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Contesting 'Green Imperialism':Ecology and rights in South Asian literature

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posted on 14.07.2018, 00:00 authored by Pavithra Kasun TantrigodaPavithra Kasun Tantrigoda
In the last decade, the field of postcolonial ecocriticism has offered important insights into how ecological transformations are intertwined with histories, narratives, and the material practices of colonialism and globalization. Contesting ‘Green Imperialism’: Ecology and Rights in South Asian Literature contributes to critical conversations on how the history of imperialism is pivotal to understanding contemporary environmental trajectories in South Asia. It is the first sustained interdisciplinary inquiry that brings together law, literature and postcolonial ecocriticism to gain a multifaceted understanding of the co-constitution of legal, cultural, political and ecological formations in South Asia.
Contesting ‘Green Imperialism’ examines the onto-epistemic effects of imperial environmental legislation on environmental cultures in South Asia from the 16th century to the present. It focuses on the establishment and diffusion of legal
norms, particularly, the discourses on human rights, and its impact in shaping ecological thinking and practices in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In particular, it inquires into how Western rights discourses colluded with scientific and philosophical discourses of ‘green imperialism’ —the imperial practices of naming and categorizing
nature for imperial purposes of exercising control, creating a “hierarchy of human species…contributing to biologically determinist discourses of race, gender, and
nature” (Grove 1998, 23). Tracing the relationship between rights discourse and colonial and postcolonial ecological thinking and practices as a part of ‘discursive
formation of knowledge and power,’ it underscores the significance of hierarchical classifications of man/nature/colonized in Western rights discourse in shaping
environmental cultures in South Asia. Through a study of South Asian literature, this dissertation demonstrates how
postcolonial legal apparatuses continue to be informed by the ideology of ‘green imperialism,’ converging with the forces of modernity, ‘progress,’ state sovereignty,
and neoliberal development in overdetermined ways. It argues that while Western legal texts on human rights can be read as an archive of ‘green imperialism’ and a
testimony to the onto-epistemic violence on colonial territories and colonized subjects, literature by South Asian novelists—Amitav Ghosh, Romesh Gunesekara,
A. Sivanandan, Chandani Lokuge and Uzma Khan— contests this process in reincorporating nature as a subject of rights and trope for human rights abuses. In
particular, they challenge the taxonomic thinking of the rights discourse by destabilizing and re-envisioning the distinctions between man and nature in several
important ways; the counter discourses they offer participate in the decolonizing process in interrogating Eurocentric ontologies and epistemologies that inform ‘green
imperialism’ in law.




Degree Type




Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marian Aguiar Christopher Warren Douglas Coulson

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