Special Issue on Empirical Ecocriticism in Finnish Literary Journal

A special issue on empirical ecocriticism is now out in Joutsen / Svanen, a multilingual, peer-reviewed, annual publication on literary and cultural research that focuses on Finnish literature. Co-edited by Toni Lahtinen and Olli Löytty, it was published in Autumn 2022. Since the articles are freely available online, each one can be accessed in English via Google Translate. Anna Helle, one of the contributors, summarized each article for us.

The first article, “Kirjallisuus ilmastonmuutoksen aikakautena. Näkökulmia empiiriseen ekokritiikkiin” (“Literature in the Era of Climate Change. Perspectives on Empirical Ecocriticism”), by Toni Lahtinen and Olli Löytty, deals with Finnish climate fiction, narrative empathy, and empirical ecocriticism in Finland. The authors point out that climate fiction affects readers in different ways and empirical research is needed in order to gain knowledge about the various impacts.

Kirjallisuuden ympäristötunteet ja empiirinen ekokritiikki” (“Empirical Ecocriticism and Ecological Emotions in Literature”), by Panu Pihkala and Anna Helle, combines research about literature and emotions and multidisciplinary research about eco-emotions. Pihkala and Helle discuss various eco-emotions and multiple ways in which they may be explored in various texts. They argue that empirical ecocriticism is essential in evaluating the dynamics of eco-emotions caused by texts, since their dynamics are so complex.

Kirjallisuus ja lukeminen ympäristökasvatuksessa” (“Literature and Reading in Environmental Education”), written by Toni Lahtinen, Satu Grünthal and Veli-Matti Värri, focuses on how literature can be utilized in environmental education. The article combines viewpoints of philosophy of education, literary study, and literacy research. The authors emphasize that cooperation between these fields must be increased to enhance eco-social education in schools.  

Eevastiina Kinnunen considers what the creative reading groups can offer when dealing with environmental issues in “Yhdessä lukeminen, kertomukset ja ympäristö. Luovan lukupiirityöskentelyn mahdollisuuksia ympäristökriisin aikakaudella” (“Reading Together, Narratives, and Environment. The Possibilities of Creative Reading Groups in the Era of Environmental Crisis”). Drawing from biblio/poetry therapy, Kinnunen finds much potential in reading groups for engaging with various difficult affective dimensions of the ecological crisis.

The fifth article, ”Ehdotuksia luovan kirjoittamisen ympäristöpedagogiikaksi” (”Suggestions for Environmental Pedagogy of Creative Writing”), by Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, Henna Laininen, Risto Niemi-Pynttäri and Nina Sääskilahti, outlines certain practices through which environmental issues can be taken into account when teaching creative writing. Koistinen and colleagues argue that the pedagogy of environmental writing needs to shift from observations about nature towards environmental sensitivity, i.e. crafting sensitive relations to the nonhuman. Writing thus becomes a negotiation with, and within, the environment. In addition, the article discusses an empirical example of how creative writing may help people to cope with environmental emotions as well as strengthen environmental agency.

Heidi Toivonen focuses on non-human agency in her empirical case study “Ei-inhimillisen ympäristön monimutkaiset toimijuudet. Haastattelututkimus ympäristönovelleista” (“The Complex Agencies of Non-Human Environment. Interview Study on Environmental Short Stories”). Conducting a discourse analysis on interviews where participants read one of three short, non-human oriented short stories, she shows how a structured discussion on the stories can evoke complex constructions of agency attributed to the nonhuman. These constructions seem to nuance and complicate traditional, often simpler positions of agency constructed for nonhuman beings, processes, or entities in everyday language, and thus, push our thinking to take into account the nonhuman perspectives in new and richer ways.

This special issue is the first product of a multi-year research project about empirical ecocriticism funded by the Kone Foundation. Led by literature scholar Toni Lahtinen, the project is based at the University of Helsinki, but includes researchers from many Finnish universities. Information about the project can be found both in Finnish and English at its website.