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Nature of Nature
Ashley Dawson: Hope in a Time of Extinction

Some thousands of years ago, the world was home to an immense variety of large mammals. From wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers to giant ground sloths and armadillos the size of automobiles, these spectacular creatures roamed freely. Then human beings arrived. Devouring their way down the food chain as they spread across the planet, they began a process of voracious extinction that has continued to the present. Headlines today are made by the existential threat confronting remaining large animals such as rhinos and pandas. But the devastation summoned by humans extends to humbler realms of creatures including beetles, bats and butterflies. Researchers generally agree that the current extinction rate is nothing short of catastrophic. Currently the earth is losing about a hundred species every day.
In this talk, I contend that this relentless extinction is the product of a global attack on the commons, the great trove of air, water, plants and creatures, as well as collectively created cultural forms such as language, that have been regarded traditionally as the inheritance of humanity as a whole. This attack has its genesis in the need for capital to expand relentlessly into all spheres of life. Extinction, Dawson argues, cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of our economic system. To achieve this we need to transgress the boundaries between science, environmentalism and radical politics.
Ashley Dawson is Professor of English at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and at the College of Staten Island/CUNY. He is the author of Extinction: A Radical History (O/R Press, 2016), The Routledge Concise History of Twentieth-Century British Literature (2013) and Mongrel Nation: Diasporic Culture and the Making of Postcolonial Britain (Michigan, 2007). He is also co-editor of four essay collections: Against Apartheid: The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities (Haymarket, 2015), Democracy, the State, and the Struggle for Global Justice (Routledge, 2009); Dangerous Professors: Academic Freedom and the National Security Campus (Michigan, 2009); and Exceptional State: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the New Imperialism (Duke, 2007). A former editor of Social Text Online and of the AAUP’s Journal of Academic Freedom, he is currently completing work on a book entitled Extreme City: Climate Change and the Urban Future for Verso.

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