Uprooting the Anthropocene: (re-)centring trees in tree-human relationships

Deep green forest with large tree in the middle

The developing climate crisis forces all disciplines to re-examine their core assumptions.  We face an imperative to reconsider, across timescales, relationships between humans and the environment. This conference invites researchers to develop new perspectives in light of this crisis and to draw inspiration from post-humanist approaches and from the work of indigenous scholars and artists. We will approach trees as trees - both as individuals and as collectives, prioritising their perspectives and arboreality within their distinct ecosystems and environments. Moving beyond previous work that has situated trees within human narratives, this conference will attempt to consider ‘tree-ish’ thinking within a broad range of subjects, from the Humanities to the Social and Natural Sciences. Taking this perspective will allow us to examine how trees, across space and time, have engaged with and formed networks alongside humans and nonhuman others.

Trees have been significant to many human societies, but seldom in the same way. In a Western context, they have spoken to communal cosmologies and stimulated scientific and personal discoveries, served as markers to establish imagined and practical boundaries, and acted as frameworks for representing emotions, genealogy, and human inter-connectedness. However alongside and within this, they have often been reduced to passive objects upon which human agency is enacted. Much of this can be attributed to the Western separation between nature and culture, and our disassociation from our surrounding environments. Our conference will explore the idea that trees and other nonhumans are active, cognisant, and intentional beings- an awareness that has all too often been lost.

We invite contributions for a one-day interdisciplinary conference on tree-human relationships that uproots human-centred assumptions about trees. We invite presentations of 10 and 20 minutes in length, from graduate and early career researchers who specialise in the more-than-human world, as well as those who are curious or only beginning to engage with these themes. Our conference will take place online and will emphasise creative, open discussion and encourage collaboration across disciplines. We also are calling for artistic submissions that engage with the themes of the conference.

Contributions could engage with the following questions, as well as related themes:

  • How can trees, at all stages of their lives, be recentred in narratives concerning human-environment relationships?
  • How might we reconsider how trees have been represented in written and visual materials throughout time and place?
  • How can trees help us challenge Western divisions of nature and culture?
  • How have trees contributed to the construction of human identities?
  • How can indigenous perspectives add to understandings and help to break down colonialist thinking and practices?
  • How can we challenge assumptions that minimise the role of trees in wood and timber objects and construction?
  • Does using ‘trees’ as a scientific category obscure specificity and elide the networks within which all living things are situated?

Abstracts of 250 words or less should be sent to uproot2021@gmail.com by 14th June 2021. We also welcome artistic contributions, in any form that can be shared virtually, submitted by the same date. We will provide a small fee to freelance creatives in recognition of their work. We strongly encourage submissions from indigenous people and people of colour, as well as other groups that are marginalised in the academy. We will do our utmost to meet any accessibility requirements.

Part of Environmental Humanities programme