Technology and Identity in Young Adult Fiction: The Posthuman Subject (2014)

Victoria Flanagan’s point of departure is her description of the field of children and young adults’ literature as governed by an “anti-technology representational paradigm” since the 1980s (2). She links the fears related to this paradigm to the advance of posthumanism, which is often perceived as a threat to the humanities, due to its use of techno-science as an impetus for a radical revaluation of human subjectivity (1). The basic fears underlying this techno-scepticism are that humans are losing their individuality and autonomy and that recent technological advances have compromised the human through changing our social, intellectual and physical lives (1).

Flanagan now perceives a change within the field of children’s literature, arguing that an increasing number of authors are producing more life-affirming narratives about technology. She terms this a paradigm-shift, arguing that it moves away from the dystopian rendering of techno-futuristic fictional worlds, and that the shift corresponds with the positive experiences that real life children have with technology, which they use mostly for entertainment and pleasure (2). The primary facet of this change, Flanagan argues, is that new fictions represent technology as enabling rather than disempowering for child and adolescent subjects – a change that she attributes in part to a change in the attitudes to digital technology that has arisen due to the global increase in internet access since the 1990s. She notes that “YA literature has become increasingly interested in posthuman issues and themes” – a trend not as evident within books for younger readers (7).

Her focus is on the willingness in her selected fictions to portray technology as empowering for child or adolescent subjects. Since the dystopian narratives of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Scott Westerfield’s Uglies are part of Flanagan’s sample material, her thesis of increasing techno-optimism is not an immediately obvious one. However, in the interesting second chapter, Flanagan discusses the narrative representation of posthuman consciousness and subjectivity, looking at the extent to which it differs from more humanist paradigms. Analysing fictions containing robot and cyborg subjects (Metallic Love, Girl Parts, Genesis, Cinder), she argues that the representation of these characters render problematic such concepts as consciousness and agency through interrogating traditional humanist conceptions of selfhood – often through the use of experimental narrative forms, the creation of parodic intertextual references and the use of unreliable narrators. This chapter is obviously useful to Posthuman analysis of children’s texts.

Flanagan also discusses how YA characters are empowered through digital citizenship and digital activism in texts like Little Brother, Homeland and “Anda’s Game”, and devotes a whole chapter to analysing the reworking of female subjects through an emphasis on technology and the body. Discussing Uglies, Skinned, “Anda’s Game” and The Adoration of Jenna Fox, she finds that they all draw from both humanist and posthumanist discourses in their constructions of feminine subjectivity – which also traditionally has been represented through bodily reworking or makeover. The last three narratives feature female protagonist “who are remarkably adept at using technology to assist in self-transformation” (113) – thus actualizing NaChiLit’s concept of techne.

Flanagan’s conclusion is that in their alignment with posthumanism, these YA narratives define subjectivity as collective fractured and plural, with an emphasis on embodiment that is often questioned through the figure of the cyborg. A range of narrative techniques are used to reflect “the fluid, networked and shifting modes of posthuman subjectivity”, with a potential to deepen our understanding of what it means to be human in the techno-future (187), for instance by allowing us to imagine what it feels like to manipulate prosthetic limbs or to develop emotional relationships to robotic others.

(The book is part of the Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature series edited by Kerry Mallan and Clare Bradford.)

Lykke Guanio-Uluru 01.04.2017

Thinking About Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene (2016)

The volume Thinking About Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene, edited by Morten Tønnessen, Kristin Armstrong Oma and Silver Rattasepp, grew out of a conference entitled Animals in the Anthropocene: Human-animal relations in a changing semiosphere (University of Stavanger, Norway, September 2015). The book contains twelve chapters by international researchers from a wide variety of disciplines such as ecology hermeneutics, philosophy, social anthropology, semiotics and linguistics. As is evident from both titles, a core focus of the conference and the volume is the impact of the Anthropocene on our perception of animals, and consequently, the relationship between human and nonhuman animals.

Since “[t]he role and place of animals (…) so far [has] received relatively little attention in the Anthropocene discourse” (p. ix) this book “invites the reader to cast a wider net, and consider the role and place of animals in this geological age” (p. x). The introduction and first chapters offer a nuanced discussion of the notion of the Anthropocene. Susan Rustick states that “[t]he name [Anthropocene] appeals either to a feeling of god-like omnipotence or to a recognition of what incredible damage we have done to the Earth and the biosphere in a blip of time” (p.3). Most of the chapters take up the latter thread with the aim of identifying the various forms of damage.

Of particular interest to some of the ongoing projects in the NaChiLit-research group, are the chapters that deal with interspecies issues (Dufourcq pp. 55-72; Meijer pp.73-88), the relationship between landscape perception and wild animal (wolves) perception (Drenthen pp. 109-126), and the philosophical discussion of animality in man (Brentari pp. 127-144). Taking a problematizing view of the age of the Anthropocene, Eva Meijer claims that “[i]n the languages of other animals, gesture, movements, and other nonverbal expressions play an important role. We can only study these languages properly if we let go of the idea of human language as the only true language” (Meijer p. 81). To follow up this perspective, it is important to study and compare how the communication between human and nonhuman animals is represented in both classic and contemporary children’s books; for example, Black Beauty (Sewell 1877), War Horse (Morpurgo 1982) and Mördarens apa (Wegelius 2014, Murderer’s Ape).

Less common, but of great interest to this reader, were the issues related to ecoacoustics and soundscape ecology raised in the chapter by Almo Farina. The aim of this discussion of the ecological consequences of acoustic noise is “to contribute to the solution of the problems created by acoustic pollution both in human populated areas and in remote and fragile areas” (p. 38). An ecocritical examination of children’s literature could take as a starting point Farina’s investigation of how various representations of sound may influence the overall interpretation of nature in children’s literature, both paper-based and digital.

A general comment I would like to make on the book is the tendency, in virtually every chapter, to conclude with a plea for change; for example, Rustick claims that “[w]e need to listen, to see, to smell, and to touch with a wider sense of self, with compassion, empathy, and respect for all who live here within a living Earth” (p. 17). This gives the impression of activism and of a desire to sharpen readers’ awareness, and to invite them to follow up the various perspectives in other fields of research by thinking about animals in the age of the anthropocene.

Nina Goga 15.03.2017

700-årsflommen. 13 innlegg om klimaendringer, poesi og politikk (2016)

In his book 700-årsflommen [The 700-year Flood. 13 Discussions on Climate Changes, Poetry and Politics], the Norwegian author and essayist Espen Stueland has written 13 texts on climate changes, poetry and politics. He characterizes these texts as contributions to an ongoing debate on how to understand and respond to the consequences of accelerating climate changes (p. 9). His agenda includes an investigation of how the language used to represent climate changes influences our attitudes and behavior. He poses the question: What language do we use when we talk about the nature and environmental challenges? Stueland considers this question in relation to a wide range of discourses: everyday language and experiences; research-based facts; wording and actions in the fields of politics, economics and business life; and representations of nature in the arts and literature.

The book title refers to a term used to denote the scope of a major flood in Western Norway in October 2014. One of the book’s most captivating passages describes Stueland’s own experiences related to this flood in his hometown Voss (ch. 2). On his way home from his daughter’s football practice, he suddenly finds the road flooded with water, and terrified, he watches his daughter disappear into the flood waters a few meters in front of him. She escapes, but they have to leave her bike behind in the water. This scene, combined with other reports and issues regarding the flood, accentuate the urgency of Stueland’s engagement in the climate debate.

Stueland considers the humanities and social sciences to be as important as the natural sciences in the climate discussions, and he refers to debates and research in all these fields. The style and topics chosen are influenced by Stueland’s experiences as an author of poetry, novels, essays and literary criticism. Throughout the book, he introduces poetry by various authors to highlight discussions of environmental issues. His reflections also have a political agenda. Stueland sees a need for a policy that will allow substantial adjustments to be made in order to meet the environmental challenges of today and the future.

The book’s five last chapters emphasize the writing and reading of literature from an ecocritical perspective, and they are of particular interest to the NaChiLit research group. Stueland poses the question: In what ways can literary texts foster ecocritical consciousness? He provides an extensive introduction to, and discussion of, ecocritical theories, supplemented by ecocritical readings of literature. Examples include a study of what he calls toxic poems by authors such as Inger Christensen, Olav H. Hauge and Adam Dickinson; discussions of dystopian and (post) apocalyptic literature, largely based on Theis Ørntoft’s ecopoetry in Digte 2014; reflections on how to review ecocritical literature; and a reading of poems by Tor Ulven in light of deep ecology theory.

The way Stueland brings literary texts into his multifaceted exploration of environmental issues is thought-provoking. Ultimately, the reader is captured not by fixed answers, but by the sincere questions raised regarding how to respond to the urgent climate issues of our time.

Berit W. Bjørlo 01.03.2017

Simians, Cyborgs and Women

Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature was published in 1991 by Donna J. Haraway, now Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department, and Feminist Studies Department, at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Haraway has written a number of books and essays on human-machine and human-animal relations, and particularly on questions concerning science and feminism. Haraway’s scholarly work is grounded in the history of science and biology.

Simians, Cyborgs and Women is a collection of ten previously published essays, written from 1978 through 1989. “It is a book about the invention and reinvention of nature,” Haraway states in the introduction, “perhaps the most central arena of hope, oppression, and contestation for inhabitants of the planet earth in our times” (p. 1).

The book is organized in three parts. In Part One, entitled “Nature as a System of Production and Reproduction”, Haraway problematizes what she calls the “biopolitical narratives” of the sciences of primates, including human beings. She describes the narratives as stories about power, in which, for a privileged cultural group, nature became a story of the hierarchical division of labour, thus naturalizing the inequities of race, sex, and class.

In Part Two, “Contested Readings: Narrative Natures”, Haraway analyzes the emergence of contesting viewpoints and power struggles within modern feminism, and she demonstrates how these processes result in diverse narrative forms and strategies.

The title of Part Three is “Different Politics for Inappropriate/d Others”. Here Haraway discusses “how our ‘natural’ bodies can be reimagined and relived in ways that transform the relations of self and other” (p. 4). This part includes one of her most well-known essays: “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”. The essay, first published in 1985, is considered pivotal in the development of post-humanist theory. A cyborg is a human being with implanted technology that replaces or improves organic functions. Using the term ‘cyborg’ as a metaphor, Haraway claims that it implies a rejection of rigid boundaries, notably those separating ‘human’ from ‘animal’ and ‘human’ from ‘machine’. She stresses that cyborgs do not require a stable Identity.

Based on this, the Manifesto questions traditional notions of feminism, particularly the feminist focus on identity politics. Thus, Haraway calls for a revision of the concept of gender. In a post-gender world, we all are fabricated hybrids of machine and organism, and Haraway states that “The cyborg is our ontology” (p. 150). She points out three boundary breakdowns that can be observed by the late 20th century: the breakdown between human and animal, the permeable boundary between animal-human (organism) and machine, and the imprecise distinction between physical and non-physical. Consequently, “nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other” (p. 151). In this way, Haraway’s cyborg metaphor challenges the anthropocentric paradigm, and thus influencing both post-humanist and environmental discourse.

Ture Schwebs 15.02.2017

The Triumph of Human Empire: Verne, Morris and Stevenson at the End of the World

Mapping was a driving force for knowledge seeking from the beginning of the Enlightenment. When the mapping was completed, an era was closed. The end of the geographically unknown occurred alongside the realization of the extent and significance of human domination of the planet. Thus, the world’s frontiers closed. There were no more open spots on the maps. No more land to conquer nor markets to develop. Man had already developed it all. Thus, decline had to follow.

Previously, ‘The Last Days’ used to be a religious term connected with time. From the 1890s a similar but secular impression was connected to space. “Is it necessary to recall that the earth is not infinite, and that our civilization is close to having invaded it all?” Gabriel Tarde is quoted to have said (p. 9). This decisive turning point in the human consciousness is the event Rosalind Williams studies in The Triumph of Human Empire: Verne, Morris and Stevenson at the End of the World (2013). The outcome would be a deeply felt ambivalence towards the human empire, the so-called Anthropocene, which began with white man’s world power, and was not built on natural sustainability, but on power and arms. However, Williams’ focus is 1890, the moment of the event of consciousness before the anguish was formalized and put into discourse. Therefore, she turns to three artists using their supposed insight into the unexpressed consciousness of their time as her source of knowledge.

Jules Verne (1828 – 1905), William Morris (1834 – 1896) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) all had a distinctive awareness of the ongoing historical change, Williams argues. They were especially worried about the outcome of the expansion of the human empire, the displacement and decline of people and animals who used to preserve a certain stable balance between them. Thus, independently, all three authors turned towards romance in spite of its bad reputation.

According to Williams, romance is a mode rather than a genre. She describes three modes of fiction. The ‘mythical hero’ has supernatural and divine powers. The ‘mimetic hero’ is limited by the ordinary powers of man, conditioned by nature and society. Only the ‘hero’ of romance is something in-between, neither ordinary nor supernatural. He succeeds where everybody fails because he is forced to obey natural forces. The essence of romance is its instinct to show how individual characters are related to larger forces, Stevenson is quoted to have told Victor Hugo (p. 21). Therefore, romance is well suited to express the worry that Homo sapiens does not use his knowledge to the best of the globe.

When Verne, Morris and Stevenson were born, steam was the power of engine. During their life span electricity came to revolutionize all kinds of human activity. They, thus, were inclined to regard probable events as slightly marvelous. At least according to Williams who argues that they did not only restore romance but reinvented it to express new historical conditions. The fact that they all turned to water as a symbol of freedom is explained by the complete maps of their time. Land was no longer a mystery. Air had not yet been traveled through. But the ocean still signified travels of uncertain outcome. Waves and storms were still highly efficient tools to produce literary thrills.

The relevance of Triumph of Human Empire: Verne, Morris and Stevenson at the End of the World to the NaChiLit research project is the reminder that an ecocritical consciousness is not a completely new consideration. Perhaps even more importantly is the insight that literary modes may reveal a world view.

Kristin Ørjasæter, February 1 2017

Young children and the environment: Early education for sustainability

In Young children and the environment, Julie Davis has edited a wide-ranging anthology, covering early education for sustainability from a holistic view. This is consistent through both outline and content of the book.

The book is divided in two parts, a first general part on early childhood education for sustainability (ECEfS) and a second part with international perspectives and examples.

Good literature about young children and early education for sustainability is often biased towards certain dimensions of sustainability. This book covers the four dimensions in ECEfS, building on a rights based approach to sustainability, often manifested as the view of children as agents of change. In the first chapter, Julie Davis sets off with explaining the holistic view and the underlying four dimensions of sustainability. She also shows the evolution of education for sustainability as education about, in and for the environment, and further developing into sustainable education in a rights-based context. After this introduction, the chapters are more specific. Some written by researchers exploring their field of expertise, and other chapters written by pre-school teachers giving hands on insights into their experiences. In the second chapter, Sue Elliott is given space to explore the topic of children in the natural world, while still showing how the holistic view on ECEfS allows also nature activities to rely on all four dimensions of sustainability. In the next two chapters, Gibson and Pratt explore how leadership, practical possibilities and pedagogical approaches can be parts in developing a culture for sustainability within the pre-schools. Later, the role of ethics in ECEfS is explored as well as the role of reconciliation in ECEfS. The next chapters are more specific and address the importance of communication technology or arts in ECEfS, and the connection between food, health and sustainability. Stuhmcke’s chapter on how you may use a children’s environment project to develop a transformative approach binds together this first part of the book.

The first part of the book is general, but the authors and examples are from the Australian context. In part two of the book, ECEfS is explored in different international contexts. From Sweden, the emphasis of care, for one self, each other and the environment is highlighted. While the chapter from Japan highlights how ECEfS can go beyond traditional nature-based activities. From Korea, the background and culture of ECEfS is explained, and a case study show how a pre-school uses a projects approach in their ECEfS’. From Korea, where the focus on ECEfS has increased through governmental policies, the UK chapter tells a different story of how this focus may diminish due to external pressure. Ferreira and Davis round up the book with pinpointing how we may use research and a systems’ approach in ECEfS.

Unlike most anthologies, Young children and the environment is written primarily for bachelor-level pre-school teacher students. In general, many anthologies written by experts on their fields may be less suited to this group, as experts on their fields tend to dig too deep into their fields. For young students early in their studies, this, in combination with the often lacking connection between chapters may be a challenge. In this book, the well-formulated texts are brought together through common philosophies, in their common view on children and on ECEfS. In addition, all the chapters have assignments for the students, as provocations, small thought experiments to perform as you read. The chapters also include exploring frames and review provocations at the end of each chapter. In combination, these makes the impressive amount of information in each chapter more accessible for students. All chapters also, however, include many layers of information and includes references, increasing the books value also for pre-school teachers and researchers within early childhood education.

Marianne Presthus Heggen

Teaching ecocriticism and green cultural studies

Teaching ecocriticism and green cultural studies is an anthology of articles that examine, from various perspectives, so-called eco-critical pedagogy in a humanistic context. The book was edited by Greg Garrard who has written and edited several books and articles about ecocriticism; for example, Ecocriticism (2004) and The Oxford handbook of ecocriticism (2014). In Teaching ecocriticism and green cultural studies, Greg Garrard uses the editor´s overview to present a very precise introduction to the field, including a chronology of the development of ecocriticism and a reference list. These are very useful for readers who are not familiar with the history of this broad field.

In the introduction, Greg Garrard states that ecocriticism has always been preoccupied with pedagogy. One of the intentions of ecocriticism is to develop ecological and critical awareness among students, and ecocriticism is closely linked to activism in teaching. Ecocriticism began at ‘teaching-led’ universities and colleges in the UK and USA, and Gerrard (p. 1) claims that the scholarly elite did not initially take an interest in the movement.

This book also has its roots in colleges and universities in an Anglo-American context. The authors of the thirteen chapters are scholars from different research communities in Canada, the USA and the UK. All of the cases and examples are from English-speaking classrooms in tertiary-education institutions.

The articles incorporate interdisciplinary perspectives on various media and genres, ranging from classical poetry to modern advertisements, you-tube videos, films, travel books and other kinds of non-fiction prose. A large number of ideas, practical tasks and advice are offered to the college teachers who want to employ new texts and unusual teaching strategies. First and foremost, the focus is on what teachers can do, immediately and practically, in their own classrooms. The ideal is to create thoughtful citizens through participatory learning in which the students really get involved in issues related, for example, to nature, the local community, climate change, and the consequences and possibilities of globalization.

The articles describe cases in which the students read, talk, walk, write, create and discuss with each other almost every issue related to nature and humanity. The participating students become engaged in analyzing various cultural constructions of nature, animals and other non-human characters, as well as various human and post-human conflicts and other fields of eco-critical interest. Furthermore, the students are required to use their own creativity and develop a variety of products. For example, in their writing, they address the issues of climate change and the problems of cosmopolitanism in varied ways using different rhetorical and stylistic repertoires. All the examples of courses presented in the articles are very impressive, although they build on well-known pedagogical principles that are already applied in the Nordic countries. Nevertheless, it is possible to gain many new ideas and learn about new materials and references from the book. Many of the articles also include very good theoretical introductions and discussions of the theoretical arguments for employing eco-critical perspectives in education.

Anna Karlskov Skygggebjerg

UTE! Friluftsliv – pedagogiske, historiske og sosiologiske perspektiver

uteUTE! (2016, OUT! Outdoor activities (friluftsliv) – educational, historical and sociological perspectives) is an anthology of research-based articles that add to our knowledge about outdoor activities/friluftsliv. The book is edited by Horgen, Fasting, Lundhaug, Magnussen; & Østrem, and divided into three parts, each of which explores various didactic practices and different landscapes.

In Part 1, Outdoor activities (friluftsliv) in light of the philosophy, play and learning, the first article examines a winter activity as an example of how practical knowledge can be verbalized in tertiary sports education; in this case, students gain experience in digging a snow shelter (kantgrop). Another article presents empirical evidence collected in a study of a sea-kayaking course, exploring adult learning in a practice collective. In contrast, the final article considers children’s autonomous, free play in various landscapes in the local community and analyses the characteristics of such play.

Part 2, Outdoor activities (Friluftsliv) in a teaching context, opens with an article that investigates sustainable didactics in outdoor activities from a school perspective. The second article examines leadership of learning in outdoor locations, and the third narrows this focus to outdoors as the topic in physical education. The last article addresses issues related to the theme of guided nature walks, questioning whether this represents the professionalization or the commercialization of outdoor competence.

In Part 3, Outdoor activities (friluftsliv) in a historical and sociological perspective, more general themes are addressed. The first article examines outdoor activities in the Norwegian population, providing an overview that indicates the various activity types engaged in, and their distribution. The second article investigates the safety hazards associated with various outdoor activities. Another article explores the various factors that motivate participants to undertake long and intense expeditions, based on a case study of a ski trip in the wilderness. Turning to extreme sports, the aim of the fourth article is to identify what motivates people to participate in such risky activities, approaching base jumping from various perspectives. The aim of the final article is to explore the factors that motivate people who choose to work as leaders of peak Climbs.

All the anthology’s contributors and the five editors are employed in the tertiary education sector in Norway. They represent ten different universities in Norway and are all members of the Forum for outdoor activities in higher education.

OUT! is the first message conveyed to the reader through the combination of the title OUT (UTE) and the cover photo, which depicts a late-summer scene in the high mountains, with snow capped summits, sunshine and blue sky. The photograph provides an immediate sense of something magnificent and depicts nature as a whole landscape and as something original. Closer study reveals some tracks in the snow and a small group of people moving across this landscape. The choice of a photo like this sends a clear message regarding what outdoor activities (friluftsliv) are, what nature is, and what landscape is highlighted as an arena for learning and education.

This book is important and relevant for anyone interested in the outdoor life (friluftsliv). In the context of the NaChiLit research group, it will be possible to analyze the articles on the basis of the matrix. The educational practices in the articles will then be positioned in an anthropocentric horizon, with an emphasis on a predominantly celebratory view of nature and only a few references to a problematizing view of nature.

Bjørg Oddrun Hallås