Environmental Risk Fiction and Ecocriticism


  • Sylvia Mayer University of Bayreuth




Risk, environmental risck fiction, ecocritical risk scholarship


     Ecocriticism has been at the forefront of introducing risk theory and risk research to literary and cultural studies. The essay surveys this more recent trend in ecocritical scholarship, which began with the new millennium and has focused on the participation of fictional texts in various environmental risk discourses. The study of risk fiction draws our attention to cultural moments of uncertainty, threat, and instability, to risk scenarios both local and planetary—not least the risk scenarios of the Anthropocene in which species consciousness and ‘planetariness’ have become central issues. The essay reviews how key publications have shed light on the cultural and literary historical relevance of environmental risk and on various issues that are central to ecocriticism. It points out how they have sharpened our sense of both the spatial and temporal dimensions of environmental risk and environmental crisis, introduced new categories of ecocritical analysis, contributed to clarifying some of the field’s major conceptual premises, and added a new approach to genre discussions, in particular relating to fiction engaging with global anthropogenic climate change.


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Author Biography

Sylvia Mayer, University of Bayreuth

Sylvia Mayer is professor of American Studies at the University of Bayreuth. Her major research areas are Ecocriticism and African American Studies. Her publications include monographs on Toni Morrison’s novels and on the environmental ethical dimension of New England Regionalist Writing, 1865 –1918. She has edited and co-edited several volumes, among them The Anticipation of Catastrophe. Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture (2014), Beyond Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe (2011), and Restoring the Connection to the Natural World: Essays on the African American Environmental Imagination (2003).  More recently, her work has emerged from a larger project, “Contemporary North American Risk Fiction”, funded by the German Research Foundation. It has focused on the study of environmental risk narratives, climate change fiction and petrofiction.






Articles: Food, Plants, and Interspecies Relations