Climate Emergency and Popular Cultures

Call for Papers : PCAoF International Conference

“Climate Emergency: When Popular Cultures Cry Ecological Awakening.”

October 9 – 11, 2024

University of La Rochelle

It was primarily in the nineteenth century, during the profound technological, social, and economic changes of the Industrial Revolution, that the foundations were laid for what would become the environmental movement, of which various branches developed from the 1960s onward. At the same time, popular culture began to express concern for the environment, producing works of fiction in which authors questioned the preservation of the planet and the consequences of our lifestyles. These stories highlight the disastrous effects that human societies can have on ecosystems, while also imagining alternative ways of living. Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune is a well-known example of a science fiction story that deals with the devastating effects of natural resource exploitation and advocates for the preservation of ecosystems. However, it is not the only one. As early as 1929, J.D. Beresford, in his short story “The Man Who Hated Flies” (in The Meeting Place and Other Stories), imagined that the discovery of a powerful insecticide would lead to the destruction of pollinators and thus to a wider ecological catastrophe. In 1962, J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World tackled the problem of global warming and its consequences. Similarly, Richard Fleischer’s 1973 film Soylent Green presented a strangely prophetic vision of a world in 2022 where the oceans have been ravaged by the greenhouse effect, resulting in permanent heat and humidity pollution, resource depletion, poverty, and overpopulation. Obviously, the problems associated with the destruction of ecosystems have been highlighted in popular cultures for some time.

After two international colloquia organized at the University of La Rochelle in 2019 and 2022 to study the use of popular cultures as a tool of expression and politics, and then at the University of Strasbourg in 2023 on the construction of marginalized popular cultures in the face of the process of cultural polycentrism, the PCAoF association intends to continue its investigations by addressing the issue of climate emergency through the lens of popular cultures.

The purpose of this symposium is to assess the presence/prevalence and representation of this issue and to explore the potential of popular cultures to inspire civic and political change, as demonstrated by James Craig Holte in Climate Change in Popular Culture: A Warming World in the American Imagination (2022); or Sherryl Vint in Science Fiction – A Century of Science Fiction That Changed How We Think About the Environment (2021).

Because they are accessible to a wide audience, popular cultures (in all their formats and media) serve as the perfect basis for scientific mediation, if the latter is understood as a two-way exchange and discussion with non-expert audiences. Media supports for this exchange are numerous – including comic books, genre films, children’s literature, web series, TV series, and social networks among others– to approach the study of science mediation. Some researchers even claim to use them to communicate with the public, such as Alessandro Pignocchi, a former cognitive scientist turned comic book author (Petit traité d’écologie sauvage, 2017) and Philippe Descola, a French anthropologist, (Anent: News from the Jivaro Indians, 2016, in collaboration with Alessandro Pignocchi). Similarly, in World Without End, the cartoonist Christophe Blain interviews and illustrates the energy and climate expert Jean-Marc Jancovici. Some artists, aware of their impact as popular public and media figures, are openly campaigning for ecological responsibility (such as the French rock band Shaka Ponk, who decided to suspend their activities to devote themselves to this cause, and The Freaks[1], a collective of more than sixty French artists and personalities).

Mass media are not only a tool for explaining complex scientific theories to a wide audience, but they also have the power to capture social imaginations (for example, see the works of Andrew Milner & J. R. Burgmann, Science Fiction and Climate Change: A Sociological Approach, or Theodore Jacob Vincent & James F. Hamilton, Narrativizing Climate Change through Popular Culture) and shape tomorrow’s world through stories and images. Canadian sociologist Guy Rocher used the concept of the “social imaginary” in the 1980s[2], as did Paul Ricoeur the French sociologist in 1985[3] ‘to refer to societal initiatives, future visions, social aspirations, and political ambitions which can lead to the formation of ideologies, utopias, and social myths[4].’  Regine Robin[5], following Jean-Charles Falardeau’s theories[6], suggests that the novel should be viewed as a “second narrative” that plays a crucial role in fixing, in the form of narrative models, and circulating those imaginaries (the primary narratives) that have the creative potential to innovate and unleash forces that describe the world and can also carry the hope of changing it. Thus science fiction stories and films –such as The Day After Tomorrow by Roland Emmerich (2004), which is a disaster film based on IPCC[7] reports–,  as well as TV shows –like Extrapolation on Apple TV (2023), which features  scenarios of the future based on IPCC reports as well–, children’s literature (such as Vincent Villeminot’s Nous sommes l’étincelle), and genre literature (Scali Bertil and De Andreis Raphaël’s Mer[8], or Jean-Pierre Goux’s saga Siècle bleu[9] that both describe the realistic and scientifically proven effects of climate change), provide a corpus for the study of often catastrophist imaginations that generate eco-anxiety but also have the virtue of alerting us. In a recent study by ADEME[10], 65% of respondents stated that fiction increases awareness and motivates them to take action. These stories are a powerful tool for driving change, highlighting the importance of such reflection.

Proposals for papers can cover a wide range of fields and combine them (for instance sociology, anthropology, political studies, history, literature, economics, media, journalism, linguistics, etc.).  They may also explore various countries and all areas of popular cultures (such as visual arts – TV, internet series, films, graphic novels and comic books, You Tube videos and channels–,  different genres of fiction – such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, detective fiction, and pulp fiction–, as well as sports, music, collectables, cultural and media practices, games (role-playing games, video games, and board games), toys, literature, and so on.

Papers can be submitted in either French or English on the following topics:

  • the role and development of the environment, particularly the current climate crisis, in popular cultures;
  • the examination of popular cultures as a means of scientific mediation;
  • the presentation and analysis of new environmental social imaginaries created by popular cultures (cinema, series, comic books, etc.)
  • the pitfalls of optimistic, techno-solutionist, and catastrophist narratives,
  • the impact and/or place of environmental social imaginaries in society.

To submit proposals for papers, please send the title and a 300-word abstract along with a brief biography to pcaofrance@gmail.com by April 19, 2024. The committee will provide a response and pre-program by mid-June.

Organizing Committee: Danièle André (US Civilizational and Cultural Studies, research unit  PoLiCÉMIES), Annabel Audureau (comparative literature, research unit PoLiCÉMIES), Philippe Coulaud (Computing and Digital Eco-responsibility).

Indicative Bibliography, Filmography and Mediagraphy

Bibliography

ADEME report (French Environment and Energy Management Agency), Des récits et des Actes : La culture populaire au service de la transition écologique, Hors Collection, La Librairie Ademe, 2022. https://librairie.ademe.fr/consommer-autrement/5585-des-recits-et-des-actes.html

Couégnas Nicolas, Bertin Eric, « La nature dans la pop culture », Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication, 21-2021. http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/10062

Descola Philippe, Une écologie des relations, CNRS Éditions, 2019.

Descola Philippe, Par-delà nature et culture, Gallimard, 2005.

Pignocchi Alessandro (auteur), Descola Philippe (préface), Anent : nouvelles des Indiens Jivaros, Steinkis Éditions, 2016.

Falardeau Jean-Charles, Imaginaire social et littérature, Urtubize, 1974.

Holte James Craig, Climate Change in Popular Culture: A Warming World in the American

Imagination, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022.

Johns-Putra Adeline, Climate change in literature and literary studies: From cli-fi, climate change theater and ecopoetry to ecocriticism and climate change criticism, WIREs Clim Change, 7: 266-282, 2016.

Larrère Catherine, et Larrère Raphaël, Penser et agir avec la nature. Une enquête philosophique, La Découverte, 2015

Milner Andrew, and J. R. Burgmann, Science Fiction and Climate Change : A Sociological Approach, Liverpool University Press, 2020.

Ricoeur Paul, Castoriadis Cornelius, Dialogue sur l’histoire et l’imaginaire social, (tiré d’émission radiodiffusée en 1985), Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, 2016.

Robin Régine, « Pour une socio-poétique de l’imaginaire social », La politique du texte. Enjeux sociocritiques, Presses universitaires de Lille, 1993.

Rocher Guy, « Le droit à l’imaginaire social » dans Imaginaire social et représentations collectives. Mélanges offerts à Jean-Charles Falardeau, revue Recherches sociographiques, volume n°23, numéro 1-2, 1982.

Theodore Jacob Vincent & James F. Hamilton, “Narrativizing Climate Change through Popular

Culture”, Peace Review, 32:1, 95-102, 2020.

Vint Sherryl, “Science Fiction – A Century of Science Fiction That Changed How We Think About the Environment”, MIT Press, 2021.

Vint Sherryl, Science Fiction, Essential Knowledge series, The MIT Press, 2021.

Works of Fiction

 Ballard James Graham, The Drowned World, Berkley Books, UK, 1962.

Beresford J. D., “The Man Who Hated Flies”, in The Meeting Place and Other Stories, coll 1929, London: Faber & Faber Limited, 1929.

Blain Christophe (scénario et dessins), Jean-Marc Jancovici (scénario), Le Monde sans fin, miracle énergétique et dérive climatique, Dargaud, 2021.

Goux Jean-Pierre, Siècle bleu : le rêve de Gaïa (tome 1), Babel noir, 2021.

Goux Jean-Pierre, Siècle bleu : Ombres et lumières (tome 2), Babel noir, 2022.

Herbert Frank, Dune (first serialized in Analog, 1963-64 “Dune World” et 1965 “Prophet of Dune”), Chilton Books, 1965, USA.

Ikegami Elishi, Shangri-La, Kadokawa Shoten, 2004-2005, Jap.

Pignocchi Alessandro, Petit traité d’écologie sauvage, Steinkis Éditions, 2017.

Scali Bertil et De Andréis Raphaël, Mer, Cairn, 2022.

Villeminot Vincent, Nous sommes l’étincelle, Pocket Jeunesse, 2019.

TV shows

Extrapolations, Scott Z. Burns, Apple TV, 2023, USA.

L’Effondrement, Les Parasites, Canal +, 2019, France.

Ice, Nick Copus, Power, 2011, RU/NZ.

Films

Don’t look up, Adam Mckay, Hyperobject Industries, 2021, USA.

La Belle verte, Colline Serreau, Films Alain Sarde, 1996, Fr.

Silent Running, Douglas Trumbull, Universal Pictures, 1972, USA.

Soylent Green, Richard Fleischer, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1973, USA.

The Day after Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich, 20th Century Fox, 2004, USA.

Waterworld, Kevin Reynolds, Universal Pictures, 1995, USA.


[1] The Freaks is a group of artists and individuals dedicated to adopting new behaviors to combat overconsumption, pollution, global warming, and protect biodiversity. This list of behaviors is the result of extensive work carried out with the Nicolas Hulot Foundation for Nature and Man and ADEME. Visit https://www.the-freaks.fr/collectif/ for more information.

[2] In his article “Le droit à l’imaginaire social” published in Recherches sociographiques, volume n°23, number 1-2, 1982, Guy Rocher discusses the importance of social imagination.

[3] Paul Ricoeur also explores this topic in his book “Dialogue sur l’histoire et l’imaginaire social” (2016).

[4] Rocher’s work is referenced again in this context (op. cit., p.62).

[5] Additionally, Régine Robin’s article ‘Pour une socio-poétique de l’imaginaire social’ provides further insight into the subject of social imagination. Enjeux sociocritiques, 1993.

[6] Jean-Charles Falardeau’s Imaginaire social et littérature (1974).

[7] IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

[8] Mer is an ecological crime novel set in an underwater Bordeaux in 2050.

[9] Siècle bleu is an ecological and geopolitical thriller that questions our times and our intentions for the world.

[10] For more information, visit https://librairie.ademe.fr/consommer-autrement/5585-des-recits-et-des-actes.html



Citer ce billet
PCAoF (2024, 21 mars). Climate Emergency and Popular Cultures. Popular Culture Association of France. Consulté le 21 mai 2024, à l’adresse https://pcaof.hypotheses.org/1583

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