“Literature and Energy” at TALES (Tampere Literary Evenings), 10 April 2024

Looking forward to today’s TALES event (Tampere Literary Evenings), where I join author/energy activist Risto Isomäki to talk about literature and energy.

Risto Isomäki does not really need an introduction to a Finnish audience, but for an international public it might be interesting to know that he is the author of one of the first novels to explicitly consider man-made future climate catastrophe in his novel The Sands of Sarasvati (Sarasvatin hiekkaa; 2005), also made into a fascinating graphic novel by Jussi Kaakinen & Petri Tolppanen. He has also published fiction that directly touches on questions of energy.

The event takes place in the OASIS, surely one of the most welcoming places in academia anywhere to be found!

Image source: https://www.visiirilehti.fi/yliopisto-suunnittelee-oasiksen-siirtamista

Presenting new work at KU Leuven, 17.10.23

Back in Leuven today as part of an Erasmus+ teacher exchange. I’ll be presenting some new work at the KU Leuven English literature research seminar. Looking forward to reconnect with colleagues I got to know when I was working as visiting professor at the department in 2019.

Time also to repost this image from the Begijnhof in Leuven, where we lived for 6 months. Great memories of the university and the city, a thriving place for learning as well as a wonderful city.

My presentation at the research seminar discusses some new work that continues from earlier projects on the linkages between comparative literary form and material infrastructures, with a specific interest in how those are shaped by new energy transformations in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In addition to a presentation at the research, I’ll also host a “walk-in session” for early career research who would like to discuss their research projects.

Cities beyond Redemption?

In Chemnitz, Germany, to deliver a keynote on “Cities beyond Redemption” at the Making the City conference (30.6.23). Many thanks to prof. Cecile Sandten and her colleagues at TU Chemnitz for the invitation and for putting together this brilliant conference!

Fascinating to be able to discuss literary approaches to (post)industrial cities with this interdisciplinary crowd, in this European cultural capital of 2025.

About the conference:

“The central idea of the conference on “Making the City” is to explore the cultural, economic and political factors of industrialisation from its start to its ‘finish’ from a diachronic perspective and also focus on an active engagement of citizens in urban transformation processes. The conference is intended to provide the theoretical foundation for the conceptualisation of the exhibition “European Manchester” (2025) in the Saxon Industrial Museum Chemnitz.”

Keynote abstract below:

Cities beyond Redemption? Literary Approaches to Urbanization from Romanticism to Contemporary Climate Fiction 

Lieven Ameel

In literature, there has always been an uneasiness about the urban environment, a guilty awareness of urbanity’s failures as well as an awareness of impending urban collapse. In the past two centuries of fossil-fueled modernity, the sense of the city as a profoundly fraught environment has taken on new meanings. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, the city has become the embodied form of modernization’s out-of-control juggernaut, and the symbolic site of humanity’s fall from grace and existential alienation. Recent discussions regarding a tentative “renaissance of the city” have done little to alleviate fears about the city’s problematic nature. If anything, working from home during the COVID19-epidemic has given a new impetus to critics of the city. And many of the most pressing challenges of the twenty-first century, from social inequity to the effects of catastrophic climate change are set to have their gravest impact in urban environments. And yet the city is also the location where decisive action – for example in climate change mitigation – is possible, and in literature it remains a chosen site for personal and communal restitution and reinvention. In my talk, I outline literary approaches to urbanization from romanticism to contemporary climate fiction, focusing on the continuous oscillation between guilt-ridden uneasiness about the city and a more optimistic view of the city as undiminished site of personal and communal redemption.

Guest lecture at TU Braunshweig, 11 May 2023

Very much looking forward to give a guest lecture at TU Braunschweig today, on the topic of “Literary Urban Studies: Comparative Perspectives on Future Cities across Genres”. I will start out with an introduction to the field of literary urban studies, with the second part of my lecture a comparative approach to future cities, by way of a reading of two texts (Odds Against Tomorrow and Solaris korrigert).

One of the aims of the talk is also to give an update on my research project on cities at the water, and to present some of the key findings of the book (currently under review) that come of that project.

Image source: https://www.tu-braunschweig.de/

Many thanks to prof. dr. Eckart Voigts for the kind invitation to participate in his course on city literature – this is for me also a fascinating window into how courses in literary urban studies are planned and taught at other universities.

I have published (and co-authored) several articles on teaching city literature (references below) and teaching is one field in which the resources of literary urban studies scholars could be further developed through international collaboration.

Of course, I hope I to visit TU Braunschweig in person at some point in the future, and there is increasing collaboration between my home university, Tampere University, and TU Braunschweig in a variety of fields.


“Teaching Literary Urban Studies.” In Lieven Ameel (ed.): Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies. London: Routledge, 2022, 11-25. With Chen Bar-Itzhak, Jason Finch, Patricia Garcia, Silja Laine, Liam Lanigan, Anni Lappela, Juho Rajaniemi, and Markku Salmela.

“Panoramic Perspectives and City Rambles: Teaching Literary Urban Studies.”  In Tally, Robert Jr. (ed.): Teaching Space, Place, and Literature. London: Routledge, 2017, 89-98.

New Publication: “Narrative in Urban Planning: A Practical Field Guide”

What do planners need to know in order to use narrative approaches responsibly in their practice? What makes narratives coherent, probable, persuasive, even necessary – but also potentially harmful, manipulative and divisive? And how can narratives help to build more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive communities? This practical field guide makes insights from narrative research accessible to planners through a glossary of key concepts in the field of narrative planning. The authors are literary scholars who have extensive practical experience in planning practice, training planning scholars and practitioners or advising municipalities on how to harness the power of stories in urban development.  

This is the first book to synthesize the theory and practice of storytelling in urban planning into a usable handbook for practitioners. It makes available key insights both from research and from practical experience in training planners and in working with municipalities. The emphasis is on accessibility and applicability: in clearly structured entries, this practical field guide defines key concepts, provides examples and illustrations, and discusses possible applications. The book aims to allow a practitioner in the middle of a project to quickly look up a relevant key concept, but also to provide pointers to in-depth research.  

Book details and link:  

Lieven Ameel, Jens Martin Gurr & Barbara Buchenau: Narrative in Urban Planning:A Practical Field Guide. Transcript 2023.  

Published Open Access, March, 2023:


Many thanks to co-authors Jens Martin Gurr and Barbara Buchenau for a truly inspiring collaboration over several years on this book! I am grateful also to colleagues at Aalto University, Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, and Tampere University (Narrare, in particular). We also would like to express our gratitude to the students who attended our various seminars, workshops and guest lectures about narratives in the context of planning – your genuine interest and questions have provided inspiration, food for thought, and important reference points for our work.

Out now: Narrative Forms of Adaptation, Retreat, and Mitigation in Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You

My most recent article “Narrative Forms of Adaptation, Retreat, and Mitigation in Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You” has just been published by Poetics Today 43:1, pp. 127-147. Link here.


This article examines narrative engagement with strange weather and rising waters in Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You (2014). It applies three terms from climate policy — adaptation, retreat, and mitigation — as heuristic concepts to approach the formal responses in the novel to a catastrophic event, Hurricane Sandy, while also considering the broader implications for the interplay between narrative form and radical climate change. The focus is on narrative forms such as catalogs, gaps in language and in the storyworld, and plotted instances of compassion. By drawing from environmental policy terms, this article suggests an analogy between how literary fiction functions and how human populations are described as behaving in the language of policy. Literature is adapting in formal terms to a changing climate; it is retreating from the effects of climate disruption, by way of a diluted language; and it is trying to find ways to soften and mitigate those effects — with mitigation approached in its first, now largely obsolete meaning of the word, as compassion. Exploring such analogies, this article emphasizes literary form’s participation in a broader discursive and material meshwork of human relationships with the transforming environment, in dialogue with science and policy


“Of course, literary form — seen here, following Caroline Levine (2015: 13), as literary “patterns of repetition and difference,” from meter to novelistic plot — does not adapt and retreat in the way coastal communities change their living habits or move to higher ground in the face of radical climate change. And literary form cannot mitigate climate change in the way we can by switching to renewable energy or a more sustainable diet. And yet literary form can display adaptation of existing language and narrative strategies, such as the list, in its responses to climate change, and, as will be explored below, it can even exhibit a marked sense of retreat on the part of language in the way threatening futures are imagined.
In media and policy texts, adaptation, retreat, and mitigation tend to be seen in terms of financial costs and possible risks, visualized in flood maps, graphs, and quantitative measurements. Examples from media and policy include the IPCC’s (2018) use of the term carbon budget or Citigroup’s 2015 report on the economic cost of global warming (Citigroup), or again the warning, in media, that rising waters would cost “trillions of dollars” (Abraham 2018). A novel such as Nathaniel Rich’s Odds against Tomorrow
mimics — and satirizes — such language used in finance and insurance (see also Bergthaller 2018: 117). What unnerves people and institutions, in Rich’s novel, are not the material conditions or the real effects of catastrophe on lives, communities, and civilization but, rather, the figures and numbers that denote risk in financial terms — financial settlements based on insurance policies. Such a position mirrors real-life responses to radical climate change: a recent study focusing on the aftermath of Sandy in New York concluded that for inhabitants of at-risk shores, the flood map — an abstraction visualizing future risk — was perceived as “scarier than another storm” (Elliott 2018: 1068). In Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You (2014: 49), it is not the specter of a future storm that drives people from their homes, but the prospect of “the new flood maps issued by fuckin’ Obama’s lackeys.”
If the current crisis is a “crisis of the imagination” (Ghosh 2016), it is notable that, in the case of Odds against Tomorrow, fictional language turns to technical, financial, legal, and insurance discourses for models to bring the reader nearer to the future. This appropriation of financial language can be seen as a mode for critiquing such language, but also as an inflection of the novelistic voice by financial and utilitarian discourses that naturalize and normalize highly problematic modes of framing radical climate change in terms of its monetized costs. But other forms of adaptation are possible — including modulations of narrative form that gesture toward chaos and contingency, and toward an inability to assign coherent meaning (let alone to ascribe quantifiable measurings) to chaotic events. Let Me Be Frank with You explores some of these possibilities.”

(pp. 133-134)

From the conclusion:

“Forms, as Levine (2015: 5) reminds us, “matter . . . , because they shape
what it is possible to think, say, and do in a given context.” The partial
breakdown of language and narrative form can act as a reminder of the
limits to our vocabulary and cognitive capacities when faced with the sca-
lar complexities of multiple uncertain futures, and with future losses visi-
ble in our present language. And while, for the characters within the sto-
ryworld, brief moments of compassion are arguably outside the political,
this doesn’t have to be true for the effect on the reader, for whom instances
of emplotted compassion may provide a powerful sense of shared human-
ity across temporal or spatial boundaries, as well as an articulation of the
unspoken loss and grief that have become one of the dominants in thinking
of uncertain ecological and climatic futures.”

(p. 144)


I would like to thank Jason Finch for inviting me to Åbo Akademi University to present a version of this article and everyone present at the seminar for their comments. Thanks to everyone at the “Wavescapes” conference in Split/Vis, Srećko Jurišić in particular, for
valuable feedback to an early draft of this article. Thanks are also due to Pieter Vermeulen and Jouni Teittinen for comments at various stages, and to Markku Lehtimäki and Adeline Johns- Putra for extensive and insightful feedback. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the editors and outside reviewers of Poetics Today for their thoughtful engagement with my article.

Fraught Fictionality in Narratives of Future Catastrophe

Out now in Narrative 29:3: my article “Fraught Fictionality in Narratives of Future Catastrophe”, which discusses the use of fictional elements in non-literary future narratives, more specifically in The Effects of Nuclear War (1979), Storms of My Grandchildren (2009), The End of Western Civilization (2014), and The Water Will Come (2017). The article is part of my broader research project on future narratives of cities at the water in planning and fiction.


In our future-oriented era, future visions have become increasingly important for shaping policy and public awareness. How is fictionality as a rhetorical mode used in non-literary future visions, and how are signposts of fiction instrumental—or detrimental—to conveying pathways to the future, in view of forecasted environmental devastation and radical climate change? How does the temporal mode of the scenario (which, describing the future, has as yet has no truth-value in the actual world) complicate our thinking of fictionality? This article examines fictionality in a selection of non-literary narratives of future catastrophe: The Effects of Nuclear War (1979), Storms of My Grandchildren (2009), The End of Western Civilization (2014), and The Water Will Come (2017). I develop the idea of “fraught fictionality” to denote the kind of uneasy fictionality found in future scenarios, burdened by its inclusion within a textual genre that is geared toward policy-making and anticipation.

From the conclusion:

“In our future-oriented era, policy scenarios as well as media and science reports envisioning possible futures have become increasingly important in shaping policy and public awareness. Moving from abstract to concrete, from the general to the particular, “fictional” excerpts within nonfictional texts may serve to bring the consequences of choosing a particular path home to the reader. The four texts discussed here—“Atlantis”; “Charlottesville”; “In the Year 2525”; and The Collapse of Western Civilization—combine a pragmatic framework defined by sincerity with the aim to bring across the disconcerting consequences of a possible future to the general public, by embedding local texts that contain invented stories within global texts that are emphatically nonfictional. The result is “fraught fictionality”: a profoundly contradictory mode of storytelling that brings together urgent real-world referentiality with a narrative that is conceived as intentionally invented, in view of shaping policy and public awareness.


The four “fraught fictional” texts examined here share a number of striking features. The mode of representation is largely impersonal, with a focus on third-person plural narration. Individual characters tend to be lacking, and there is a highly limited set of stock characters with foregrounded thematic functions, which sets the stage for a conspicuously narrow frame for meaningful agency (typically confined to “scientists” and a generic American president). Little to no insight is gained as to the motives, fears, or hopes of the people inhabiting future worlds, since there are no instances of “theory of mind” or references to individual thoughts, feelings, or indeed experiences. Regardless of the aim to “provide a more concrete understanding” or to “provide detail” (OTA 9), instances of qualia are rare. Also striking is the prevalence of a panoramic and distancing viewpoint. In terms of rhetorical strategies, these texts draw on a narrow field of cultural tropes from American cultural history, often with considerable ideological baggage, such as the examples of the Mayflower in “In the Year 2525” and Jeffersonian anti-urbanism in “Charlottesville.”

If the recent turn to what I here call “fraught fictionality” stems in large part from the perceived limits of storytelling tools in policy and science communication, then these conclusions, which foreground the narrow range of experiences, characters, and cultural tropes used in “fraught fictionality,” must be an urgent wake-up call for policy makers and scientists who want to turn to “fiction” for rhetorical purposes, to carefully consider the aims they want to achieve with these kinds of storytelling, and the means by which these may be reached.” (369-370)


Thanks to everyone who commented on various versions and presentations; to colleagues at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies and colleagues at Tampere University’s Narrare Centre and literary studies; and to the participants of Narrative 2019 in Pamplona, where I presented a paper on the same subject.


(Un)Fair Cities, Limerick 12-13 December 2019

The next few days will be quite hectic, with my first-ever visit to Ireland. Tomorrow I’ll be in Limerick for a meeting with people from the European COST Action “Writing Urban Places“, with work on the interstices of literary studies, architecture, and planning. Thursday and Friday 12-13 December I’ll participate in the conference “(Un)Fair Cities: Equity, Ideology and Utopia in Urban Texts”. The conference is the second ALUS conference (the fourth, if we include the previous HLCN conferences), and the first international conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studies. The conference is organized in collaboration with the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies.

Very much looking forward to the wide range of topics at the conference, which promises to be an intense but also cozy and reasonably small-scale gathering of literary urban studies and utopia scholars. Looking forward, in particular, to the keynote by Caroline Edwards, “The other city, the city of dreams: Literary Utopias and Literary Utopianism”

I’ll present a paper on “Peopling the Future Fair City: Affordances of Literary Fiction, Planning and Policy”, part of my research project at TIAS.

Paper abstract:

“Narrated future visions of (un)fair cities are about putting in place meaningful storyworlds (or cityworlds), with distinct spatial, temporal, moral, social, linguistic, and metaphoric dimensions and guided by their own modalities. But as important is the way in which these storyworlds are peopled in a way that gives readers of such future visions access to the qualia – the ’how it feels like’ – and to situated agency.

This paper draws on Adam and Groves’ Future Matters (2007), in which the authors warn against an “emptying of the future” (ibid., 2), in a bid to consider how different textual genres envision and people the future fair city. It aims to examine the affordances of literary fiction, urban planning, and policy, for imagining fair future cities, and the possibilities to act towards fair futures. Drawing on recent examples from New York City’s planning and literary fiction, I will argue that literary fiction is geared more toward embedding and embodying moral dilemmas, while planning and policy texts tend to focus on embedding decisions. However, the increasing use of non-fictional elements (reportage, lists, scientific detail) in future fiction, and the increasing use of fictional elements (fictional characters, personal experiences) blurs such clear-cut distinctions.”

Thanks for everyone at the Ralahine Centre, in particular Michael G. Kelly and Mariano Paz for the inspiring collaboration and for all the good work on the practical issues.

More on the conference:

(Un)Fair Cities. Equity, Ideology and Utopia in Urban Texts seeks to explore relations between the urban and the utopian, as manifested and explored in literary and cultural practice understood broadly,along another strand of the utopian problematic: that of the complex relations of the utopian and the ideological. These can be understood as antagonistic, with utopian departures challenging and undermining dominant ideological structures, of which the city is both producer and product. But they may also be analysed as dialectically conjoined, whereby utopian projections or disruptions form the basis upon which ideological reformulations are subsequently imagined and put in place.

(Un)Fair Cities. Equity, Ideology and Utopia in Urban Textsis the second international conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studiesand is organizedin association with the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies at the University of Limerick. Conference Organizers: Lieven Ameel (ALUS), Michael G. Kelly and Mariano Paz (Ralahine). Confirmed keynote speakers: Prof Antonis Balasopoulos (Associate Professor in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies,University of Cyprus);Dr Caroline Edwards (Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature, Birkbeck, University of London).

More on ALUS:

Association for Literary Urban Studies

The Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS, formerly Helsinki Literature and the City Network) provides an international and interdisciplinary platform for scholars studying the city in literature. Membership is free, and all scholars working within literary urban studies are warmly invited to join the association. It welcomes approaches that examine city narratives in a broad understanding, including approaches that combine urban studies, cultural geography, urban planning, future studies, and other relevant fields with the examination of narratives of cities. It aims to foster interdisciplinary research on city literature, including literature written in all languages and encompassing all historical periods. The Association for Literary Urban Studies organizes meetings twice a year in Finland for members residing in Finland or passing through, and one international conference every two years. It aims to cooperate with other international organizations to organize international seminars, conferences and events.

Scholars interested in the city and literature from all fields of study are most welcome to join ALUS. For further information on joining the network, contact ALUS secretary Anni Lappela at anni.lappela[at]helsinki.fi or ALUS president Jason Finch at jfinch[at]abo.fi

Image source: Shutterstock, Will Rodrigues


“The Future of Cities – Perspectives from Literature”

Today I’ll give a talk at the Turku City Library on ”The Future of Cities – Perspectives from Literature”. Welcome!

Turku Main Library – source: turku.fi

I’ll give a general overview of some of the findings from my current research project on imagining cities at the water across genres, with a particular focus on what literature can tell us about the future of cities. I’ll discuss a.o. Nathaniel Rich and New York; Antti Tuomainen; Anders Vacklin and Aki Parhamaa on Helsinki; Guido van Driel on Amsterdam.

The talk is part of the TIAS public lecture series.
More details below (in Finnish)

Puhun tänään Turun kaupungin pääkirjastossa kaupunkien tulevaisuudesta. Tervetuloa!

Luentoni on osa Turun yliopiston Ihmistieteiden tutkijakollegiumin yleisöluentosarjassa.

Kaupunkien tulevaisuus tässä ja nyt – näkökulmia kirjallisuudesta


Rannikoilla sijaitsevat kaupungit ovat epävarmojen aikojen edessä: nouseva merenpinta, ilmastonmuutos, muuttuvat työ- ja asumisolot luovat uhkaavia tulevaisuuskuvia. Radikaaleihin muutoksiin valmistaudutaan erilaisilla tulevaisuusvisioilla, joita tuottavat niin kaupunkisuunnittelijat, ajatushautomot, virkamiehet kuin taiteilijat ja kirjailijat. Tulevaisuusvisiot suuntaavat ymmärrystämme tulevaisuuden mahdollisuuksista sekä siitä, millaisina hahmottuvat kaupunkiemme tulevaisuuksien rajat. Tämä luento esittelee kaunokirjallisuuden mahdollisuuksia ja rajoja mahdollisten tulevaisuuksien luojana.

• ma 25.11. FT Lieven Ameel: Kaupunkien tulevaisuus tässä ja nyt – näkökulmia kirjallisuudesta
TIAS-luentosarja Studiossa maanantaisin klo 18-19.30
Tapahtuman osoite:
Linnankatu 2, Turku
Studio (pääkirjaston uudisosa, 1. krs)

Imre Szeman research visit to TIAS

Over the next few weeks, professor Imre Szeman from the University of Waterloo, Canada, will be visiting TIAS. Really looking forward to connect with his work with the environmental humanities and energy humanities.

We’ll have several research workshops, meetings with other scholars, and also two guest lectures – the lectures are open to the public, but please register if you plan to attend the Turku event:

Quitting (the) Habit: Fossil Fuels, Governmentality and the Politics of Energy Dependency

Guest lecture by Prof. Imre Szeman and Round Table

31 October 2019, Time: 14h-16h Place: Porthan Hall, Maaherran makasiini, University of Turku (Henrikinkatu 10, Turku)

Round Table with Imre Szeman, Pia Ahlback, Heikki Sirviö, Tere Vaden & Lieven Ameel

More information here

Energy (and) Humanities Seminar
hosted by UH Environmental Humanities Hub and HELSUS, University of Helsinki
Time: November 5th, 2019, at 2 pm – 6 pm,
Venue: Porthania, room 224, HELSUS Hub Lounge

Imre Szeman: “Eight Principles for a Critical Theory of Energy”

16.00-17.15: Prof. Imre Szeman (the University of Waterloo, Canada)
Imre Szeman conducts research on and teaches in the areas of energy humanities, environmental studies, critical and cultural theory, social and political philosophy, and Canadian studies. His most recent work has focused on energy humanities and petrocultures. http://imreszeman.ca/
17.15-18.00 – panel discussion “Energy Humanities’ Agenda”

More information here