Can Climate Fiction Novels Inspire Social Change? A Literary and Empirical Ecocritical Analysis

Claire Davidson

Student Name: Claire Davidson
Majors: Sociology, English
Advisors: David McConnell, Susanna Sacks

Dr. Melissa M. Schultz Sustainability and the Environment Award

Collective action to combat climate change first requires individuals to recognize their responsibility in the fight for a better future. With the urgent need for more to develop a climate awareness, novels may be a powerful tool to motivate that cultural mindset shift. My Independent Study raises the central research question: can novels depicting the disproportionate societal impacts of climate change generate sympathy for environmental situations beyond the reader’s immediate community? If so, how? I draw from Ulrich Beck’s encouragement of social scientific research that is cosmopolitan and multi-perspectival to propose the form of storytelling that may drive one to act against climate change. Then, I conduct a literary analysis of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver and Oil on Water by Helon Habila—where negative environmental conditions underscore the societal dangers of climate change in the present day. I further propose a mixed-methods sociological study to empirically determine whether climate fiction novels can galvanize readers to rethink their personal contributions to climate change. The longitudinal study asks affluent white Americans to participate in discussion groups and formal interviews to examine whether reading climate fiction influences personal action against climate change. Inspired by the emerging research field of empirical ecocriticism, my Independent Study highlights how future interdisciplinary approaches are necessary towards understanding the potential of novels to provoke systemic environmental changes that support vulnerable communities and planetary wellbeing.

Claire will be online to field comments on April 16: Noon-2 pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

Posted in I.S. Symposium 2021, Independent Study.

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