The ecological other: Indians, invalids, and immigrants in U.S. environmental thought and literature
Ray, Sarah Jaquette, 1976-
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Ray, Sarah Jaquette, 1976-
This dissertation argues that a fundamental paradox underlies U.S. environmentalism: even as it functions as a critique of dominant social and economic practices, environmentalism simultaneously reinforces many social hierarchies, especially with regard to race, immigration, and disability, despite its claims to recognize the interdependence of human and ecological well-being. This project addresses the related questions: In what ways does environmentalism--as a code of behavioral imperatives and as a set of rhetorical strategies--ironically play a role in the exploitation of land and communities? Along what lines--class, race, ability, gender, nationality, age, and even "sense of place"--do these environmental codes and discourses delineate good and bad environmental behavior? I contend that environmentalism emerged in part to help legitimize U.S. imperial ambitions and support racialized and patriarchal conceptions of national identity. Concern about "the environment" made anxieties about communities of color more palatable than overt racism. Furthermore, "environmentalism's hidden attachments" to whiteness and Manifest Destiny historically aligned the movement with other repressive ideologies, such as eugenics and strict anti-immigration. These "hidden attachments" exist today, yet few have analyzed their contemporary implications, a gap this project fills. In three chapters, I detail nineteenth-century environmentalism's influence on contemporary environmental thought. Each of these three illustrative chapters investigates a distinct category of environmentalism's "ecological others": Native Americans, people with disabilities, and undocumented immigrants. I argue that environmentalism defines these groups as "ecological others" because they are viewed as threats to nature and to the American national body politic. The first illustrative chapter analyzes Native American land claims in Leslie Marmon Silko's 1991 novel, Almanac of the Dead . The second illustrative chapter examines the importance of the fit body in environmental literature and U.S. adventure culture. In the third illustrative chapter, I integrate literary analysis with geographical theories and methods to investigate national security, wilderness protection, and undocumented immigration in the borderland. In a concluding fourth chapter, I analyze works of members of the excluded groups discussed in the first three chapters to show how they transform mainstream environmentalism to bridge social justice and ecological concerns. This dissertation contains previously published material.