Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
|Alma mater||University of the South|
|Fields||Cultural studies, Environmental Humanities, Postcolonial Studies|
|Institutions||City University of New York|
|Influences||Frankfurt School, Marx, Said, McClintock, Rob Nixon, David Harvey, Neil Smith, Stuart Hall, Gilroy, Raymond Williams, Audre Lorde, Butler, Carby, Rowbotham|
Ashley Dawson is an author, activist and professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center, and at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. Dawson specializes in postcolonial studies, cultural studies, and environmental humanities with a particular interest in histories and discourses of migration. Since 2004, Dawson has been a contributing member of the Social Text collective. Dawson was co-editor of Social Text Online from 2010-2014 and, by appointment of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), he was also editor of the Journal of Academic Freedom from 2012-2014. He has published and edited numerous books, and his essays have appeared in journals such as African Studies Review, Atlantic Studies, Cultural Critique, Interventions, Jouvert, New Formations, Postcolonial Studies, Postmodern Culture, Screen, Small Axe, South Atlantic Quarterly, Social Text, and Women’s Studies Quarterly.
Dawson was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1965 to a British father and a South African mother. In 1973, his family emigrated from South Africa and relocated in Maryland, United States. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of the South in 1987, Dawson completed a master's degree in English at the University of Virginia, where he began to work on postcolonial studies. Dawson went on to earn a Ph.D. in English at Columbia University under the tutelage of professors Rob Nixon, Anne McClintock, Jean Franco, and Edward Said.
After an early stint as Assistant Professor of English at the University of Iowa, Dawson moved to the CUNY College of Staten Island in 2001, where he remains a tenured Professor of English. Throughout his career as a professor and scholar, Dawson has published several books and over 50 articles, edited multiple essay collections, and contributed to various academic conferences and peer-reviewed journals.
Early Work: In 2007, Dawson published his first monograph, Mongrel Nation: Diasporic Culture and the Making of Postcolonial Britain, a cultural history of migration and migrants to the United Kingdom after 1948. The book surveys the continual challenge to “the United Kingdom's exclusionary definitions of citizenship, using innovative forms of cultural expression like dub poetry and bhangra music to reconfigure definitions of belonging in the postcolonial age.” In 2013, Dawson published his second book, The Routledge Concise History of Twentieth-Century British Literature.
Current Work: Dawson's current focus has shifted from a classic postcolonial lens to the Environmental Humanities and Eco-criticism. His recent book, Extinction: A Radical History, published by O/R Books in 2016, examines humanity's role in the catastrophic extinction of animal life on the planet and argues that environmental devastation cannot be fully understood without a critique of global economics and an interdisciplinary approach that combines science with radical politics, environmentalism, and the humanities. In his latest book, Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change, Dawson argues that cities are ground zero for climate change, contributing the lion’s share of carbon to the atmosphere, while also lying on the frontlines of rising sea levels. Today, the majority of the world’s megacities are located in coastal zones, yet few of them are adequately prepared for the floods that will increasingly menace their shores. Instead, most continue to develop luxury waterfront condos for the elite and industrial facilities for corporations. These not only intensify carbon emissions, but also place coastal residents at greater risk when water levels rise. In Extreme Cities, Dawson offers an alarming portrait of the future of our cities, describing the efforts of Staten Island, New York, and Shishmareff, Alaska residents to relocate; Holland’s models for defending against the seas; and the development of New York City before and after Hurricane Sandy. Our best hope lies not with fortified sea walls, he argues. Rather, it lies with urban movements already fighting to remake our cities in a more just and equitable way.