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Imagining a more environmentally just future

The realisation of environmental justice is dependent on and accompanied by evolutions in the ways in which we imagine and relate to the world around us. How can engagement with the arts enable us to envision more environmentally just futures?

Many scholars across the university are grappling with this question

Maggie Roe’s work, with Scott-Bottoms, (2020) explores ways in which methods of engagement with communities can be made more participatory, by looking at the role for arts-based approaches in researching water landscape management in the River Aire corridor in Yorkshire. Roe’s work as part of a project on hydrocitizenship aimed at diversifying the stakeholders traditionally co-opted by ‘participatory’ river management models.


Miranda Iossifidis & Lisa Garforth’s (2022) work identifies the potential for imaginaries of climate futures to platform considerations including environmental justice. Their reading of the speculative fiction novel Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer, examines the ways in which readers respond to an imagined climate-changed world. Understanding the ways in which we non-experts imagine possible futures is of vital importance to anticipating preferences and challenges in the real world; the impacts of climate change will be felt regardless of expertise.


Bernhard Malkmus (e.g., 2020) analyses textual representations of the relationships between humans and nature to reveal patterns of imaginary adaptation to our changing world. Within the University, Malkmus brings together researchers from across the social sciences and humanities through the Anthropocene Research Group. He leads a group of early-career researchers who discuss texts and invite speakers grappling with the idea of humanity’s activity being the most influential factor in shaping the world around us in the present era. Malkmus is also working, with Jennifer Richards and Philippa Page, on NUHRI's Decisive Decade initiative – engaging specifically through the humanities in drawing attention to the urgency of environmental crises for both academia and society more broadly.


Through the study of Victorian fiction, Ella Mershon has traced evolutions in the way societies have understood their relations with the environment, with consequential effect on real-world decision making. A consideration of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (2020) deconstructs the European Victorian era idea of organicism – that all things form part of some greater whole – that was so influential on perceptions of the environment. The space shared by both human desire and nonhuman nature is explored in a study of Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams (2020); the refusal of fungal forms to comply with ideas like systems thinking or even taxonomical categorisation aligns with the refusal of human desire to comply with deterministic analyses.


Clifton Evers – who engages directly in practice-rooted environmental justice work as part of the Shadow Places Network – is currently delivering a project that seeks to highlight the ways in which living in proximity to carbon-intensive industrial processes influences people’s imaginaries of a decarbonised future, and how this might intersect with welfare responsibilities of the state. This has included producing a short film, Polluted Leisure, that follows a group of older-age men who surf in polluted waters off England’s northeast coastline, where waves are produced as a result of historical dumping of industrial waste into the North Sea. Evers also curated an exhibition, ENERGIES, at the Republic Gallery in Blyth, Northeast England, in July 2021. This was part of an ongoing politics research project that studies transitions to low-carbon economic activities in former industrial towns in the region, and the ways in which residents of these towns relate to the climate emergency and responses to it.


Research staff

Dr Clifton Evers, Dr Lisa Garforth, Dr Miranda Iossifidis, Prof Bernhard Malkmus, Dr Ella Mershon, Maggie Roe, Prof Anthony Zito


Research outputs

  • Evers, C (Dir.) (2022) Polluted Leisure [Short film]. Self-released.
  • Iossifidis, MJM, & Garforth, L (2022) Reimagining climate futures: Reading Annihilation. Geoforum (preprint forthcoming).
  • Malkmus, B. (2017) “Man in the Anthropocene”: Max Frisch's Environmental History. PMLA/Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 132(1), 71-85.
  • Mershon, E. (2020) Decay, Scale, and the Future of Victorian Organicism. Victorian Studies, 62(2), 273-282.
  • Mershon, E. (2020) Pulpy Fiction. Victorian Literature and Culture, 48(1), 267-298.
  • Scott-Bottoms, S, & Roe, M (2020) Who is a hydrocitizen? The use of dialogic arts methods as a research tool with water professionals in West Yorkshire, UK. Local Environment, 25 (4), 273-289.

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences