DFG Project: "The Environmental Imagination of Mobility: Umwelt und Migration in amerikanischer Gegenwartsdichtung"

The global environmental crisis and intensifying migration movements are among the greatest challenges of our time, yet they are only beginning to be understood as interrelated. So far, this junction has mainly been studied in the social sciences; in literary and cultural studies, however, environmental and migratory developments are still discussed as largely separate issues. This separation is particularly surprising since there is a substantial body of contemporary poetry that links environmental perspectives with questions of global migration in conceptually complex, historically informed and aesthetically innovative ways. The project combines approaches from ecocriticism and migration studies to address this significant gap in research and to investigate how these poems, in their ethnic and geographical diversity, global connectedness, and formal density contribute to current debates about environmental change and human migration as interrelated phenomena.

The project will demonstrate, first, which new insights recent American poetry enables regarding the links between environmental crisis and human migration movements, pointing beyond one-dimensional cause and effect patterns that sometimes inform discussions about climate refugees. These include alternative views of migration as productive source of highly sensitive environmental insights, and as integral to culturally specific ways of relating to place—in spite of the profound crises related to displacement and the sense of being uprooted. Second, the project will show how poems that address the environment and migration together contribute to the ongoing reconstitution of American culture at the turn of the 21st century, up and against traditional concepts of America as ‘nature’s nation’ and ‘nation of immigrants.’ Such poems revise cultural patterns of rural nostalgia, westward movement and the frontier by linking them to issues of human and non-human movement, environmental risk, and a global disequilibrium ecology, and by constructing American landscapes as mobile places. Third, the project investigates how these texts engage the formal and stylistic possibilities of poetry to negotiate environmental and migratory concerns together, identifies new subgenres that emerge from this junction, and discusses their significance for the development of American literature. Methodologically, the project takes the approach of poetry analysis as social criticism further towards a combined social and environmental analysis of poetic texts, and brings ecocritical discussions of place into dialog with concepts recently discussed by cultural geographers in order to establish place, displacement and emplacement as mobile categories. In conjunction with in-depth interpretations of a new, far under-researched corpus of texts, the project develops an environmental-migratory paradigm whose productivity also points beyond the analysis of contemporary American poetry.