By Joni Adamson

About Joni Adamson

Joni Adamson is Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Department of English and Senior Sustainability Scholar in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute for Sustainability at Arizona State University. She served as President of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE) in 2012 and co-leads Humanities for the Environment, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seed-funded networking project ( She is the author of American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism (2001) and peer-reviewed articles and chapters on environmental justice, food justice, global indigenous studies, and cosmopolitics. She is coeditor of five collections, including Ecocriticism and Indigenous Studies: Conversations from Earth to Cosmos (forthcoming), American Studies, Ecocriticism, and Citizenship (2013), and The Environmental Justice Reader (2002).

About this Site

Keywords for Environmental Studies analyzes the central terms and debates currently structuring the most exciting research in and across environmental studies, including the environmental humanities, environmental social sciences, sustainability sciences, and the sciences of nature.

The print publication includes sixty essays from humanists, social scientists, and scientists, each written about a single term, reveal the broad range of quantitative and qualitative approaches critical to the state of the field today. From “ecotourism to ecoterrorism,” from genome to species,” this accessible volume illustrates the ways in which scholars are collaborating across disciplinary boundaries to reach shared understandings of key issues—such as extreme weather events or increasing global environmental inequities—in order to facilitate the pursuit of broad collective goals and actions. This site includes the volume’s Introduction,” 7 web essays from the volume, the list of works cited for all the essays, …


A book of this scope, exploring topics this complex and urgent, requires the time and effort of a great number of good-willed people if it is to be done well. All the contributors who accepted our invitations to write, and many other experts in their disciplinary fields who, for various reasons, could not accept our invitations, were generously willing to talk at length with us about the project. Each played a significant role in shaping the book by helping us construct an initial list of over 180 possible terms and then identify names of people qualified to write the essays. Later, they helped us decide how to narrow our list to sixty. We thank each of them for their time, expertise, and influence on our thinking, although all decisions on the final list of keywords were ours alone.

The book was incubated in spaces and places that sharpened our thinking …


Rumors of “fading interest” in the humanities at institutions of higher education appear frequently in the media. However, statistics show that the number of students taking degrees in the disciplines traditionally focused on the study of human culture has remained constant since the 1980s (Bérubé 2013; Lewan 2013; Paul and Graff 2012). Moreover, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, business and education leaders are declaring the “environmental humanities” (history, philosophy, aesthetics, religious studies, literature, theater, film and media studies informed by the most recent research in the sciences of nature and sustainability) crucial to addressing the anthropogenic factors contributing to increasingly extreme weather-related events (drought, fire, hurricanes, melting glaciers, and warming and rising oceans) (Nye et al. 2013; Braidotti et al. 2013).

While stereotypes associated with humanities scholarship (dry discourse analysis, esoteric debates) may have once made these disciplines seem ill suited to addressing crises outside the walls …


This volume creates a new “state of the field” inventory and analysis of the central terms and debates currently structuring the most exciting research in and across environmental studies, including the environmental humanities, environmental social science, sustainability sciences, and the sciences of nature. Inspired in part by Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler’s Keywords for American Cultural Studies, and linked to that volume through Vermonja Alston’s essay, “Environment,” which she revisits and expands here for Keywords for Environmental Studies, we, and each of our contributors, aim to show how, in its broadest sense, the term “environment” enables “a questioning of the relations of power, agency, and responsibility to human and nonhuman environments” (Alston 2007, 103).

The deeper roots of this Keywords project may be found in cultural theorist Raymond Williams’s Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society and the iconic “blank pages” at the end of that volume. Williams …

Note on Classroom Use

Like the other volumes in the series, Keywords for Environmental Studies is designed for use in a broad range of teaching environments, both disciplinary and interdisciplinary. It can also be adapted for use at a variety of levels, from introductory undergraduate courses to graduate seminars. While every essay in the volume has been prepared by a field expert, they are all also written in clear prose crafted to be understood by non-experts.

This is, after all, part of the design of the volume: to create opportunities not only for disciplinary and interdisciplinary conversations, but also for trans- or cross-disciplinary ones, in which we speak to each other across the often artificial divides that separate bodies of knowledge and expertise. (Or, as the essay on “Translation” in the volume suggests, literal divides of language and meaning.) If we learned anything while preparing this volume, it’s not only that every …

Sample Discussion Questions

In our Note on Classroom Use, we outline a variety of ways you might use Keywords for Environmental Studies in the classroom, particularly in developing syllabi and formulating student activities and assignments. In what follows, we provide a broad range of sample discussion questions that you can use to stimulate student conversation and hopefully encourage action.

As you’ll see, rather than provide separate discussion questions for each individual keyword, we’ve grouped the entries into keyword clusters, to help students draw connections among related concepts. We have also further organized the clusters according to the three broad disciplinary divisions that inform environmental studies: environmental humanities, environmental social sciences, and environmental sciences.

These divisions are meant to inspire, not to constrain. (You’ll notice, in fact, that many terms cross from one category to another.) Feel free to mix and match among the different sections, and to invite students to develop their …

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