IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Emily RayIN THE SPOTLIGHT: Emily Ray
Emily Ray is Associate Professor in the Political Science department at Sonoma State University. Her research lies in the area of political environmental theory, with particular interest in the social and political responses to climate change, extractivism, and the new space race.
What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?
I was thrilled and shocked to see such a Centre! I couldn’t believe that my research interests could be brought together with others pursuing questions about the apocalypse, and that I might have the chance to explore these questions with new colleagues and to find support for my own projects. I also thought that I really ought to apply – how often do these opportunities come along?
What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?
My perspective comes out of environmental political theory and political science, so I think about apocalypse as a rupture with the present and life as it is presently lived, and as the start of something entirely new. I think of apocalypse as perhaps an event that unfolds over the course of many sub-events. I think of climate change in similar terms, which is to say, there is not going to be one moment of climate change but rather several events, crises, breakdowns, and system failures that coalesce as climate change. The apocalypse would overwhelm the ability of the state to respond and manage it – ultimately it exceeds the capacity of states.
What is your fellowship trying to achieve, which questions is it addressing, and with which methods?
I am working with my co-author and current fellow, Robert Kirsch, on a manuscript about the political history of doomsday prepping in the United States. My particular focus is on the transition from preparing for end times during the nuclear age in the US to preparing for climate change, which is frequently understood as apocalyptic in scale and as a secular promise of radical destruction that creates a new planetary biophysical and social existence. One of the responses to fears about climate change is a renewed urgency by state and private actors to turn humans into a space faring and multi-planetary species, which would safeguard, stockpile, or preserve humankind off the planet if it becomes unliveable for our species. How do the mid-century approaches to anticipating nuclear apocalypse make their way into the new space race?
How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?
I have for some time been pursuing twin interests in climate change and the new space race as well as theorizing the transformation of everyday life into a “bunkerized” mode of living, which is to say, when the state fails to respond to collectively-shared problems and people are left to take individual action in the face of threats of or actualized disaster, we become a society that turns our lives and homes into bunkers to ride out hellish conditions. In this manuscript project, and because of the support from CAPAS, I am finally able to bring the strands of my research agenda together and theorize them as part of a whole. What kind of politics produces a bunker society and a state that purposely abdicates its responsibility to that society? And how does climate change function as an intensifier of these conditions and a narrative foothold into exploring these political challenges? The fellowship project allows me space to theorize these questions.
What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results?
What I hope to take from this project is a theory of bunkerization. Why do we create bunkered ways of living in the face of catastrophe like climate change? A theory of bunkerization will enrich ongoing discussions about the politics of climate change as well as encouraging thinking and political action that opens new possibilities, and, to borrow from Marcuse, thinking about a qualitatively different way of life.
What are the aspects you are looking forward to with respect to input from other disciplines, other perspectives, and the exchange with the fellows and people at CAPAS?
The dedicated time to work out my questions and to work through the questions that other fellows have brought with them is one of the most exciting aspects of this fellowship. I am particularly excited to learn from those who have great knowledge about apocalypse in antiquity, and from colleagues in the humanities who have taken up apocalypse quite differently from my political framework. I look forward to having my thinking on the subject expanded, challenged, and scrambled – to have to turn over my starting points and reassess them. I believe my own work and my thinking will only be strengthened by learning from and learning with my colleagues across disciplines.
To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?
Human and more-than-human animal companionship, hope, and a good sense of humour.
What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse?
My two suggestions are not about apocalypse on the nose but help me to think about apocalypse: Lem’s novel, Solaris, which is an unsettling meditation on an alien force that overawes human technology and psychological capacity, and Bergman’s film, The Seventh Seal, which helps me think about what it means to try and outrun an inevitable rupture with the present – and if chess skills are necessary to do so.