Making amidst extinction: a call for creative practices

Centre for Environmental Humanities, University of Bristol & online, November 2, 2023

How to engage in world making across species? How to work toward world making that enhances the lives of others? And how to do all this in the time of extinctions, knowing, as we must, that we are living amidst the ruination of others?

—Deborah Bird Rose, Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (2011)

Growing awareness of massive biotic diminishment and the accompanying large-scale loss of biological and cultural diversity has led to a surge in academic interest into what has become known as the sixth mass extinction. Centred around the emergent field of critical extinction studies, this concern seeks to establish ‘an interdisciplinary, biocultural approach that can attend to the plural phenomena and entangled significance of extinction’.[i] Broadly speaking, this field comprises humanities and social sciences (including but certainly not limited to the academic fields of ecocriticism, human geography, environmental history and philosophy, cultural studies, and multispecies anthropology) and researches the ways in which the sixth extinction is perceived, experienced, and narrated among different communities and individuals. Defining an expressive mode for this work, Deborah Bird Rose and Thom van Dooren write that storytelling ‘is one of the great arts of witness, and in these difficult times telling lively stories is a deeply committed project, one of engaging with the multitudes of others in their noisy, fleshy living and dying’.[ii] Stories, in their most generous interpretation, Rose writes, ‘have the potential to promote understandings of embodied, relational, contingent ethics’ and can ‘pull readers into ethical proximity’.[iii] This raises the following questions: who is able to join this deeply committed project of telling stories, and what kind of stories are told? Dealing with unprecedented loss, the stories currently told are often driven by a strong elegiac impulse.[iv] As the Australian poet John Kinsella writes in response to the extinction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle: ‘What family / will post your obituary — trapped / in descriptors and comparatives, analogies / and desperate metaphors?’[v] But there are many ways to tell stories, and these are certainly not limited to the spoken and written word.

Auk eggs installation at the Kelp Store, Papa Westray. Photograph is copyright Milo Newman, 2022
Auk eggs installation, Kelp Store, Papa Westray. Photograph © Milo Newman, 2022

In this light, this call for creative practices aims to gather together myriad other modes of expression concerned with extinction and the ways in which biocultural loss affects more-than-human communities. In doing so it seeks to explore alternate modes of telling these extinction stories beyond the elegiac, and beyond the confines of the academic journal or book. Our interest in creative practices here is a broad one, encompassing a range of different mediums, approaches, and forms of creativity. It is about art-making as a process, not just as an outcome; a way for practitioners, researchers, or academics to explore different ways of knowing. Our concern is therefore with the doings of art. We want to explore what ‘“work” art does in the world’ in context of extinction, what it can set in motion.[vi] We think that art does far more here than simply help promote understanding, foster engagement or raise awareness. Instead, we want to explore how (or if!) a plurality of individual creative responses expressing personal emotional, ethical, poetic, critical, and many other reactions to biocultural loss are quietly (or even loudly) involved in the production of new worlds, knowledges, and subjectivities.[vii] To help us explore these ideas we invite contributions from artists, writers, activists, and academics (both individuals and collectives) that seek to make connections between creative practices and biotic diminishment, biodiversity loss, or extinction. While the symposium itself focuses on creative practice, other reflections on extinction are also welcome. We hope to publish some of the work resulting from this event at a later stage. Proposals may include:

  • Written texts, both fiction and nonfiction (4500–5000 words)
  • Poetry (up to five poems)
  • Artworks
  • Film
  • Performance
  • Artistic interventions/reflections/provocations (3500-4000 words)

The symposium will be hybrid. Registration is free; lunch (vegan only) will be provided. Please let us know if you have any allergies.

Please submit abstracts and/or short proposals (300 words, with accompanying images—max. 3—as necessary) to and by 31 August, 2023. While work is welcome in any language, we ask that the presentations and abstracts are in English. Please include a short bio for each contributor. Selected contributors will be notified by September 15, 2023.

This event is generously supported by the Bristol Centre for Environmental Humanities.

[i] Matthew Chrulew and Rick De Vos, ‘Extinction: Stories of Unravelling and Reworlding’, Cultural Studies Review 25.1 (2019): 23–28, 24.

[ii] Thom van Dooren and Deborah Bird Rose, ‘Lively Ethography: Storying Animist Worlds’, Environmental Humanities 8.1 (2016): 77–94, 91.

[iii] Deborah Bird Rose, ‘Slowly ~ Writing into the Anthropocene’, TEXT 20 (2013): 1–14.

[iv] Ursula K. Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

[v] John Kinsella, ‘Not the Postage Stamp of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle!’, Red Room Poetry (2020).

[vi] Harriet Hawkins, For Creative Geographies: Geography, Visual Arts and the Making of Worlds (Milton Park & New York, NY: Routledge, 2012), 6.

[vii] Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought beyond Representation (London: Palgrave, 2009).

Two postdocs available studying peatland restoration controversies

Two postdoctoral positions are available on a new project co-led by Dr James Palmer (University of Bristol) and Dr Kärg Kama (University of Birmingham) exploring peatland restoration controversies.

An active peat mine in Valga County, Estonia. Photograph: Dr Kärg Kama.

The Carbon Futures in the Mire project draws on field research at four peat restoration sites — two in the UK and two in Estonia — to undertake the first social science investigation of the knowledge controversies entailed in ongoing efforts to remake European peatlands as carbon storage resources. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Using a range of qualitative methods — including walking interviews, photovoice and deliberative workshops — the project team will engage closely with local communities and stakeholders to address three key research challenges:

  1. What are the implications of carbon-based imperatives of peat restoration for pre-existing uses and experiences of peatlands — including as a fuel source, fertile soil for agriculture, local commons, clean water reservoir, biodiversity haven and palaeoecological archive?
  2. How does expert scientific knowledge about peat restoration and carbon accounting circulate across diverse socio-ecological contexts, and how does this science inform novel strategies for extracting economic value from peat-scapes?
  3. How might scientists and restoration practitioners collaborate with local communities and stakeholders to co-produce place-specific visions of what healthy peat-scapes of the future should look like and how they should be managed?

The posts are based at Birmingham and Bristol, working on Estonian and UK case-studies respectively.

Both posts are 36-months and can be found on

Informal inquiries should be directed to Dr James Palmer.

You can follow the project on twitter @peatscapes.

Parts of the text above were adapted from the Leverhulme Trust February 2023 newsletter.

Studying the Environmental Humanities

The Centre for Environmental Humanities is launching a new MA Environmental Humanities this year.

We’re excited to share the work of the centre with a new cohort of postgraduate students here in Bristol. The MA programme is drawn from the research strengths of the centre, covering a broad spectrum of disciplinary approaches from within and across the humanities. By bringing together arts and humanities approaches with historical and contemporary environmental concerns, the MA provides space for students to study how human cultures and societies have related to the environment, and to explore how culture can help us respond to ecological crises.

The units that comprise the MA are taught by Centre members who are working at the cutting edge of environmental arts and humanities research. Alongside bespoke environmental humanities units, we draw together expertise from history, English, history of art, archaeology, modern languages, philosophy and innovation to consider environmental humanities in the round. You can find all the units available on the MA here.

Greta Thunberg in Bristol

The MA programme is taught in Bristol – Europe’s first ever Green Capital, and a city famous for its environmental consciousness. The university is home to us, the Centre for Environmental Humanities, and the interdisciplinary Cabot Institute for the Environment.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be speaking to colleagues in the Centre about the units they are teaching on the MA in the coming year, and what they are most excited about. So, watch this space!



PhD opportunity on rewilding and farming in the UK

PhD funding is available for a new research project on rewilding and farming in the UK, based in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol.

The project is funded through the University of Bristol Strategic Fund, and comprises an interdisciplinary component with two PhD scholarships available. One is in Ecology based in the School of Biological Sciences, the other (outlined below) in Human Geography based in the School of Geographical Sciences. Dr Lauren Blake will be the lead supervisor for the latter, along with a wider supervision team within Human Geography and Ecology.

Further information is available on the UoB Human Geography PhD opportunities page here and full details are available at this link. There is also a shorter version on FindaPhD to circulate, and key details below. The deadline to apply is 17th March.

Project brief: Studentship Two (human geography) will focus on the socio-cultural, political, and economic challenges and opportunities of rewilding in the UK. Working under the primary supervision of Dr Lauren Blake, this project will explore the tensions and synergies between rewilding and food production/agriculture, including considering its viability, acceptability, and trade-offs. Policy analysis may also be relevant, as well as current trends towards regenerative and agroecological farming. The research will require primarily qualitative approaches (possibly including participatory/creative methods), but some quantitative methods will also be expected (e.g. survey data). As well as empirical, the PhD project should have strong theoretical grounding. The research will require integrating results from studentship 1 (ecology) to give a holistic understanding of rewilding’s environmental and social potential and feasibility in the UK. The project will require the postgraduate researcher to cultivate their autonomy over the project’s focus and trajectory. The successful student’s particular interests, background, experience, and expertise will heavily shape both the project focus and methodology accordingly. Applicants’ experience and ideas for moulding the potential of the research should be outlined in the application proposal.

Studentship 2 requirements: The successful applicant will have a strong interest in food, farming, conservation and biodiversity, a background in human geography or cognate discipline, experience with mixed research methods including qualitative methods and analysis, and a motivation for self-learning. Applicants must hold/achieve by the start date of the project a minimum of a master’s degree (or international equivalent) in geography or related subject (e.g. sociology, anthropology), and a minimum of a 2:1 at undergraduate level (preferentially a 1st or equivalent). We especially welcome and encourage student applications from under-represented groups: we value a diverse research environment.

Application: Applicants must submit the following as part of their application: any relevant academic transcripts; an up-to-date CV; and arrange for two letters of reference (at least one must be an academic reference). A personal statement is also required, of up to 1,000 words, outlining your motivation for applying to the project, the School, your suitability for postgraduate research, and any relevant experience, skills and personal attributes you want to highlight. In addition, all applicants to Studentship Two should submit a research statement of no more than 1,300 words (excluding bibliography) outlining how you would apply your particular interest, knowledge and skills to the project on rewilding and farming in the UK. The statement should include reflection on key debates on the topic, potential theoretical and methodological approaches, specific geographies of expertise or interest, possible relevant policy, and both specific training and future ambition with respect to the project.

Scholarship details: Studentship stipend of minimum £17,668 per annum subject to eligibility and confirmation of award, plus tuition fees and £2,000 per annum per studentship towards project costs. Duration: 4 years for each studentship. Eligibility: Home/UK and international students.

Application Deadline: 17th March 2023

To discuss the position, please contact Dr Lauren Blake (lead supervisor):

Job vacancy: Lecturer in Historical & Cultural Geographies

The School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol is seeking to appoint a Lecturer in Historical & Cultural Geographies.

From the job advert:

We welcome applications from across historical and cultural geographies, and are open to a plurality of methodological and conceptual approaches and perspectives, as evidenced by our current expertise in more-than-human geographies, historical geographies of emotion, environment and demography, landscape geographies and spatial theory.

We are especially interested in applications from candidates who would extend and diversify our expertise further in areas including geohumanities; cultural and historical geographies of social and environmental change; cultural and historical geographies of race, imperialism and justice.

The deadline for applications is 10 January 2023.

There are several CEH members in the School of Geographical Sciences – so please spread the word among environmental humanities colleagues!

Find the job advert here. 

PhD funding available in the School of Geographical Sciences

The School of Geographical Sciences (University of Bristol) is advertising two funded PhD scholarships, offering four years of fees and maintenance at UKRI rates. The scholarships are in human geography and are for PhD projects which align with one or more of the following areas:

  • Environment / sustainability /climate change
  • Economic, political, and social justice
  • Health and social care
  • Migration and mobilities
  • Sociodigital / data science / technology

The School has research strengths in environmental humanities, geohumanities, environmental history, decolonial geographies, landscape studies and other historical and cultural geography research areas. Several academics and current PhD students in the School are also members of the Centre for Environmental Humanities. The full faculty list for the School is here.

Applicants should contact proposed supervisors within the School prior to making a formal application to the PhD programme or for funding. All applicants must have agreed and written support from supervisors prior to applying. If you would like the CEH’s help with contacting potential supervisors for an environmental humanties or related project, please contact our communications officer.

Find the full advert here.