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Symposium: Capitalism, Climate, and Cultural Study

Event Type
Humanities Research Institute, Department of English
Levis Faculty Center Room 210, 919 W Illinois St., Urbana, IL 61801
Sep 28, 2023 - Sep 29, 2023   5:00 - 3:15 pm  
John Barnard
Originating Calendar
Life of the Department

Capitalism, Climate, and Cultural Study
A Symposium at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
September 28-29, 2023

In its most recent report on the projected impacts of global warming, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that the looming crisis will require not only new technologies, but also “fundamental changes to how society functions, including changes to underlying values, worldviews, ideologies, social structures, political and economic systems, and power relationships.” 

In framing it this way, the panel acknowledges what scholars across the humanities and social sciences have long been arguing—and what this symposium aims specifically to address: that climate change is a problem of culture in the broadest sense, ranging from global economic and political systems to our tastes in literature, television, travel, and other forms of consumption. 

Beginning with a keynote by Anna Kornbluh (English, University of Illinois, Chicago), and proceeding through panels considering colonial-capitalist development in India and the United States, the symposium will explore the historical emergence of this culture through its aesthetic forms, from literary production and political rhetoric to infrastructural projects and the built environment. We hope to advance and elaborate the convictions that bring us together as scholars simultaneously facing a climate crisis and a crisis in the humanities and higher education more generally: that climate change constitutes a planetary emergency; that capitalism is a primary driver, both in the present and historically, of that emergency; and that literary and cultural studies are critical for understanding how we got into this predicament and for finding our way out.

Thursday, Sept. 28 at 5 p.m. 
Levis Faculty Center 210 

Keynote Address: "Mediating Immediacy: Climate Crux & Collective Arts"
Anna Kornbluh (English, University of Illinois Chicago)

Friday, Sept. 29, 9:30 a.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Levis Faculty Center 210

Panel 1
9:30 – 10:45 a.m.

Elizabeth Chatterjee (History, University of Chicago)
Stacey Balkan (English, Florida Atlantic University)
Moderator: Rini Bhattacharya Mehta (Comparative & World Literature, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign)


Panel 2
11 a.m. – 12:15 a.m.

Paul Downes (English, University of Toronto)
Jennifer James (English & Africana Studies, George Washington University)
Moderator: Jamie Jones (English, UIUC)


Concluding Roundtable
2 – 3:15 p.m.

Elizabeth Chatterjee, Stacey Balkan, Paul Downes, Jennifer James, Anna Kornbluh
Moderator: Amanda Ciafone (Media & Cinema Studies, UIUC)

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