Narrativity and environmental poetics at the dawn of the climate crisis

The recent reports on the consequences of global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) once again urged industrial societies to change their relationship to the planet. Released in September 2019, August 2021 and February 2022[1], at the same time as the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, these reports reinforce the multiple voices of researchers and environmental activists calling institutions and enterprises to take responsibility for climate change. The data on climate change and the danger for the survival of humans, animals and the environment – which gave rise to the slogan “There is no Planet B” – make us understand the urgency of taking action. It is pivotal to steer contemporary economies towards an ecological and social reconversion, including the drastic reduction in the exploitation of the world and its people, and the recovery of the ecosystems. Legal litigations on the conflicts of economic, environmental and social interests are growing and those responsible for eco-disasters are being challenged. It seems that a turning point has been reached with the condemnation in May 2021 of Shell for polluting the Nigerian Niger-Delta region and that of the French state in February 2021 for inactivity in counteracting climate change. To stick with an animal metaphor, it is important to remember that “a tiger does not change its stripes” and that the conversion to sustainability by industries and states may prove ephemeral and inconclusive, all the more so in a war situation like the one that started in Eastern Europe in 2022.

However, the ‘colonial’ approach to the world, due to those who think they are “masters and possessors of nature” in the words of Descartes and leading to the depletion of resources perceived as unlimited, is neither shared by all nor of all times. The songs of the Lamal ritual among the Samburu of Kenya[2], as well as the tale of the over-skilled hunter of the Serer of Senegal, for example, direct the narrative towards a relationship with living beings and geophysical forces and objects that is distant from the “devouring” attitude towards the world in the Cartesian words. How can such oral narratives make sense in the context of current environmental concerns? Should we rethink the often-allegorical analyses (Iheka 2018) of the past on the geo/zoo/etho/biological elements of oral and written literatures? What inspiration can oral literature provide for the renewal of African literary studies on the relationship between literature and the natural environment? And what inspiration for discourses and practices of industrial societies in Africa and elsewhere in the face of the present climate crisis?

Since the 1990s, ecocriticism and ecopoetics, the latter emphasising the literary aesthetics linked to ecological matters, have focused on environmental issues in literature. We can say that the new directions of criticisms pay increased attention to narratives that question and decentralize anthropocentric thinking. Such narratives rearticulate the nature/culture relationship and the notions of otherness and of the ‘wilderness’ of nature as well, all too firmly posited by previous philosophical thinking as well as by the structuralist approaches of the 1960s-1980s (e.g. Barry 2009, Descola 2011, Garnier 2022, Ijeka 2018, Iovino and Oppermann 2012, Schoentjes 2015, Posthumus 2013, etc.). Though rooted in written productions, ecopoetics is beginning to open up to orality and its functioning in the lived experience of environments: sounds, colours and movements, the sensitive attention paid to places and relationships, and the knowledge that is constructed there (Bourlet, Lorin and Morand 2020). [3]

The theme for the 14th Isola Conference – “Humans and Non-Humans in African Verbal Arts: Narrativity and Environmental Poetics at the Dawn of the Climate Crisis” – proposes to investigate oral literatures in Africa and the Diaspora from the perspective of multiple approaches that place the relationship between the verbal arts and the environment at the centre of the research.

Please visit the conference website for all other information pertaining to the 2023 conference:

Contact address :

Conference will start Wednesday 5th July at 1pm and will end Friday 7th with the gala dinner.



Organising Committee

Sandra Bornand (LLACAN, CNRS-INALCO)

Hermelind Le Doeuff, PhD student (LACITO, CNRS-Sorbonne Nouvelle)

Philippe Glâtre, PhD student (LACITO, CNRS-Sorbonne Nouvelle)

Cécile Leguy (LACITO, CNRS-Sorbonne Nouvelle-INALCO)

Daniela Merolla (LACNAD, INALCO)

Katell Morand (Université Paris Nanterre, CREM-LESC)

Responsible for the conference for ISOLA: Akintunde Akinyemi, University of Florida, Gainesville (USA), Vice-President.


Scientific Committee

Akintunde Akinyemi (University of Florida, United States)

Elara Bertho (LAM, CNRS, France)

Julien Bondaz (Université Lumière Lyon 2, France)

Sandra Bornand (LLACAN, CNRS, France)

Alice Degorce (IMAF, IRD, France)

Xavier Garnier (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle & Institut universitaire de France)

Giovanni Gugg (Université « Federico II », Naples, Italie)

Benoît Hazard (IIAC, CNRS, France)

Éric Jolly (IMAF, CNRS, France)

Maëline Le Lay (THALIM, CNRS, France)

Cécile Leguy (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, France)

Christine Le Quellec-Cottier (Université de Lausanne, Suisse)

Tendai Mangena (Great Zimbabwe University, Zimbabwe)

Daniela Merolla (LACNAD, INALCO, France)

Katell Morand (Université Paris Nanterre/CREM-LESC, France)

Ghirmai Negash (Ohio University, United States)

Rose Opondo (Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya)

Annachiara Raia (Leiden University, Netherlands)

Paulette Roulon-Doko (LLACAN, CNRS, France)

Mohand Akli Salhi (Université Mouloud Mammeri, Tizi-Ouzou, Algeria)

Alain Sanou (Université Ki-Zerbo, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)

Antoinette Tidjani Alou (Université Abdou Moumouni, Niamey, Niger)

Jacomien van Niekerk (University of Pretoria, South Africa)

Felicity Wood (University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa)