Ecocriticism: A Literary Response

Ecocriticism is a rapidly expanding field of research, which has captured the zeitgeist, a time which has given rise to its own geological period, the Anthropocene.   This term, proposed by Paul Crutzen, seeks to signify the extent to which our current epoch has been overwhelming marked by human activity, affecting permanent change at a geological and planetary level.   Human activity has created global warming, climate change and it would seem our sixth mass extinction. 

In the fields of Humanities and Social Sciences the response to this global preoccupation has been ecological criticism.  A fundamental tenet of ecocriticism is that the environment and its ecology should be a topic of overriding importance in all spheres, not limited to its original home in the sciences.   This tenet has spurred a mass crossover into the arts and humanities and the creation of new fields of research. 

In a seminal lecture by Prof. Kate Rigby entitled ‘Paradigm Shifts: “The Ecological Turn in Literary Studies” [1].  She defines ecocriticism as literature which recognizes the ‘dynamic interrelationship between culture and the environment, recognizing also non-humans as well as human interests, agency and communicative capacity,’[2]  What all branches of eco-literature have in common is this rehabilitation and reconsideration of Nature.    No longer considered a separate entity or backdrop to human activity, it now becomes a central consideration.

Several groundbreaking shifts have occurred. The creation of new literary genres such as cli-fi, and eco-poetics and new eco-based disciplines in the natural and social sciences, such as biosemotics and environmental justice. Existing literary theories have re-examined their own frameworks to accommodate the field of ecology and vice versa, creating hybrid disciplines. Rigby maintains that this crossing of ‘the disciplinary divide [is] necessary to close the sustainability gap’[3].

A characteristic of this field is how it intertwines overtly with activism. There is often a sense of urgency and purpose expressed directly in the text. Many authors reference key dates, legislation and activist groups, such as Earth Day, foundational conferences, the creation of journals and chairs of professorships and engage with citizen’s initiatives. Indeed in my first citation from Professor Rigby, she notes that the lecture was given during the Cop 21 talks in Paris.

[1] Rigby,K. (2017) Paradigm Shifts: “The Ecological Turn in Literary Studies”:[Online] Available at:

[2] Ibid, 3’:01 -10.  

[3] Ibid, 23’18.