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Upcoming conference explores the unique spaces of port cities

OCT. 24-26: Concordia hosts the 6th edition of an international ‘ecotones’ series
October 11, 2019
Nalini Mohabir: “We want to think about the complexities of encounters in the port city through geography, arts, and literature.” | Photo by Claude Robillard (Flickr CC)

How can we examine the transition between distinct ecological communities through the lenses of social science and the humanities?

These questions lie at the heart of ‘ecotone’ studies, which seek to understand places where two communities meet. An ecotone in ecology is defined as a transition area between two biomes.

Borrowing from environmental sciences, this conference explores how “ecotones” can be applied to other disciplines, and specifically to the cross-cutting spaces of community in a port city.

Post/Colonial Ports: Place and Nonplace in the Ecotone, coming up at Concordia from October 24 to 26, will take advantage of Montreal’s unique backdrop as a linguistically and ethnically diverse port city whose waterways facilitated colonial expansion.

“We want to think about the complexities of encounters in the port city through geography, arts, and literature,” says co-organizer Nalini Mohabir, assistant professor in the department of Geography, Planning and Environment in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

“My own interest in port cities stems from my current research on the transnational connections that link 1969 Montreal to the Caribbean through currents of radical Black student protests, a reversal of power flows that connect the Caribbean to Quebec through trade.”

The Ecotones conference series — hosted by Études Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone (EMMA) at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, Coastal Carolina University (South Carolina) and MIGRINTER (UMR CNRS-Poitiers, France) — began in 2015 with a conference in Amsterdam, and subsequent events in Montpellier, London, and most recently, New York.

Mohabir co-organized the fourth edition of the series, Ecotones 4: Partitions and Borders, held in Kolkata, India.

Studying port cities

As a geographer, the subject of ecotones holds a particular fascination for André Roy, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

“Our faculty excel in cross-disciplinary research and teaching, and supporting this conference, which examines the intersection of ecosystems from various perspectives is a natural fit for us.”

Mohabir co-organized the conference with faculty colleague Jill Didur, a professor in the Department of English, and associate dean of faculty affairs, as well as partners in France and the U.S.

“The metaphor of the ‘ecotone’ as a ‘transitional area between two ecosystems, for example between land and sea’ is very relevant to the research and teaching I do in the environmental humanities,” says Didur.

“I am particularly interested in tracing the circulation of plants, botanical knowledge, and garden aesthetics as represented in literature and travel writing during the colonial period. Like other forms of resource extraction, this activity took place in an ‘ecotone’ shaped by the process of imperialism, globalization, and the era of the Anthropocene.”

Writers Read

Part of the conference programming includes a Writers’ Read event, featuring poet Shazia Hafiz Ramji, and award-winning author David Chariandy.

“I will be reading from my first book, Poetry of Being,” says Ramji. “The book revolves around themes of surveillance, addiction, ports and family.”

“I look forward to learning more about phenomena of ports, and of the complex exchanges and imaginaries these spaces of contact elicit,” says Chariandy.

“I’d like people to think more about how specific individuals negotiate specific sites of power, and of the alternating evocation and critique of consciousness in narrative.”

Other speakers include geographer Pat Noxolo, who has written extensively on decolonizing geographical knowledge, from the site of the Caribbean and Lisa Paravisini-Gebert, whose recent work focuses on the ecological costs of colonization in the Caribbean.

“By bringing these diverse speakers together, it allows us to think about connections between Montreal and other port cities through flows of capital, migration, and ideas,” says Mohabir.

“This is completely in line with our university’s mandate to embrace the city, and embrace the world.”

The conference is supported by Milieux, Figura, the Institute for Urban Futures, the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (CISSC), Writers Read, the departments of English and Geography, Planning and the Environment, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Le Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Collaborators include Études Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone (EMMA) at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, Migrations Internationales, Espaces et Sociétés (MIGRINTER) at the National Center for Scientific Research and Université de Poitiers, and the Maison française d’Oxford.

Find out more about
Post/Colonial Ports : Place and Nonplace in the Ecotone, taking place at Concordia from October 24 to 26. Registration is now open.

Learn more about Concordia’s Department of English, and the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment.

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