Empirical Ecocriticism the Theme of ENSCAN Conference

Empirical ecocriticism featured prominently at this year’s conference of the Ecocritical Network for Scandinavian Studies (ENSCAN), which took place on 13-14 June at the University of Helsinki under the auspices of ENSCAN, the Kone Foundation, the Research Project Literature and Reading in the Era of Climate Crisis, and the University of Helsinki’s Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, Environmental Humanities Hub, and Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science. The event was organized by the Finnish pioneers of empirical ecocriticism, Anna Helle (University of Turku), Panu Pihkala, and Toni Lahtinen (both from the University of Helsinki), the latter of whom, was also the editor of the recent empirical ecocritical issue of the journal Joutsen / Svanen, featured on our website earlier this year.

Joined by their collaborator, Olli Löytty, Lahtinen, Helle, and Pihkala opened the conference with a presentation on a study resulting from their empirical project Literature and Reading in the Era of Climate Crisis. Qualitative in its approach, the study investigated the influence of the climate fiction novel Memory of Water (2014) by Emmi Itäranta on high school students. The first day of the conference also included two more empirically oriented papers. Camilla Brudin Borg, a co-editor the recent Swedish volume, Ekokritiska Metoder (Ecocritical Methods), which included a chapter on empirical ecocriticism by W.P. Malecki and Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, presented the paper “Creative Utopian stories as ‘cognitive frame changers’ and ‘future literacy’ builders.” She discussed the results of the interdisciplinary citizen science project “Utopian stories,” which involved “invit[ing] citizens, especially young people, to write utopian stories about a future which will be good for ‘both people and the planet’.” The first day of the conference was concluded with a keynote by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson titled “Empirical Ecocriticism, Environmental Narratives, and Social Change,” which provided a general introduction to empirical ecocriticism and was commented on by the Finnish literary scholar Sanna Karkulehtotha of the University of Jyväskyla.

The other keynote at the conference, given on the second day by W.P. Malecki, focused on the use of experimental methods in empirical ecocriticism and referred to his studies on animal narratives as examples. The keynote was commented on by Lisa Aaltola (University of Turku), a Finnish animal ethicist and public intellectual. The second day of the conference also featured a paper by Janne I. Hukkinen, Nina Janasik, Peeter Vihma (all three of the University of Helsinki) and Antti Mäkelä (Finnish Meteorological Institute), which reported on a study investigating the reactions of “high-level policymakers in three Finnish cities (Helsinki, Tampere, Kotka)” to an “audio-visual dashboard” that “narrated with videos and animations a plausible polycrisis of floods, heatwaves, and forest fires that each city m[ight] experience frequently in the future.”  

The conference featured more papers, all of them of excellent quality, which we are not describing here, however, as they were not of empirical character. What is important from the perspective of this website is that the above-described presence of empirical ecocriticism at what is the key annual conference in ecocriticism in Scandinavia, shows its growing role in the environmental humanities in the region.