Empirical Ecocriticism Workshop in Utrecht: The magic that happens when people get together and talk


The magic that happens when people get together and talk

On June 10th 2022, Karin Fikkers and Frank Hakemulder organized a networking workshop on empirical ecocriticism at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Their goal for the networkshop was to stimulate work in empirical ecocriticism by bringing together a select group of international researchers who are all interested in environmental narratives, but from different perspectives (e.g.,  Humanities, Social Sciences).

This workshop had long been in the making. In November 2019, Karin and Frank (together with Helen Vossen) had been awarded an ‘acceleration grant’ to promote interdisciplinary collaboration from the Utrecht University’s strategic theme ‘Pathways to Sustainability’. Shortly after, they invited colleagues for a workshop originally scheduled in May 2020. Unfortunately, the workshop had to be postponed due to the covid pandemic.

But on the morning of June 10th, two years later than planned, we were thrilled to finally see everyone in person at the Janskerkhof in Utrecht for coffee, tea, and home-made cookies. We welcomed junior and senior scholars from various European countries and academic backgrounds at our workshop:

  1. Markus Appel (professor at the Department of Psychology of Communication and New Media, University of Würzburg, Germany)
  2. Matilda Davidsson (doctoral student at the Department of Film and Literature, Linnaeus University, Sweden)
  3. Judith Eckenhoff (doctoral student at the department of English and American studies, Aachen University, Germany)
  4. Karin Fikkers (assistant professor at Department of Languages, Literature, and Communication, Utrecht University)
  5. Frank Hakemulder (assistant professor at the Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University)
  6. Judith Keilbach (associate professor at the Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht Universtity)
  7. Wojciech Malecki (associate professor of literary theory, University of Wrocław, Poland)
  8. Nicolai Skiveren (doctoral student at the department of English, Aarhus University, Denmark)
  9. Freya Sukalla (research associate at the Institute of communication and media studies, University of Leipzich, Germany)
  10. Alexa Weik von Mossner (associate professor of American Studies, University of Klagenfurt, Austria)
  11. Julia Winkler (doctoral student at the Department of Psychology of Communication and New Media, University of Würzburg, Germany).

We started the day with a short introduction on the short history of empirical ecocriticism and an interactive exercise to get to know one another. We then broke up in pairs (and one trio) to discuss each other’s work. Before the workshop, all participants sent in one or two publications that were relevant to the theme of the workshop on environmental narratives. Karin and Frank paired all participants and asked everyone to read (at least) the publication of their partner before the workshop. We then spent one hour in these small groups to find points of common interest and shared these insights on posters with the rest on the group. Although this was not a competition, some workshop participants felt that they had clearly created ‘the best poster’.

After an inspiring discussion in the morning, a walking lunch took us through the old center of Utrecht to the Pandhof next to the Dom church. Invigorated by food and lively discussions, we continued the afternoon by breaking out in groups around three themes: different forms of environmental narratives (film, games, social media); content creators and their role as gatekeepers; and mediators of environmental narrative effects. These newly mixed groups came up with several ideas for research projects (and even an entire grant proposal) that we can work towards as a group of scholars bringing in different types of expertise. Moderated by Hans Hoeken (professor of language and communication, Utrecht University), this discussion resulted in more concrete ideas for collaborations that may become the building blocks of in larger projects.

Near the end of the afternoon, while enjoying some drinks and snacks, we rounded up the networkshop by reflecting on what we had learned during the day and concrete next steps that everyone wanted to take. When asked to describe their experience of the workshop in one word, participants were unanimous in their positive experiences, using words such as ‘engaging’, ‘hopeful’, and even ‘bliss’. In style with the theme of today, we ended the workshop with drinks and then dinner at vegan restaurant Gys in Utrecht city center.

After the ‘inaugural symposium’ on empirical ecocriticism at the Rachel Carson center in December 2018 and now this workshop in Utrecht, we hope to see more events that bring scholars of different disciplines together. There truly is magic to be found when people get together and talk!