JALA Special Issue: Engaging Emerging Trends in African Ecocriticism

In their introduction to the special edition of African Literature Today captioned “Environmental Transformations,” Cajetan Iheka and Stephanie Newell assert that “The geography of African ecocriticism has shifted considerably,” affirming the expanding scope of ecocriticism in Africa. From the foundational work of pioneer scholars (William Slaymaker, Anthony Vital, Byron Caminero-Santangelo, among others) to the innovative studies emerging from within and outside the continent in recent times, African ecocriticism (or ecocriticism of African cultural production) has witnessed visible developments in its theory and practice, its aesthetics and politics. Beyond the early concentration on environmental justice and notions of the environmentalism of the poor, new paradigms have foregrounded debates around human-nonhuman entanglements, indigenous ecology, climate fiction, critical ocean studies and blue ecology, energy humanities, ecomedia, decolonial ecology, among others.

Given its expansion over the past decades, African ecocriticism has come to be represented by two dominant strands – the first is a concern with what Sule Egya has described as eco-human justice (60-70) and the second is concerned with the realm of the nonhuman, what Iheka and Newell describe as “the ecological mode” (5). The former tends to center notions of environmental justice inclined to anthropocentrism. For this strand of ecocriticism, the vision is not only ecological, but also social and the tendency in most cases is to privilege the social, the argument being that humans must survive before they can seek to protect nonhumans. Scholars associated with this strand of African ecocriticism have produced substantial studies dealing with, among others, ecological effects of resource dispossession, extractive capitalism, ecological degradation in lived environments, environment and infrastructure, environment and gender, and the ecology of power relations in urban settings. The second and latter strand clearly privileges non-anthropocentric representations that foreground the other-than-human sphere. Its discourses and thematics have sought to downplay the role as well as the victimhood of humans. They instead foreground “the materiality of things, and the nonhuman world as lively and agentive” (Sarah Nuttall, “Pluvial Time,” 30). This form of African ecocriticism pursues a variety of ecological justice that pays closer attention to the dynamics of physical and non-physical life-forms, inter-species relations, and the often taken-for-granted bond between the living and nonliving beings in Africa. Recent studies like Cajetan Iheka’s Naturalizing Africa: Ecological Violence, Agency, and Postcolonial Resistance in African Literature; Eunice Ngongkum’s Anglophone Cameroon Poetry in the Environmental Matrix; Emily McGiffin’s Of Lands, Bones, and Money: Towards a South African Ecopoetics; Evan M. Mwangi’s The Postcolonial Animal: African Literature and Posthuman Ethics; Fiona Moolla’s Natures of Africa: Ecocriticism and Animal Studies in Contemporary Cultural Forms; Isabel Hofmeyer et al’s Reading for Water: Materiality and Method, and Sule E. Egya’s Nature, Environment and Activism in Nigerian Literature have served as currents of readings that combine the eco-human and ecological approaches.

This special issue of JALA aims to offer a platform for engaging with the entire spectrum of emerging paradigms in African ecocriticism, responding in particular to a wide range of recent debates, and critically evaluating new and more recent trends. We invite submissions that respond to the following questions among others:

1. How should we assess emerging trends in ecocriticism and the ways in which they have been or can be applied to African literature and cultural production? These emerging trends include studies in ecomedia, blue ecology, critical oceanic studies, energy studies, climate fiction, animal studies, decolonial ecology and indigenous ecology, among others.  What new paradigms might be considered for ecocriticism and African cultural production at this point in time?

2. In what ways and to what extent have climate concerns figured in African literature? To what extent have African literature and cultural production envisioned Afro-futures that challenge the current global discourses on the Anthropocene? To what extent would critics of African cultural production be justified or not justified in problematizing the discourse of world climate crisis, bearing in mind the history of Africa’s resource dispossession?

3. What might a foregrounding and rethinking of indigenous African religious/spiritual/agricultural practices (e.g. the use of talismans, reverence for totemic animals, forms of farming and fishing etc.) contribute to a discourse of decolonial ecology with possible relevance for the world at large? How might African oralities be mobilized for ecological discourses supporting the idea of planetary balance?

4. How have African writers and other artists responded to the biodiverse wealth of African marine ecology, on the one hand, and the hydrocoloniality that informs the politics of the blue economy on the continent, on the other? In what ways can we interrogate the links between the ocean and African subjects in relation to water-way modes of South-North migration?

5. What are the ways in which questions about infrastructure and urban ecology have intersected with African ecocriticism? How might we understand the relations between the colonial past, the neoliberal present, the posthuman future, and urban ecology as represented in African cultural production?

6. How do we assess the engagements of African literatures and African cultural production with extractive industrialization? How are African literatures responding to the crises of zones of extraction in light of posthumanism and the concerns about the fate of nonhuman life forms? How else should we think about the energy humanities in the context of extractive industrialization, given existing and emerging zones of extraction?

7. In what ways do emerging and often popular genres of African cultural production such as spoken word poetry, comedy skits and other performances address representation of the environment and environmental concerns? To what extent do these emerging genres intersect with the environmental imagination in Africa today? How does the engagement with environmental concerns in emerging genres in Africa differ from the forms of engagement with environmental concerns in well established genres in Africa? How have genre studies in African literary and cultural studies engaged with the environmental imagination in Africa? How might we apply recent forms of African ecocriticism to analysis of popular genres of African cultural production?

8. To what extent do recent forms of African ecocriticism serve as a site for a discourse of decoloniality? To what extent do some forms of African ecocriticism challenge an assumed coloniality of ecocriticism in global discussions? How should we assess the forms of African ecocriticism that presume the coloniality of ecocriticism as a point of departure? In what ways can we mobilize pioneer anti-colonial African writings to boost current discourses on decolonial ecology?

Please send your abstracts electronically to the special issue editor, Sule E. Egya, (seegya@ibbu.edu.ng), and the JALA Editor in Chief, Moradewun Adejunmobi (madejunmobi@ucdavis.edu) by January 30th 2024, using the subject heading “Engaging Emerging Trends in African Ecocriticism.” Papers for accepted abstracts will be due by August 31st 2024. Essays should be between 7,000 and 8,000 words; should be in Word documents, using MLA 8th edition format for layout and citation. For purposes of blind reviewing, complete papers are to be submitted in two forms: (i) a full version with author’s details, and (ii) a completely anonymized version.

Special Issue Editor

Sule Emmanuel Egya is professor of African literature and environmental humanities at Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Nigeria. He has published widely in African ecocriticism.   

Address questions about the special issue to Professor Sule E. Egya (seegya@ibbu.edu.ng).