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Abstract

This dissertation is a literary and cultural study of how environmental harm has shaped political life in the global South since the 1950s. It argues against anti-statist orthodoxies in postcolonial literary studies, ecocriticsm, and academia at large to make a recuperative case for the welfare state in the lives of the global poor. The project argues that environmental harms have prompted the poor into agonistic relation with the failures of state welfare and that environmental harm has therefore been central to practices of postcolonial citizenship, the development of the postcolonial interventionist state, and the meanings of welfare to which this form of the state is committed. ,Through a heuristic called dissatisfied citizenship, this dissertation studies how the welfare state is revised and negotiated in India, Nigeria, and the Pacific. I argue that discourses of environmental complaint index popular expectations and desires for better forms of governance in the guise of cataloguing political failures. I find that in doing so these discourses remake a variety of hegemonic political norms to imagine versions of the state that respond more properly to harm. Each of my chapters shows how a different political ideal like national interests, futurity, welfare, and development, while not originally conceived of as addressing environmental harms, is mobilized and amended into a platform for environmental claim-making. By considering the work of global Anglophone novelists and poets like Chinua Achebe, Indra Sinha, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, and Amitav Ghosh alongside popular declarations, juridical cases, and state policies, I reveal how they make up a shared world of political poesis within the discursive archive of particular environmental harms. ,Chapter one begins by exploring the multiplicity of political ideals attached to oil imaginaries in Nigeria. I contrast a minor strain of concern with oil pollution in national legislation and Chinua Achebe’s critique of the violence of resource control in Anthills of the Savannah with dominant conceptions of oil as revenue. I argue that while the view of oil as revenue encourages competition within Nigeria’s federal structure, the former concerns generate alternative political ideals of inclusive community and recognition of enmeshed local and national needs. The second chapter moves from pollution to poison. This chapter compares the testimony of survivors of the Bhopal gas explosion (December 2-3, 1984), widely considered the worst industrial disaster in modern history, legislation surrounding the explosion’s settlement, and Indra Sinha’s novel Animal’s People. I argue that survivor testimonies evoke bodily pain in order to claim foregone promises of government welfare. I then examine Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People which, I argue, posits that post-disaster terms of political relation must arise from the citizenry as they articulate the unpredictable materiality of their toxified bodies.,Chapter three focuses on the place of middle class reform vis-à-vis state development and the history of community based organizations (CBOs) as precedents to the anti-poor bias that has characterized Indian development discourses in the post-1980s. I consider how Arundhati Roy’s The Cost of Living and Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide pose middle class interests as an obstacle to but also a potential source of reform for state priorities that discount the needs of rural populations. The final chapter addresses the threat sea level rise posts to Pacific statehoods and futurity; it considers how national plans for climate adaptation and literary texts like Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’s Iep Jaltok (2017) and Keri Hulme’s Stonefish (2004) imagine both ordinary and extraordinary futures in order to contest the determinism of climate refugeeism.

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