The recent blossoming of material ecocriticism represents a thought-provoking and already prolific extension of the ecocritical field. The central premise of material ecocriticism – the vibrancy of matter, or matter’s agency – has already inspired several ecocritics to look into some of the underexplored aspects to the interplay between humans and the nonhuman world. At present, though, the implications of matter’s agency for environmental consciousness have yet to be explored in full. The recognition that matter has the capacity to affect the world all on its own, independently of human intention, has profound implications for the way we think about all forms of waste, where they go, and what they “do” when they get there. Of equal importance is the dawning awareness that there are exchanges of agentic matter washing across the membranes in the cells of human bodies, as succinctly articulated in Stacy Alaimo’s concept of “transcorporeality.”
Material ecocritical concepts such as these open up for new ways of approaching issues of environmental justice, of addressing the temporal and spatial complexities of slow violence (to use Rob Nixon's influential metaphor), of understanding our porous bodies in their tactile intra-actions with our immediate and extended environment, of engaging with the particular risk scenarios of the Anthropocene, and, as Alaimo asserts, for rethinking our ethical commitment and orientation in the world in posthuman terms. As it already appears to be prompting shifts and modulations to environmental thinking, praxis, and ethics, material ecocriticism has been chosen by the organizers as another of the three frames within which participants in this conference will be encouraged to engage with the topic of environmental consciousness.