3 December 2019

Tom Idema receives UU Acceleration Grant

Plastic in zee © iStockphoto.com
Plastic bag pollution in ocean © iStockphoto.com

Last week, Dr Tom Idema (Languages, Literature and Communication) received an University Utrecht Acceleration Grant to fund his research project, titled "Crafting Sustainable Transformation Stories: Opportunities and Challenges of Including Nonhuman Acts, 2000-present". These grants are centred around the theme Pathways to Sustainability and aim to bring together researchers from different disciplines to think about a sustainable future.

Research project

Sustainability challenges such as global warming, soil degradation, and the pollution of water systems, ask not merely for policy solutions backed by science and technology. They require a more comprehensive change in cognitive, emotional, and moral understandings of the relationship between humans and their environment. Narrative is arguably society’s most fecund source of such understandings. Most of the dominant narratives in current Western societies are founded on a profoundly unsustainable logic that divides the human and the nonhuman, figuring the latter as useful at best and often as disposable.

Dr. Tom Idema
Dr Tom Idema

In this current research, developed in dialogue with Dr Brian Dermody (Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Faculty of Geosciences), Idema explores the narrative possibilities of imagining anew the relations among (human) animals, plants, bacteria, water, and soil. The premise is that a revision of narratology is required to account for and to facilitate non-anthropocentric modes of storytelling, which in turn is a crucial element of the transition towards more sustainable societies. Such a revised narratology should be developed in dialogue with systems theory, a key approach in sustainability research that maps the complex interrelations among human and nonhuman actants—for example, in the food system. Notable genres in which non-anthropocentric narratives are currently developed are speculative fiction, popular science, and nature writing.

This research project aims to analyze these narratives and their reception. Furthermore, it will design and facilitate collaborative storytelling practices as a pathway to sustainable futures in dialogue with students, writers, film makers, scientists, policymakers, food producers, and other stakeholders.

Tom Idema

Dr Tom Idema is a lecturer in the department of Literary Studies at Utrecht University. His research is situated at the intersection of literary studies, the environmental humanities, and science and technology studies. Tom is interested in how narratives of human and nonhuman life in literature and science are transforming in an age of technological and environmental upheaval. His book Stages of Transmutation: Science Fiction, Biology, and Environmental Posthumanism (2019), published in the Routledge book series Perspectives on the Non-human in Literature and Culture, won the 2019 OSL book award. Tom’s work has appeared in various edited volumes and in journals including Frame, Configurations, Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, Biosocieties, Green Letters, and Ecozon@. He is a board member of the Benelux Association for the Study of Culture and the Environment and the Dutch ambassador of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSA-EU).