In an increasingly globalized world, environmental education has become increasingly relevant and realizable at a broad scale—not to mention increasingly urgent. In its constant struggle to reinvent itself, the discourse has faced several questions: how to bridge disciplines, how to regard the issue of “environmental justice” (should social concerns win out over environmental?), and how to regard issues of “place” (is sense of place still important in our mobile society? Is placelessness to blame for our destructive tendencies?)
This project is a tentative response to all three questions. First, I believe the English classroom is an appropriate space for inquiry into the relationship between humans and the environment. Further, literature is an underutilized tool in such inquiries. Further still, a multi-genre approach to literature is even better; it crosses more disciplines and pushes the discourse forward while also producing significant outcomes for the student-inquirer. (Personal understanding and responsibility are a primary goal of environmental education). Second—and third—my particular guiding question in this project combines the theme of environmental justice with the theme of place. The question is how does extreme poverty influence an individual’s sense of place?
I’m particularly interested in the idea of trash; how does living among others’ garbage affect one’s conception and attachment to place? However, canonical literature doesn’t often mention landfills explicitly. For this reason, I’ll begin by comparing the abject poverty of the Behala landfill in Andy Mulligan’s recent novel Trash to other texts, canonical as well as young adolescent, involving impoverished places. After grounding the topic in a discussion of this relationship between poverty and place, I will delve deeper into the specific space of the landfill.