Numerous scientific reports clearly describe the drastically declining health of species and ecosystems worldwide, but most of them fail to emphasize the cultural narratives, power relations, and historical dynamics that are behind these ecological declines. Prevalent cultural narratives and root metaphors are not serving us to relate with the living systems of our planet—ourselves included—in a healthy manner.
Cultural studies can help us both to understand our current predicament and to respond to it in a meaningful way. To be able to serve this important task, cultural studies has to increase its ecological literacy as well as to overcome its ingrained biophysical insensitivity and energy blindness. Cultural theory has traditionally had trouble confronting the socioecological crisis. Many interventions in cultural studies seem to be unaware that we are living within a dying planet. This makes our field complicit in perpetuating outdated cultural narratives that prevent us from thinking, articulating, expressing, and envisioning desirable postgrowth futures and regenerative cultural practices. Contributing toward moving cultural studies in this direction is the main purpose of A Companion to Spanish Environmental Cultural Studies.
Fortunately, during the last decade the field has begun to rapidly change as a critical mass of Spanish cultural scholars are seriously contesting these common erasures, overtly confronting the socioecological crisis and striving to transform the field by enriching it with insights from environmental humanities, political ecology, and other transdisciplinary perspectives. Most of these pioneering voices are represented in this Companion.
Some key questions animate this project: How are cultural narratives and practices related to inequality as well as processes of extinction, energy, toxicity, and climate disruption? How is Spanish cultural studies responding to rapidly changing biophysical and social conditions? How do Spanish environmental cultural scholars contribute to make sense of the ecological crisis? What current dilemmas face the field and what are some promising possibilities moving forward?
This book investigates if there is anything specific about the Spanish context in the midst of the global socioecological crisis. Other than the cultural, geographical, climatic, and geopolitical specificities explored by many of the book contributors, there seems to be nothing properly Spanish about our ecological predicament: ecological overshoot is a condition that happens at a planetary scale, although it manifests with different intensities and uneven distributions of responsibilities and risks. Analyzing cultural responses to global socioecological issues from the reductionist lens of methodological nationalism can lead scholars to interpret—or worse, to celebrate—specific manifestations of uneven capitalist socio-spatial developments as national idiosyncrasies. Scholars working on Spanish environmental cultural studies will have to inevitably face and negotiate this conundrum.
When I committed to work on this Companion, the first step was to enumerate several topics that I considered crucial for a critical shaping and understanding of Spanish environmental cultural studies: political ecology, environmental cultural history, water, extractivism, memory, multispecies studies, food studies, ecofeminism, decoloniality, tourism, visual culture, and waste. Then, I invited a group of outstanding incisive Spanish cultural scholars to tap into these issues. Contributors were given the challenging task of writing short pieces intended to be both intellectually rigorous and reader-friendly. They all exceeded my expectations.
All the contributions within this Companion, taken together, are crucial in doing three things: 1) helping with the understanding and critical shaping of the rapidly emerging field of Spanish environmental cultural studies, 2) exemplifying the importance of Spanish environmental cultural studies in redefining and rethinking Spanish literary and cultural studies given the current context of mass extinction, energy decline, social inequality, and ecological breakdown, and 3) showing how this rapidly emerging field clearly illuminates cultural texts, processes, and practices in unexpected and fruitful ways—therefore, providing models for how other Spanish cultural scholars and students can respond critically to the most important challenges of our time.
This guest post was written by LUIS I. PRÁDANOS, who is Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Miami University, Ohio.