Ursula Heise is Marcia Howard Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Department of English and at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA. This lecture was given at the Green Citizenship symposium, an international event on citizenship, environmental change and sustainability organized by the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University.
The lecture focuses on the political tensions between biodiversity conservation and environmental justice over the last thirty years, which have centered on the privileging of nonhuman species over the welfare of disenfranchised human communities. Through the analysis of three fictional texts that stage this confrontation, Mayra Montero’s Tú, la oscuridad (In the Palm of Darkness, 1995), the Stanford Graphic Novel Project’s Virunga (2009), and Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide (2005), the presentation will develop the notion of “multispecies justice.” As a theoretical concept, multispecies justice draws on multispecies ethnography, studies of cosmopolitanism, critical animal studies, and Actor-Network-Theory to propose a model for combining justice for different human communities with justice for other species. It proposes that “the human” as a species category should not be assumed as a biological given, but assembled – in both the technical and the political sense of the word – from cultural differences. These differences will also inflect the parallel assembly of what justice means in particular contexts, especially in relation to the avoidable and unavoidable forms of violence that typically accompany encounters between different human communities and between species.