Listening for Justice: Cultivating Listeners in North American Environmental Justice Literature
Abstract: This dissertation responds to calls for speaking out for
environmental justice with a question: Who is listening? Shifting this critical emphasis
reveals that often there is not a lack of speaking out; there is a lack of listening.
Addressing that issue, Listening for Justice argues that literature's imaginative space
encourages readers to analyze and resist the conventions that ... read moredictate how and to whom they
listen. It breaks new ground by bringing several theoretical communities into conversation:
Environmental Justice, Native American Studies, and Sound, Animal, and Plant Studies.
Building on the work of Native American thinkers such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan,
and Robin Wall Kimmerer as well as Sound Studies scholars such as acoustic ecologist Bernie
Krause and sensory historian Mark Smith, I examine the relational nature of environmental
soundscapes. Rather than noting that someone does not have a voice, this listening
framework asks why a voice isn't listened to. The texts I discuss focus on pressing
environmental issues such as animal ethics, environmental racism, water rights, surface
mining, the legacy of slavery, and the theft and violation of Native lands and sacred
sites. They emphasize that listening to forms of communication not usually considered
meaningful, such as those of plants or industry, creates the potential for action by
expanding what is deemed perceivable and enabling a response that fosters respectful,
sustainable relationships. In Chapters One and Two, I draw on animal and plant studies to
consider the power dynamics of listening in Timothy Findley's Not Wanted on the Voyage
(1984), Simon Ortiz's "Distance" (1999), Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House (1999), and
Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (1988), arguing that these texts describe plants and animals as
beings that must be listened to as our relations. In Chapters Three and Four, I filter Rob
Nixon's conception of slow violence through Sound Studies to examine environmental justice,
audibility, and memory in Ann Pancake's Strange as This Weather Has Been (2007), M.
NourbeSe Philip's Zong! (2008), and Rita Wong's undercurrent (2015). I conclude with an
afterword on the importance of listening and environmental justice for developing a
place-based humanities pedagogy.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2017.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Elizabeth Ammons.
Committee: Modhumita Roy, Nathan Wolff, and James Engell.
Keywords: American literature, Environmental justice, and Environmental education.read less