Benjamin Mangrum receives the 2023 Levitan Prize in the Humanities

Benjamin Mangrum, assistant professor of literature at MIT, has been awarded the 2023 Levitan Prize within the Humanities. This award, offered every year by a college committee, empowers a member of the MIT College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) college with funding to allow analysis of their discipline. With an award of $30,000, this annual prize continues to energy substantial tasks among the many members of the SHASS neighborhood.

Mangrum will use the award to assist analysis for his upcoming e-book, which is a cultural and mental historical past of environmental rights. Within the e-book, Mangrum discusses the cultural buildings which have helped hyperlink rights language to environmental considerations. Mangrum plans to make use of the funding from the Levitan Prize for analysis right into a chapter involving literary personhood.

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“Assertions of environmental rights are usually the results of pragmatic or strategic alignments between, say, naturalists and labor organizers or indigenous communities and governments,” he writes. “My e-book examines the compromises and conceptual negotiations that happen for ‘environmental rights’ to be a workable idea.”

The notion of environmental rights can check with the suitable of residents to reside in a wholesome surroundings, however it will possibly additionally embody the attribution of rights to nonhuman entities. Such designation acquired elevated consideration when New Zealand gave the Whanganui River a authorized identification, bringing the longest-running litigation in New Zealand historical past to an finish. India has named rivers authorized entities and Bangladesh has given all its rivers authorized rights.

“Personhood standing was a compromise between the federal government and a bunch of Māori tribes who demanded recognition for the river primarily based on previous treaties,” Mangrum writes. “I’m fascinated with how these very completely different sorts of discourse — political rights, environmental science, indigenous tradition, public well being — have come collectively through the Twentieth and twenty first centuries.”

For the chapter, Mangrum explores the argument made by authorized theorist Christopher Stone in “Should Trees Have Standing?” First printed in 1972, Stone’s essay is a foundational argument in environmental regulation. Stone maintains that pure objects might be given authorized personhood, an argument that’s usually cited in authorized framings of environmental rights. Mangrum explores the literary dimensions of authorized personhood.

“I argue that the mental and cultural historical past of authorized personhood shares unacknowledged money owed to the evolution in theories of literary personhood,” Mangrum writes. “A reader’s attribution of personhood doesn’t serve the identical social and ethical features because the attribution of personhood to firms and different nonhuman entities. Nevertheless, I argue that trendy concepts about literary personhood are cognitively homologous with authorized personhood: regardless of serving completely different features, these conceptions of personhood share conceptual buildings and mental origins.”

In one recently published article, he examines the language utilized by Rachel Carson and others within the nascent environmental motion. In 1963, Carson testified earlier than a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the specter of pesticides. It was thought of a watershed second for environmentalism, however notable additionally for mental historical past. Her use of the vocabulary of rights and her advocacy for environmental rules in a public discussion board had been vital forces within the institutionalization of environmental rights.

Mangrum notes Carson’s declare of “the suitable of the citizen to be safe in his own residence in opposition to the intrusion of poisons utilized by different individuals.” Carson makes use of the language of rights to introduce environmental considerations inside the public sphere, however this language additionally has implications for a way we perceive our relationship to the nonhuman world.

Earlier than arriving at MIT in 2022, Mangrum taught on the College of the South, the College of Michigan, and Davidson Faculty. He’s the writer of “Land of Tomorrow: Postwar Fiction and the Disaster of American Liberalism”(Oxford 2019), which examines Twentieth-century literary fiction and widespread philosophy to grasp shifts in American liberalism after World Conflict II. He acquired his PhD from the College of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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