Paloma Chaterji is a PhD scholar at St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata, India and serves as guest faculty at an Indian university. She is a recipient of the Microsoft Create to Inspire Fellowship (2015), which campaigned against the accumulation of electronic waste through performing arts. Her areas of interest include feminist studies, Indian writing in English, literature and environment, and spatial studies. E-mail: chaterjipaloma5@gmail.com


Contextualizing Identity through Environmental Consciousness in Southeast Asian Fictions

Abstract: The human-nature interface is constantly altered in response to rapid environmental changes along with socio-political developments. The ecologies of Southeast Asia are also politically charged spaces engaging with colonial, postcolonial, and neocolonial interferences that impact the place-specific behaviors of their inhabitants. Although divided by interregional differences, the countries within this geographical milieu remain connected in the spatial construct called “Southeast Asia.” The literary texts set in this region often collaborate on multiple levels as they deal with ecological consciousness vis-à-vis social changes. Dealing with spatial and identity crises, the negotiations of characters with their environments reinstate selfhood in relation to ethnicity and gender. Reading a selection of texts from Merlinda Bobis (Philippines), Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia), and Easterine Kire and Temsula Ao (North-east India), this paper asks if ecological consciousness has the potential to challenge power structures like patriarchy, colonialism, and globalization. The paper adopts a postcolonial approach to locate the “othering” of communities and/or individuals, interrogating the layers of complex functioning amongst human, nature, society, culture, and tradition. Revisiting the connection between ecology and feminism, the paper attempts to reassess the collapse of the nature-culture binary to evaluate the repositioning of gender in traditional communities. Exploring the multiple cultures and histories within these texts, the paper analyzes the struggle to retain one’s identity, as characters navigate from displacement to emplacement, often nurturing an ethics that dismantles human hubris and questions the anthropocentric social order.
Keywords: postcolonialism, women, ecology, identity, Southeast Asia