Call for Papers: “Southeast Asian Natures: Defining Environmentalism and the Anthropocene in Southeast Asia”, Palm Springs CA, March 12 – 14, 2018

Call for Papers: “Southeast Asian Natures: Defining Environmentalism and the Anthropocene in Southeast Asia”

Sponsors: UC Riverside Center for Ideas and Society & Southeast Asia Program

Organizers: David Biggs, Christina Schwenkel and Hendrik Maier

Location: Palm Springs CA

Date: March 12 – 14, 2018


Over one hundred fifty years ago, naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace journeyed through the islands of Southeast Asia, drawing from the region’s rich biodiversity to co-discover with Darwin the theory of natural selection. However, even at that time he noted that forests were quickly giving way to colonial clear cuts and species from one island were showing up in the markets of others. The Anthropocene, an era in which human activity has become a dominant shaping force in ecosystems, global climate and species histories, was already underway. Wallace’s environmentalism was also deeply contingent upon imperial networks of travel and communication; the ensuing wars of empire and decolonization left many eco-cultures in tatters. A critical challenge then for policymakers, intellectuals, scientists and others in the region is to articulate new notions of environmentalism that respond to these complex intersections of ecology, history, and culture. As people and governments struggle to articulate locally meaningful responses to Anthropocene problems, scholars, artists and activists can play important roles in identifying ideas of nature, ruin, sustainability and health that resonate locally or inter-regionally. As literary critic Raymond Williams once noted, the word “nature” is one of the most complex in the English vocabulary. If this is so, then how do these ideas fare in translation?

“Southeast Asian Natures” asks participants to consider the complexities of nature and its changes in the many different languages and ecologies of Southeast Asia. Proposed themes of the workshop are purposefully broad, and they include:

  1. histories, ecologies and flows
  2. spatial practices, representations and bio-politics
  3. nature, sustainability and health in language, ritual and performance

Call for Works-in-Progress

Interested participants are invited to email a ~300-word abstract and 2-page cv by July 1 2017 to with subject “SE ASIAN NATURES.” The abstract should outline a project (textual, visual, digital) that engages with the theme of environmentalism and the Anthropocene in Southeast Asia. A 3000 to 4000-word draft essay will be due February 1, 2018 and pre-circulated among the workshop’s participants.

A Pre-Conference Creative Dialogue

Designed as a pre-conference workshop before the American Society for Environmental History Annual Meeting, conference organizers encourage participants to propose panels (due July 14 2017) for the ASEH Meeting set in nearby Riverside CA Mar 14-18, 2017.  (see The aim of SE Asian Natures, above all else, is to initiate a rich, multi-disciplinary conversation with an eye to creating individual and collective scholarly works. Guest participants at the meeting will include scholars working on a Luce Foundation initiative, Asia in the Anthropocene, and editors from the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies.

The Desert as Creative Environment

The workshop takes advantage of UCR’s Palm Desert Campus located 46 miles east of Riverside in the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs CA) to provide an engaging setting. Besides a day-long workshop on Tuesday Mar 13, it will feature a “Species Walk” hike/seminar on Wednesday morning at the UCR Boyd Deep Canyon Nature Reserve ( The walk and lunch at the station will give participants an opportunity to discuss projects informally while learning about local Anthropocene-related issues.

Palm Springs is world-famous for its arts and recreation; and participants are encouraged to explore Palm Springs. The workshop will provide each participant with two nights’ accommodation in a private room at the Saguaro Palm Springs Hotel. The hotel ( is family-friendly and committed to sustainable practices.


Participants are asked to provide their own air and surface transportation to Palm Springs. Workshop organizers regret that they cannot support travel, however they hope that participants will seek conference travel support from home institutions and combine travel to Palm Springs with travel to the nearby Riverside ASEH Meeting. The workshop will provide two vans (~20 passengers) used to transport participants to and from conference venues and on Wednesday afternoon to the ASEH Meeting in Riverside. (Those wishing to avoid driving altogether can reach the conference hotel from Palm Springs Airport by taxi in 5 minutes; and those leaving the ASEH Meeting in Riverside can reach Ontario CA Airport (ONT) by shuttle in twenty minutes.)

Workshop Events

Monday – Mar 12th – welcome at Palm Springs Hotel – 5pm

Tuesday – Mar 13th – workshop at UCR Palm Desert – 830am – 430 pm

Tuesday – Mar 13th – dinner at Palm Springs Hotel – 6-8 pm

Wednesday – Mar 14th – “SpeciesWalk” at UCR Boyd Deep Canyon– 9am to 12pm (vegan box lunch)

Wednesday – Mar 14th – 2pm –shuttle to Mission Inn, Riverside CA

Inclusive Environment

The workshop and the hotel venue are committed to a practice of inclusivity. The hotel is family-friendly, committed to State of California non-discriminatory practices. Conference organizers welcome participants to bring partners, friends and children. Participants are asked to make their own arrangements for child care – however, with advance notice the workshop organizers are happy to assist. There are many outdoor educational opportunities nearby.  Children, friends and partners are welcome to attend the Tuesday dinner and Wednesday walk; participants will be asked to pay for additional meal ($25) and box lunch ($10) costs and to please notify in advance. The Saguaro Hotel is pet friendly, but pets are not permitted at the Palm Desert Campus or nature reserve.

End Products – Meeting in Southeast Asia and Thematic Issues

The workshop organizers will discuss with participants the possibility of organizing a larger SE Asian Natures meeting in Singapore (2019-2020), and depending on participant interest they will work towards developing a special issue of essays for the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies or similar venues.

Queries: Prof. David Biggs – Please write “SE Asian Natures” in subject title.

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