Author ORCID Identifier



Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Stephanie Foote

Committee Member

Lara Farina

Committee Member

Lowell Duckert

Committee Member

Serpil Oppermann


This dissertation analyzes how increased mainstream awareness of climate change and other complex environmental phenomena transforms some of the basic tools we use to understand the world, including notions of agency, evidence, and causality. More specifically, this project highlights numerous contemporary literary and cultural narratives that formally and thematically depict impromptu systems of action and comprehension developed by humans confronting the unique forms of information overload that result from damaged and rapidly changing environments. Following critics like Ulrich Beck, Rob Nixon, and Stacy Alaimo, I suggest our current era of ecological instability and destructive environmental practices dictate what I refer to as epistemological insecurity—a condition in which a subject’s growing awareness of systems degradation coincides with an onslaught of incomprehensibly vast, ever-expanding information about the system itself, rendering the individual subject incapable of making the kinds of risk assessments necessary to effectively navigate their environment. Over four chapters covering works of literature and television from the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, including Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49, Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, the 2019 HBO miniseries Chernobyl, and several recent works of science fiction, I explore the ad hoc epistemic systems humans generate when entangled in material and informational ecosystems. My overarching argument is that as the formidability of unstable material environments becomes increasingly prevalent, it is necessary to consider how our stories, relationships, and the production of knowledge itself are transformed by the often incomprehensible nature of the sprawling social and ecological interconnections that structure our lives. Seeking models for such stories, relationships, and epistemic strategies, my dissertation casts a wide, interdisciplinary net that includes climate prognosticators, energy and information infrastructures, encyclopedias, cybernetics, geopolitics, geoengineering proposals, and conspiracy theories to engage with an array of diverse approaches to epistemological breakdown amidst destabilized environments.