Doctoral Student Spotlight: Abbey Ballard

In this month’s Doctoral Student Spotlight we meet Abbey Ballard, who introduces us to her PhD project.

Having completed my undergraduate degree in Literary Studies at the University of Worcester in 2017, I am very happy to be returning to the department to begin my PhD project within the Environmental Humanities.

While I began my academic journey as an ecocritic, as I furthered my understanding within this field of study the connection between ecological degradation and social injustice became overwhelming, particularly with regard to the experiences of Indigenous communities around the world. Through a persistence of settler colonialism which violently disrupts Indigenous relations with the land, environmental injustices continue to be committed. It is therefore clear that discourses of ecology are often closely related to those of colonialism.

In 2016, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests were led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the construction of a new crude oil pipeline which would cross their ancestral homelands and lead to the possible contamination of their local water source. The protest gained support from around the world, both from other Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous peoples. My literary project will investigate how similar acts of protest and resistance are taking place within the written word. Focusing on contemporary writing by Native American and Aboriginal Canadian women, my project will seek to answer the question of how these authors are approaching issues of environmental and social justice within their work to not only actively challenge Western colonial ideologies, but also concepts of genre.

Centring my analysis on innovative literary works of political Indigenous activism, I will emphasise the importance of Indigenous authors who reject Western literary norms and are instead reclaiming traditional tribal storytelling practices within their writing through the use of creation myths, lyrical language, and interspecies tales. We only have to look to recent events to see how deeply entrenched issues of colonialism and dispossession are within Western society. My hope is that through my research, and with the support of the excellent team at Worcester, I will be able to explore how non-Indigenous critics, such as myself, can best support and amplify Indigenous voices of political resistance through a reading of shared environmental concern and solidarity