Ecotones: Encounters, Crossings, and Communities
An "ecotone" is a transitional area between two or more distinct ecological communities, for instance the zone between field and forest, mountain and ocean, or between sea and land. The two ecosystems may be separated by a sharp boundary line or may merge gradually. An "ecotone" may also indicate a place where two communities meet, at times creolizing or germinating into a new community.
We will be borrowing this term traditionally used in environmental studies and geography, and apply it to postcolonial studies in disciplines such as literature, history, the arts, translation studies, the social and political sciences, ethnic studies, ecocriticism, etc.
In the continuity of the program "Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’" that was implemented by EMMA (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier, France) in partnership with several universities between 2011 and 2013, "Ecotones" seeks to continue exploring the "complex chemistry" of creolizing worlds (Robin Cohen), the "contact zones" between cultures (Mary Louise Pratt) in contexts such as migration, diaspora, refugee movements and other postcolonial displacements and environmental evacuations, among other major historical events.
Conjointly with the social sciences, pride of place will also be given to the literary and artistic representations of these micro and macro transformations, to the ways aesthetic forms not only represent but also contribute to shaping and modifying a process.
The ecotones, as points of contact or points of friction, between the Indian Ocean, the South and East China Seas, the African continent, the Caribbean and the North American continent will provide the main frame of approach. The use of concepts like "diaspora space" (Avtar Brah) and "Afrasia" (Gaurav Desai) will be beneficial.
The emphasis will be put on communities in their relation to place, neighborhood, and environment, including the precise circumstances these communities are modified over periods of time, the factors of change, and the many ways these elements are represented and mediated in literature and the arts. How do the languages, the cultural practices, the scientific knowledge, and environmental concerns meet and transform in these newly constructed ecotones? How does the merging of different ecologies and communities produce creolization and new identities? What postcolonial approaches to global ecologies (Elizabeth DeLoughrey) can be set up in the context of "transcolonial" relations (Shu-mei Shih and Françoise Lionnet)? Can we identify an emerging cosmopolitics in these contact zones (Michel Agier)?
The modalities of such processes of (re-)invention will have to be examined from different angles, taking in the conflicts and the productive exchanges and frictions between the other and the self. Literary and political movements and the history of ideas necessarily cross paths and pollinate, following different routes and creating a multiple and diverse universe, in which a single and fixed origin can only be questioned.
Specific lesser-known communities will be focused on to understand how new relations to specific places are being formed as we speak, and constitute new forms of belonging, bonding, and citizenship. The aim is to understand how everyday practices, languages, customs, beliefs, rituals and ideas evolve, maintain themselves or transform, when two communities merge with, or confront each other. What are the realities when one community takes precedence over, or absorbs, the other one, when religions, cultures and languages are implanted in postcolonial locales across the globe. How do the descendents of two indentured or migrant communities, for instance, negotiate the space and interact with each other? Keeping in mind the multiple interpretation of the term, micro-spaces will be examined to understand how they are negotiated and represented.
A series of interdisciplinary events will be co-organized by EMMA (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier, France), Coastal Carolina University (SC, USA) and MIGRINTER (UMR CNRS-Poitiers, France) in collaboration with partner universities. Specific calls for papers will be circulated to create networks, announce conferences and workshops, and set up events. Publications will be planned in the different venues and at other partner universities.
The 3-G Network on the three Guyanas (Guyana, French Guyane and Suriname) will bring into focus one of the best possible examples of Ecotones in the literal and metaphoric interpretations of the word. 2015 being the 40th anniversary of the independence of Suriname and 2016 the 50th anniversary of the independence of Guyana, will provide excellent opportunities to bring that part of the world into the limelight, in relation to 70 years of départementalisation in the French Guyane. Events will be hosted in Amsterdam (October 2015, University of Amsterdam, University of Antwerpen, Université de Liège, the Université Louvain-la-Neuve and Werkgroep Caraïbische Letteren), Montpellier (June 2016, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier) and London (October 2016, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London).
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Banner Image: "Geometry and Life" by Ze'ev Barkan