edward Said et al., Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), 77.
- Lawrence Buell, “Ecocriticism: Some Emerging Trends,” Qui Parle 19.2 (2011): 89.
- Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, introduction to Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory beyond Green, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), xx.
- Anthony Vital, “Toward an African Ecocriticism: Postcolonialism, Ecology and Life & Times of Michael K,” Research in African Literatures 39.1 (2008): 87
- William Slaymaker, “Ecoing the Other(s): The Call of Global Green and Black African Responses,” PMLA 116.1 (2001): 132.
- Donelle N. Dreese, Ecocriticism: Creating Self and Place in Environmental and American Indian Literatures (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), 19
- See Albert Camus, “Nuptials at Tipasa,” in Lyrical and Critical Essays, ed. Philip Thody and trans. Ellen Conroy Kennedy (New York: Knopf, 1968): 65-72.
- See Ferdinand Oyono, Une vie de boy, (Paris: Julliard, 1956).
- Brian Chapman, “Baron Haussmann and the Planning of Paris,” The Town Planning Review 24.3 (1953): 177.
- Ibid., 181-2.
- Matthew Gandy, “The Paris sewers and the rationalization of urban space,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24.1 (1999): 28.
- David P. Jordan, “Haussmann and Haussmannisation: The Legacy for Paris,” French Historical Studies 27.1 (2004): 98.
- Christopher Winters, “Urban Morphogenesis in Francophone Black Africa,” Geographical Review 72.2 (1982): 140.
- Ibid., 141.
- Madani Safar-Zitoun, “Alger ou la recomposition d’une Métropole,” La pensée de midi 4 (2001): 33.
- “The Sykes-Picot Agreement: 1916,” The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, Yale Law School, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/sykes.asp.
- Florence Gaub and Patryk Pawlak, “Sykes-Picot and Syria,” European Union Institute for Security Studies (2013), http://www.iss.europa.eu/uploads/media/Alert_34-Sykes-Picot_and_Syria.pdf.
- F. Gregory Gause, III, “Is this the end of Sykes-Picot?” The Washington Post, 20 May 2014, accessed 30 August 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/05/20/is-this-the-end-of-sykes-picot/.
- Fanon, 38.
- Steven Simon, “The Middle East’s Durable Map,” Foreign Affairs, 26 August 2014, accessed 30 August 2014, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141934/steven-simon/the-middle-easts-durable-map.
- Gaub and Pawlak.
- UN Charter, Chapter I, Article 2, Section 4.
- Adam Nossiter, “Mali Islamists Exert Control, Attacking Door to a Mosque,” New York Times, 2 July 2012, accessed 30 August 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/world/africa/mali-islamists-exert-control-with-attacks-on-mosques.html?_r=0.
- Boualem Sansal, Le serment des barbares (Paris: Gallimard, 1999), 12.
- Boualem Sansal, Le village de l’Allemand, ou Le journal des frères Schiller (Paris: Gallimard, 2008), 37.
- “Foreign Service Officer Qualifications – 13 DIMENSIONS,” U.S. Department of State, https://careers.state.gov/uploads/74/3a/743a3445ccb7a8937a06d47ff32d274b/3.0.0_FSO_13_dimensions.pdf.
- “Degree Requirements, Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS),” Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, http://msfs.georgetown.edu/academics/degree/.
- “Core Curriculum, Master of International Affairs (MIA),” Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, http://bulletin.columbia.edu/sipa/programs/mia/#requirementstext.
- Dana O’Donovan and Noah Rimland Flower, “The Strategic Plan is Dead. Long Live Strategy,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, 10 January 2013, accessed 30 August 2014, http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/the_strategic_plan_is_dead._long_live_strategy.