Author: Camille Wright

Camille Wright was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is currently the Books Publicity Assistant at Duke University Press, where she started as a journals marketing intern in May 2017, and CEO and founder of Merch by Millie, a handmade apparel and accessories shop. Other organizations Wright is involved with include Believe Ticket Project, where she creates email campaigns, graphic content, fact sheets and ask letters, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and Girl Scouts of America.

Q&A with Leah Zani, Author of Bomb Children

Zani, Leah author photo

Leah Zani is a Junior Fellow in the Social Science Research Network at the University of California, Irvine and the author of the new book Bomb Children: Life in the Former Battlefields of Laos. In Bomb Children, Zani considers how the people and landscape of Laos have been shaped and haunted by the physical remains of unexploded ordnance from the CIA’s Secret War.

How did this project start? What brought you to the former battlefields of Laos?

For nearly ten years prior to and during my early research on this project, I thought of myself as a disability studies scholar and advocate. My experiences with dyslexia sparked my scholarly interests in disability. As a child in segregated remedial classes, I was told by my teachers that I would never graduate from high school—let alone finish a bachelor’s, or a doctorate, or write a book!

So I had this personal interest in disability studies. I had intended to study experiences of disability in Laos as they relate to the war, doing fieldwork with the state’s national prosthetics factory and rehabilitation center. Once I was on the ground in Laos, I realized that this was not feasible due to restrictions on foreign researchers—clinicians told me that I could not talk to patients—and made nearly impossible by government restructuring. I sensed that every few months, the name of the appropriate ministry changed as well as the appropriate paperwork. I couldn’t find a way “in” to a project on disability.

While I struggled to find an open door at the rehabilitation center, I was also building connections with humanitarian and development workers, many of whom were involved in victim assistance or explosives clearance. I quickly realized: There was my open door! I began spending more time with humanitarian and development organizations working in former battlefields. My earlier interest in disability studies is still present in the book if you look for it: my theorizing of danger as a disability; my critique of the language of the accident; and my attention to military wasting, i.e., military waste as a process that is simultaneously embodied, ecological, and geopolitical. I came to the project with an existing interest in bodies, the senses, risk, and impairment.

When I started this project, I did not know that the United States had covertly and massively bombed Laos for nine years. The Secret War was initially a silent backdrop to my research on disability, and the war slowly moved into the foreground to become my primary research focus.


You include what you call “fieldpoems” in the book. How does poetry help you make sense of what you learn in the field?

I came to poetry intuitively, provoked by my own confusion in the field. I didn’t know how to process or record what I was experiencing. In the book, I describe this feeling as a kind of vertigo: standing on the edge of another reality, feeling pulled in, but my feet still firmly planted. I was doing fieldwork in Phonsavanh, arguably the most bombed part of our planet. The town was flattened and then rebuilt after the war using bits and pieces of war debris. There had been no systematic clearance after the war, meaning that people rebuilt the town on top of thousands of live bombs. This existential particularity lends itself to poetry. My sense is that a lot of ethnographers come to poetry via this or a similar path: a wrestling with excess, looking over an edge, or losing one’s language. Poetry can be used to notice and give meaning to experiences that resist description.

Later, my interest in poetry led me to the Lao practice of poetic parallelism. In this regional poetic form, lines are split across multiple columns, the gaps generating an unresolvable tension. Parallelism became the central organizing frame of the book—it unlocked my awareness of how war simmers into everyday paranoia, helped me to recognize when interlocutors were sharing information discreetly and gave me a language for writing about peacetime life and ongoing war violence without dissolving one into the other. And I would probably not have picked up on parallelism if I hadn’t already been writing poems. For this project, poetry was a field method that encouraged a related method of poetic inquiry: thus, “fieldpoetry,” poems written as fieldnotes.

My use of fieldpoetry is linked to my experiences with dyslexia: Words are not the way that I know things, so when I write poems as evidence, I mean that they are evidence in this slightly estranged way, a kind of bewilderment or wandering away from words. As a feminist and queer scholar, poetry is one way to engage with what Strathern called “nonknowing” as evidence that does not depend on positivism. Poems are a way for me to explore nonknowing while still feeling rooted and sure of myself. I wrote poems before I wrote ethnographies, and the two are mutually supportive in my work. We need to mainstream more diverse methods and representation practices in anthropology, methods that are as varied as the people and events that we encounter.

I recently became the poetry editor at Anthropology and Humanism, the journal of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. I am, as far as I know, the only poetry editor at a peer-reviewed journal in the social sciences.

You take particular interest in the sociocultural impact of cluster submunitions, known in Laos as “bomb children.” What is it about these particular bombs or their impact that stand out to you?

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Live explosive ordnance on display at a government office in Phonsavan, Xieng Khouang Province. Photo by the author.

Cluster munitions have a social and cultural impact that distinguishes them from conventional weapons. They are, like landmines, a type of antipersonnel weapon that contaminates the places that people live. They are mines in every way that matters. Earlier versions of the Mine Ban Treaty prohibited cluster munitions alongside landmines. Under American pressure, delegates removed cluster munitions from the Mine Ban; the United States signed the Mine Ban but has yet to sign the subsequent Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since deploying these weapons in Laos, the United States has more recently used cluster munitions in the Middle East and continues to sell them.

When a bomber drops a cluster munition from their plane, the force of the fall opens the bomb to disperse hundreds or thousands of smaller submunitions, or bomblets, over vast areas. In Lao, the larger munition is called a “bomb mother” and the smaller bomblets are called “bomb children.” These bomblets are usually the size of two fists held together, lightweight and durable. During the Secret War in Laos, about a third of these bomblets failed to explode on impact. A bomblet will generally not explode if stepped on, though a fire or the impact of a farm tool will likely set it off. Due to their small size, durability, and geographic spread, even heavily bombed areas are still often farmed and inhabited. This means that cluster munitions become part of life—under people’s houses, found in rice fields, used for metal scrap—in ways that challenge distinctions between war and peace, or battlefield and village. They have a unique sociocultural signature, a wasting of the everyday. In the book, I develop a theory of the sociocultural blast radius: the radius of social and cultural effects surrounding explosive ordnance (such as family stigma, endemic risk, ecological destruction, and poverty). A bomb’s sociocultural blast radius is much larger than its zone of mere physical destruction.

Under President Trump, the United States rolled back restrictions on the use of these weapons and is now using cluster munitions with higher failure rates and thus higher civilian causalities.

The title of the book is a reference to the Lao practice of calling these smaller bomblets “bomb children.” The phrase is also a way for me to think about how these weapons have multi-generational, long term effects that exceed the logic of war. I like how the phrase gestures to a future after bombing. And yet, the United States intended the bombing to ruin the incoming state’s capacity to flourish; in a sense, the United States was bombing the future. Fifty years after the war, children are now more likely to be victims of explosions than their parents (because adults know how to safely avoid or handle bombs). What does it mean to be “born” from a bomb, or born from bombing?
Laos is the most cluster bombed country in the world. In 2010, Laos hosted the signing of the Convention banning cluster munitions. The country and the explosive clearance organizations that work there at the forefront of global efforts to create standards for cluster munition clearance.

You mention Laos is “one of the most rapidly developing countries in the world; it is also the world’s most bombed country . . .” How do military waste “haunt” development projects and the government’s response to the country’s rapid growth?

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Fifty-year-old craters used as trash pits. In the background, tables and a parking lot set up for the temple fund-raiser. Photo by the author.

I take up haunting as an attitude to time: the Secret War as haunting, rather than history. At the Sepon Gold Mine, the focus of Chapter Two, the partially state-owned gold mine digs beneath an old communist stronghold bombed during the Secret War, and beneath that into the remains of a 14th century village. These subterranean histories layer on top of each other, sometimes intersecting or puncturing everyday life on the ground above. The first things to be dug up at the Gold Mine were bombs—not gold or copper—and more bombs are found and demolished every day of active operations. During my fieldwork in Sepon, rumors circulated of bombs and war ghosts brought to the surface by the runoff from the mine. And ghosts from the ancient village underneath the mine were possessing mine workers. The gold mine was also a ghost mine—a place where one dug up ghosts or became a ghost oneself.

Back in Vientiane, the Lao capital, I extend this analysis of haunting to explore the relations between state violence and development. My fieldwork was bracketed by the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an important Lao civil society leader, and the phase-out of one of my primary research hosts. Sombath was abducted from his car in 2012 (on a Vientiane street near my apartment) and has yet to be returned to his family or confirmed dead. I began my preliminary fieldwork just before Sombath was abducted; and when I returned for primary fieldwork I discovered that my research partnerships needed to be renegotiated. One of my research partners rescinded their patronage all together, citing concerns over state violence. My fieldwork ended just as my primary research host was phasing out of Laos, in part due to the challenges of working in an increasingly authoritarian state. In the post-Sombath years, my interlocutors expressed concern that the hardships of working in Laos were caused by Sombath’s ghost. Since Sombath has not been confirmed dead, and his body not found, Sombath’s kin have not be able to perform the proper funerary rituals, thus causing Sombath to become an “angry ghost.” His ghost is haunting Lao development. At the same time, the ambiguity of disappearance (Sombath is alive/dead) points to another possible world of forgiveness and cooperation. Political disappearance creates an awareness of multiple worlds layering within the everyday. In the book’s logic of parallels, this contemporary state violence forms a parallel with the ongoing violence from the Secret War.

In your book, you talk about doing research in what is considered a dangerous environment. What were some of the hazards you encountered while doing your fieldwork?

I went into this research assuming explosives would be the greatest risks to my safety. My Institutional Review Board protocols included procedures for conducting fieldwork in uncleared battlefields and at explosives clearance sites. I soon discovered that state terror, surveillance, and harassment were far greater threats: that being an American woman in an authoritarian state was a greater risk factor than being in the middle of an old air strike zone. I joked to my friends: “The men are more dangerous than the bombs!” I was unprepared for the levels of surveillance and harassment that I was experiencing. In hindsight, I realized that my lack of preparedness was evidence for the public secrecy of state violence: there was no way I could have predicted many of these challenges in advance of doing fieldwork. We must negotiate our research ethics in the field. I also think that my unpreparedness points to a larger, shared issue in field-based sciences around the unequal risks faced by female researchers. As a discipline, we are impoverished in our theories and methods for risk: How I wish that the #metoo anthropology movement had begun before I started my fieldwork! I hope that this book contributes to that larger, disciplinary discussion of research risks and subject/researcher protections.

I approached these challenges as an ethical and methodological provocation to practice fieldwork differently, including my development of a hazardous research methods toolkit. I used the word “hazard” to counter the over-determining language of danger in explosives clearance. I wanted a word that would organically encompass military waste, state terror, and everyday risks like harassment and unsafe water. Ethnographic fieldwork is often a balance between intimacy and danger. The tension is written into our basic method: participant-observation, to participate without losing the distance that is essential to scholarship. Fieldwork in explosives clearance zones materializes the risks of ethnographic intimacy: areas of safety and danger are marked on the ground with stakes and red tape. Get too close, and the bomb with destroy you and itself! I learned to walk the perimeter of explosions, looking inward from a safe distance. My practical development of hazardous research methods eventually dovetailed with my theorizing of parallelism: I began to see how hazards layer on top of each other in postwar zones, amplifying risks without necessarily intersecting or being causally related.

What do you hope readers will take away from Bomb Children?

My goal in writing this book is to increase our collective ability to think about war, particularly covert air war, as a lived human experience. Postwar zones deserve more robust area and cultural studies. Military waste as area studies has only been possible since the 1990s when the widespread use of these weapons, the opening of many Cold War battlefields, and the development of humanitarian explosives clearance made it possible for researchers to study in these zones. Our theories and methods for studying postwar zones are out of step with the realities of the people that we study and our own lives under empire. Many of the theories I put forward are ways of grappling with a world changed by modern warfare’s unprecedented ecological and social impacts. Violence on this scale transforms the very conditions of being, living, and dying. Then, in Laos, half a century passes and new generations are born alongside bomb children, luk labaerd, cluster submunitions. Humanitarian explosives clearance often goes only as deep as a typical Lao plow—a handful of centimeters. More bombs often remain buried deeper, with a thin line of soil separating the farmer from the explosives. How is the violence of war lived in times of peace? How can we lean into the shared challenges of military waste, toxic inheritances that by their nature outlive our politics? Out of respect and accuracy towards the people impacted by these weapons, I offer theories and methods for understanding in parallel both our lives above ground, in all our human richness and possibility, and the brutality of a war buried in the soil just beneath our feet.

Pick up your paperback copy of Bomb Children for 30% off using coupon code E19LZANI on our website.

Farewell to Ann Snitow

Ann Snitow

Credit: Steve Ladner

We were deeply saddened to learn that Ann Snitow passed away on August 10th after battling bladder cancer. Snitow was Associate Professor of Literature and Gender Studies at Lang College, The New School, in New York City. She was the author of The Feminism of Uncertaintypublished by us in 2015.

A longtime activist, Snitow cofounded The Network of East-West Women, No More Nice Girls, and New York Radical Feminists. She wrote for The Village VoiceThe NationThe Women’s Review of BooksDissent, and many other publications, and is coeditor of Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality and The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s Liberation.

“Over nearly half a century, Ms. Snitow mobilized feminists, often at her kitchen table in Soho, and chronicled their ebbs and flows in six books and scores of articles in publications including The Village Voice, The Nation and Dissent,” wrote Kit Seelye in the New York Times.

We offer our condolences to Professor Snitow’s colleagues, friends, and family.


World Day against Trafficking in Persons

trafficking-logoToday is World Day against Trafficking in Persons, a day to bring awareness to and encourage action against human trafficking. In honor of this international day, we’re featuring some of our recent journal articles (all available free for six months) and books that explore this global issue.

In the Trail of the Ship: Narrating the Archives of Illegal Slavery,” featured in the March 2019 issue of Social Text, delves into the strange, contradictory archives of the illegal transatlantic slave trade that flourished between Angola and Brazil in the mid-nineteenth century. The article’s author, Yuko Miki, follows the documentary trail of notorious slave ship Mary E. Smith, focusing on the list of the ship’s Africans who were “liberated” from captivity, most of whom were already deceased.

m_ddpos_25_4.coverAuthor Elena Shih explores why and how Thailand functions as a pivotal destination for US human-trafficking rescue projects in “Freedom Markets: Consumption and Commerce across Human-Trafficking Rescue in Thailand,” featured in the November 2017 issue of positions: asia critique. Basing her research on the global anti-trafficking movement in Thailand, China, and the United States between 2008 and 2014, Shih juxtaposes two distinct tourist encounters: a human-trafficking reality tour hosted by a US nonprofit organization, and a separate study-abroad gathering of US university students hosted at the office of a Thai sex worker rights organization.

m_ddglq_22_3_coverIn the run-up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, the Brazilian government engaged in a militarized campaign to clean up favelas, blighted areas, and red-light districts so that it could “develop” them. In his article “Evangelical Ecstasy Meets Feminist Fury: Sex Trafficking, Moral Panics, and Homonationalism during Global Sporting Events,” featured in the June 2016 issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Gregory Mitchell argues that by destroying safe and legal venues for sex work, host cities of such events create the very exploitation they purport to prevent.

You may also be interested in these books about human trafficking:

Street Corner Secrets

Street Corner Secrets is an ethnography of women in the city of Mumbai who look for  work at nakas, street corners where day laborers congregate and wait to be hired for construction jobs. Often chosen last, after male workers, or not at all, some women turn to sex work in order to make money, at the nakas, on the street, or in brothels. Svati P. Shah argues that sex work should be seen in relation to other structural inequities affecting these women’s lives, such as threats from the police and lack of access to clean water.

Having spent nearly a decade following the lives of formerly trafficked men and women, Denise Brennan recounts in close detail their flight from their abusers and their courageous efforts to rebuild their lives. Life Interrupted is a riveting account of life in and after trafficking and a forceful call for meaningful immigration and labor reform.

Read an Excerpt from Pamela Reynold’s The Uncaring, Intricate World

Uncaring Intricate WorldIn her new book, The Uncaring, Intricate World, anthropologist Pamela Reynolds shares her fieldwork diary from her time spent in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi valley during the 1980s, in which she recounts the difficulties, pleasures, and contradictions of studying the daily lives of the Tonga people three decades after their forced displacement. This edition of her diary was carefully curated by Todd Meyers, Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University, Shanghai.

“The diary is not inert. It is not a snapshot or a photograph, but recognizes the inherent problem of a photographic subject to hold still,” says Meyers in the foreword. In this excerpt from the first chapter, Reynolds describes her experiences arriving at the site of her fieldwork, including the environment, her interactions with the children, and her first meal.

Read an excerpt from The Uncaring, Intricate World below and then order a copy from our website for 30% off using coupon code E19RYNLD

Chitenge, Mola
5:45 p.m.

It is, I suppose, one of anthropology’s funny scenes. The sun setting, and I in a house that consists only of poles widely spaced, roofless, doorless, so that all I do is exposed to the eyes of twelve children. That which I do amuses them greatly: I am sitting in a director’s chair at a folding table drinking tea, with a weird assortment of goods scattered around on the bare soil.

Anderson and I arrived at 3:30 p.m., having driven 440 kilo meters from Harare and having been on the road since 6:00 a.m. with half an hour in Karoi. The journey was fine— rather like being massaged by t hose ma-chines that are supposed to tone your muscles and slim you down. The road varies from corrugations to potholes to deep sand with combinations of the three. Over the last 200 kilo meters we met only two busses, one van, two trucks, three warthogs, and many kudu.

On arrival and the discovery of only the bare frames of a kitchen and sleeping platform, I expressed some dis plea sure to Samuel, the builder, who is racing the setting sun to build a ladder to the platform of the busanza (my house on stilts) so that I can climb up there to sleep. I was a little scornful of his pro gress on my house after six weeks. A small audi-ence of children listened in fascination. Samuel has since enjoyed getting his own back making the children roar with laughter at my expense. It is a fine scene, with Samuel and his mate, Shadrick, working hard yet enter-taining the children. One boy has a fearfully distended belly; another eats cold sadza and relish beside my doorpost; yet another plays with a little girl who is in his charge.

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Paulina and I (looking bushed) at her homestead. Photo graph by Alexan-der Joe for the book Lwaano Lwanyika, © Pamela Reynolds and Colleen Crawford Cousins, circa 1985.

Now fourteen children stand and watch me. The sun goes down; there is a little light, and the scruffy ends of twine that tie the steps of the ladder are being trimmed. Who won? Not me. Return to laughter!

6:05 p.m.

I made a grand gesture of climbing the finished ladder and allowed more opportunity for laughter. I gave Samuel and his mate an orange each in ad-miration of their effort. It had ended amicably, and I said a firm “Goodnight,” at which every one miraculously dis appeared. I shall now have a whiskey on the platform and read Virginia Woolf ( ought to be Shakespeare).

I need a candle guard. I have bathed in the moonlight. A tub of warm water has been placed for me in a newly made bathing shelter of matting reed set around a plastered floor. Odd how many new skills one must learn— how to take a little water in a mug, how to balance a watch on a pole, how to dress while keeping feet and clothes dry and clean.

I have my whiskey and candle and book and have watched the final sun’s light go and listened to the new night noises: crickets, a child’s cry, men talking, pots banging, little children’s chatter, and my first mosquito’s whine. Difficult to keep the candle alight on my bare platform. Frogs, crickets, do I hear something more threatening? The night is mysterious beyond the circle of my flame. The bus from Harare is passing, almost empty. Ander-son comes and chats for a while. What joy is the peace after the last two frenetic weeks. I have forgotten methylated spirits, pillows, a stretcher, and copies of photo graphs taken on the last trip to hand out. No doubt much else. Oh well.
Anderson’s uncle ( father’s brother) was arrested on the 21st  of last month. The National Parks game guards caught him in the bush and ac-cused him of poaching. He denied it, but after some interrogation he ad-mitted to having been seen with wire. He is the head of Anderson’s section of Chitenge. He is awaiting trial in Kariba, and as fines have been stopped, he is likely to spend six months in jail.

Anderson told me that the young man with the wonderful crafted bas-ket of fish that he was carry ing from Musamba to a market in Harare, to whom we gave a lift from Musamba to Bumi in July, has been killed. An ex- girlfriend who was living at Groebler’s crocodile farm knifed him. She, too, had been a fish trader but had recently been living with a worker at the camp. She now awaits trial in Kariba and leaves behind three young children.

Anderson’s eldest son fetched me for supper of meat that I had brought from Karoi and sadza. I joined a delightful domestic scene with Anderson chatting animatedly with his wives and little Cosimos being small, vocif-erous, and tired. He would only eat meat and went off to bed saying, “I will not sleep on the mat as a rat will eat me. I shall sleep in your bed” (to his mother and father). The adults laughed.

As we finished eating, a Land Rover approached with one light. I thought, “Ah, that is Bernard” (for I knew that he was passing through Chitenge that day), and I went out to the road. And sure enough it was Bernard Whaley, a friend from my school days. He was with the people undertaking a canoe safari being filmed by a French crew. They were passing en route to Bumi, having canoed some distance down the Zambezi River from Victoria Falls. I appeared to be an apparition as I stepped into their headlights as they ap-proached the end of a long journey through the bush.

Now to sleep to the sound of drums. My house does look peculiar. A pristine white net hangs from a pole across the roofless top; my clothes are carefully arranged on hangers from the same pole; a white bag full of tape recorders, etc., hangs beside my black handbag from a branch of the pole. My large straw hat sits like a moth against the curve. The wind plays with the mosquito net and extinguishes my candle.

Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month Reads

In honor of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are featuring some of our recent books and journals that explore Asian American and Pacific Islander studies.

racial melancholiaDavid L. Eng and Shinhee Han draws on psychoanalytic case histories from the mid-1990s to the present to explore how first- and second-generation Asian American young adults deal with difficulties such as depression, suicide, and coming out within the larger social context of race, immigration, and sexuality in Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation.

Also looking at the lives of young Asian Americans,  Straight A’s, edited by Christine R. Yano, Neal K. Adolph Akatsuka, features personal narratives of undergraduate students at Harvard University in which they reflect on their shared experiences with discrimination, stereotypes, immigrant communities, their relationship to their Asian heritage, and the difficulties that come with being expected to reach high levels of achievement.

In Paradoxes of Hawaiian SovereigntyJ. Kēhaulani Kauanui examines contradictions of indigeneity and self-determination in U.S. domestic policy and international law, showing how Hawaiian elites’ approaches to reforming land, gender, and sexual regulation in the early nineteenth century that paved the way for sovereign recognition of the kingdom complicate contemporary nationalist activism, which too often includes disavowing the indigeneity of indigenous Hawaiians.

Dean Itsuji Saranillio’s Unsustainable Empire offers a bold challenge to conventional understandings of Hawai‘i’s admission as a U.S. state. Saranillio shows that statehood was neither the expansion of U.S. democracy nor a strong nation swallowing a weak and feeble island nation, but the result of a U.S. nation whose economy was unsustainable without enacting a more aggressive policy of imperialism. With clarity and persuasive force about historically and ethically complex issues, Unsustainable Empire provides a more complicated understanding of Hawai‘i’s admission as the fiftieth state and why Native Hawaiian place-based alternatives to U.S. empire are urgently needed.

postcolonial griefIn Postcolonial Grief, Jinah Kim explores Asian and Asian American texts from 1945 to the present that mourn the loss of those killed by U.S. empire building and militarism in the Pacific, showing how the refusal to heal from imperial violence may help generate a transformative antiracist and decolonial politics.

In Migrant Futures, Aimee Bahng traces the cultural production of futurity by juxtaposing the practices of speculative finance against those of speculative fiction, showing how speculative novels, films, and narratives create alternative futures that envision the potential for new political economies, social structures, and subjectivities that exceed the framework of capitalism.

worldmakingDorinne Kondo draws on critical ethnographic work and over twenty years of experience as a dramaturge and playwright to theorize how racialized labor, aesthetics, affect, genre, and social inequity operate in contemporary theater in Worldmaking.

Jan M. Padios examines the massive call center industry in the Philippines in the context of globalization, race, gender, transnationalism, and postcolonialism in A Nation on the Line. She outlines how it has become a significant site of efforts to redefine Filipino identity and culture, the Philippine nation-state, and the value of Filipino labor.

Migrant Returns  by Eric J. Pido also takes a transnational look at the Filipino experience. His award-winning book examines the complicated relationship between the Philippine economy, Manila’s urban development, and Filipino migrants visiting or returning to their homeland, showing migration to be a multidirectional, layered, and continuous process with varied and often fraught outcomes.

Poem of the Week

Of Gardens and GravesDuring National Poetry Month, we are offering a poem each Monday. In celebration of Earth Day, today’s poem describes the beauty of the earth and questions the reasons people do not learn from the nature blossoming and roaming in peace around them. This poem is from Suvir Kaul’s Of Gardens and Graves: Kashmir, Poetry, Politics. David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University, says “Reading Of Gardens and Graves is a treat beyond description. I have visited Kashmir several times during the period this book covers, and while reading it I felt magically transported into the invisible heart and soul of a world where much of what Suvir Kaul described had been only vaguely visible to me before. The work he has done here is brave and powerful.”


Moti Lal “Saqi”

He too is a man
You too are a man
I too am a man

No one sprung up from rock, no one dropped from the sky
No one climbed up from the underworld either
All are as clay, are born to mothers
Then who amongst us is separate, who torn apart by distance
Let’s then think consciously all of us—

I seem to have burst the kernels of my thought
Flowers many-colored, the garden bloomed Velvet, blue, red, golden
No one needed to slit the poppy

The rose did not become arrogant about its perfume
The pomegranate did not shame the marigold
The pussy willow did not boast though it blossomed first
The narcissus comes, who will drag it down
The iris has no fear of walking alone
The saffron flower never spoke its value
The violet knows no enemy in the lily
The shy thaniwal grew, back-tracked, and eased away
How sweet their little world
Peaceful world, there is no quarrel

Flocks of sheep run up the hillside
Crystal-colored how many, how many cream
How many white, blackish how many
Wandering in valleys, bounding about

All together they go out to graze
All together they slake their thirst
No harm comes to the underfed ram
The creamy one will not squeeze the black’s neck
The crystal does not frighten the mottled one

Then just ask a question of yourselves
Why do we humans have bad thoughts?

Suvir Kaul is A. M. Rosenthal Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and the author, most recently, of Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Postcolonial Studies.
Our other highlighted poems can be read here.

Poem of the Week

Bomb ChildrenIt’s currently National Poetry Month, so we are offering a poem each Monday throughout April. Today’s poem is from Leah Zani’s forthcoming book, Bomb Children. Joshua O. Reno, author of Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill says “Bomb Children is nothing short of breathtaking. Leah Zani presents little-known and incredibly important material on the everyday aftermath of the Secret War for the people of Laos. Her topic is not only ethnographically underexplored, but has been deliberately concealed by the U.S. government for decades. In Zani’s hands, fieldwork becomes a flexible toolkit, selectively and strategically deployed to grasp the object of military wasting in a revealing and ethically responsible way.”


Leah Zani is a Junior Fellow in the Social Science Research Network at University of California, Irvine. Bomb Children will be published in August.

Our other highlighted poems can be read here.

Q&A with Gökçe Günel, Author of Spaceship in the Desert

GOKCE_PORTREGökçe Günel is Assistant Professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona and the author of the new book Spaceship in the Desert: Energy, Climate Change, and Urban Design in Abu Dhabi. In Spaceship in the Desert, Günel examines the development and construction of Masdar City, a zero-carbon city built by Abu Dhabi that houses a research institute for renewable energy which implemented a series of green technologies and infrastructures as a way to deal with climate change and prepare for a post-oil future.

How did this project start? What brought you to the Spaceship in the Desert?

I visited the United Arab Emirates for the first time in 2008, hoping to learn more about the planned city projects burgeoning in the region. But after the economic crisis of 2008, many of these projects were on the verge of collapse. Masdar City was an exception in that it continued to exist beyond the economic crisis. In addition to offering insights about large-scale real estate development projects, this zero-carbon city proposed innovative ways of imagining energy and climate futures. To gain access to the project, I contacted faculty members at Masdar Institute— the energy-focused research center that was set up inside Masdar City by MIT’s Technology and Development Program. Between January 2010 and June 2011, I conducted most of the fieldwork for Spaceship in the Desert, focusing on the design and construction of Masdar City, while interrogating how oil-rich economies, like the UAE, prepare for a time with less oil.

What is Masdar City and what are the “technical adjustments” that it and similar projects generate?

Masdar (meaning “source” in Arabic) is a multifaceted renewable energy and clean technology company sponsored by the Abu Dhabi government. It is most widely known for Masdar City, a futuristic eco-city that was designed by the London-based architecture office Foster + Partners to rely entirely on renewable energies. According to initial plans, Masdar City would house fifty thousand residents and forty thousand commuters on a 600-hectare area. Masdar Institute, the energy-focused research center that was set up and supervised by MIT’s Technology and Development Program, started offering graduate degrees inside the eco-city in September 2010.

However, the Masdar City master plan was soon cancelled, along with many other innovative projects taking place on the Masdar City grounds. Today Masdar City is more or less a special economic zone for renewable energy and clean technology companies.

While the eco-city was central to Masdar’s development, Masdar also invested in renewable energy through its other operations—Masdar Power, Masdar Carbon, and Masdar Capital—in an attempt to ensure Abu Dhabi will remain a significant player in the energy industry, well after its oil reserves run dry.

In the book, I propose the idea of “technical adjustments” as a way of thinking more holistically about the business models, design solutions and technological fixes, which address climate change and energy scarcity. Broadly speaking, I understand technical adjustments as imaginative and wide-ranging responses to global climate change and energy scarcity, which open up certain interventions (such as extending technological complexity) while foreclosing others (such as asking larger-scale moral, ethical, and political questions regarding how to live). While producing innovative and at times fun artifacts, technical adjustments obfuscate the simple realization that humans cannot continue to live and consume as they do.

The adjustments I observed at Masdar City involved market-oriented technical fixes—such as green buildings, research into renewable energy and clean technology, novel ways of imagining exchange, innovative designs for vehicles, and new global governance mechanisms—that promote a belief in the possibility of sustaining the status quo and even improving life for certain segments of society. The book’s chapters look into these projects in detail.

Yet it is important to keep in mind that these strategies are not unique to Masdar City – we see them all over the world. Electric cars, biodegradable plastic bags, and energy-efficient light bulbs provide the piecemeal means through which humans seek to extend their lifestyles into the future while tackling climate change and preserving the status quo. These adjustments guide living arrangements and shape social possibilities in technocratic, typically anthropocentric, ways, along lines drawn by affluent nations. The future becomes a thinly veiled version of the present.

You have focused several of your chapters around metaphors and metonymy that people at Masdar used to describe Masdar City: “a technocratic dictatorship,” “an expensive toy,” and “spaceship and the desert.” What do these concepts mean in your work and how did “spaceship in the desert” become the metaphor that represents your project as a whole?

Metaphors help people see things in new ways. By tracing the kinds of metaphors people used to describe Masdar, I was able to observe how the producers of Masdar made sense of their worlds. What were some of the qualities they noticed about the project, but did not explicitly put into words? Some of these descriptions were forms of criticism directed towards the project (such as “technocratic dictatorship” and “expensive toy”), while others (such as “spaceship in the desert”) perhaps constituted praise.

Spaceship in the Desert became the overarching metaphor for the book, because it encapsulates many aspects of Masdar City, and many aspects of climate change mitigation today. As I say in the book, the spaceship signifies enclosure, archiving, selection, hierarchy, movement, and—most importantly—the maintenance of strict boundaries between interior and exterior spaces. It promotes a technocratic and exclusive universalism, a kind of Noah’s ark that will help save a select few, and produces the outside as a vacuum that should not be inhabited. In this context, the desert becomes the ultimate empty space upon which new ideas can be imposed (though as we all know it is not empty). Many colonialist and settler colonialist projects have framed the desert as this blank or ruined space, which can be fixed with the help of technology and proper governance. And if you think about space movies, you will see that many of them employ desert terrains. Just yesterday, I was reading about how in the movie Star Wars: Episode IV— A New Hope, the Tunisian desert doubled as the landscape of a distant planet called Tatooine. In such spacefaring movies, characters often plot out scenarios that prioritize enclosure for some over collective survival. In this imagination of the future, what happens to those who are left outside the spaceship? By unpacking the metaphor of a spaceship in the desert, I show what kinds of perceptions this praise inheres and renders invisible. Broadly speaking, by thinking through the idea of spaceship in the desert, I’m trying to interrogate why, how and if humans have abandoned the possibility of collective survival at a time of climate change and energy scarcity.


Spaceship in the Desert contains many interesting moments of irony and contradiction. For example, in your introduction you mention that this book project on renewable energy and clean technology infrastructures is in large part built on ethnographic research conducted inside SUVs driving the highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. What is your favorite contradiction that emerged in the course of researching or writing this book?

When the Masdar City project was publicized, many thought it was ironic that an oil-rich state was venturing into renewable energy and clean technology initiatives. But for decision-makers in Abu Dhabi, this made sense. They were embedded in energy sector networks; all they had to do was to retool these networks to employ them for these new purposes. It wasn’t necessarily paradoxical. I’m sharing this, mainly because it was the original irony of the project, but for people in Abu Dhabi, it wasn’t a contradiction. I think this realization alone made me understand how renewable energy and clean technology infrastructures were ways of maintaining the status quo, especially for those who imagined the status quo as a best-case scenario. For some people, today is a utopia, which needs to be stretched further into the future with the help of technical adjustments.

You describe a focus on the future, rather than the present, in the technology, strategies, and appearance of Masdar City. What were the consequences of this focus for Masdar City?

Many of the people I met at Masdar City enjoyed contextualizing their projects in multiple scales at once – say, the immediate space of Masdar City in conjunction with the space of the planet or the universe. They went back and forth between these scales, and this spatial imagination also had temporal equivalents. They could talk about the future, which comprised an undefined stretch of time, the same way they talked about the universe.

But it wasn’t only the people at Masdar City who had this fascination with the future. Renewable energy and clean technology companies everywhere share this disposition. In one part of the book, I discuss how renewable energy and clean technology companies embody a messianic promise, seeking to liberate humanity from its guilt-ridden consciousness of the twentieth century. Perhaps the twentieth century was a time of decadent pleasures, but the future would be characterized by responsible consumption of resources (under the tutelage of these companies).

In this framework, the present mattered for its perpetual potential, prompting renewable energy and clean technology companies to refer to the abstract planetary-scale transformations they could one day trigger and implement. In the book, I explore how people at Masdar City experienced this potential. How exactly do people feel potential, and feel that they can rely and act upon technical adjustments to confront climate change and energy scarcity? How is potential negotiated, realized, limited, or changed? I demonstrate that switching scales and talking about the universe and the future are methods for ensuring such potentiality.

Did your views on climate change, and the strategies for addressing it, shift in the course of completing Spaceship in the Desert? In what way?

Yes, definitely. The project showed me how climate change requires humans to go beyond piecemeal solutions, such as the technical adjustments of Masdar City. These piecemeal solutions are crafted with the goal of ensuring economic growth. Given current climate change scenarios, we need to reevaluate these expectations, and imagine a future that does not prioritize growth. Humans need to drastically reduce their production and consumption, and think about altering the status quo, not preserving it.

What future do you see for renewable energy and green living projects based on your research? What lessons or reflections do you hope readers will draw from Spaceship in the Desert?

In some ways, I would like readers to have a sense of the wide-range of innovations that respond to energy scarcity and global climate change, such as building an eco-city, replacing national currencies with energy-based currencies, or implementing personal rapid transit. It is great to see so many smart people working on significant environmental issues, especially in a context that is not known for breakthroughs in science and technology. But at the same time, I would like readers to be aware that while these innovations are important, they are not necessarily solutions for the climate crisis. The only way human can mitigate that problem is by rethinking the main tenets of capitalism.

Pick up your paperback copy of Spaceship in the Desert for 30% off using coupon code E19GUNEL on our website.

Celebrating International Women’s Day


Today is International Women’s Day, a day to recognize the achievements of women globally. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter: building a more gender-balanced world. We’re excited to share recent books and journals from Duke University Press that align with this mission and celebrate women around the world and throughout history.

Black Feminism Reimagined

In Black Feminism Reimagined Jennifer C. Nash reframes black feminism’s engagement with intersectionality, contending that black feminists should let go of their possession and policing of the concept in order to better unleash black feminist theory’s visionary and world-making possibilities.

The contributors to Seeking Rights from the Left, edited by Elisabeth Jay Friedman, evaluate the impact of the Latin American “Pink Tide” of left-leaning governments (2000-2015) on feminist, women’s, and LGBT movements and issues.

Second World, Second SexKristen Ghodsee recuperates the lost history of feminist activism in Second World, Second Sex by showing how women from state socialist Bulgaria and socialist-leaning Zambia created networks and alliances that challenged American women’s leadership of the global women’s movement.

A Primer for Teaching Women, Gender, and Sexuality in World History by Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks and Urmi Engineer Willoughby is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching women, gender, and sexuality history for the first time, for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses, for those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, and for teachers who want to incorporate the subject into their world history classes.

The contributors to Spirit on the Move, edited by Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth A. Pritchard, examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community, access to power, and way to challenge social inequalities. Spirit on the Move will be out in April.

Vexy ThingIn Vexy Thing Imani Perry recenters patriarchy to contemporary discussions of feminism through a social and literary analysis of cultural artifacts—ranging from nineteenth-century slavery court cases and historical vignettes to literature and contemporary art—from the Enlightenment to the present.

Drawing on numerous examples from popular culture, Sarah Banet-Weiser examines the relationship between popular feminism and popular misogyny in her book, Empowered, as it plays out in advertising, online and multi-media platforms, and nonprofit and commercial campaigns, showing how feminism is often met with a backlash of harassment, assault, and institutional neglect.

You may also be interested in these journals in feminist and women’s studies:

MER_17_2_coverimageMeridians, an interdisciplinary feminist journal, features scholarship and creative work by and about women of color in U.S. and international contexts. It engages the complexity of debates around feminism, race, and transnationalism in a dialogue across ethnic, national, and disciplinary boundaries.

differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies highlights interdisciplinary, theoretical debates that address the ways concepts and categories of difference—notably but not exclusively gender—operate within culture. It first appeared in 1989 at the moment of a critical encounter—a head-on collision, one might say—of theories of difference (primarily Continental) and the politics of diversity (primarily American).

MEW_15_1_coverimageThe Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies advances the fields of Middle East gender, sexuality, and women’s studies through the contributions of academics, artists, and activists from around the globe working in the interpretive social sciences and humanities.

Camera Obscura provides a forum for scholarship and debate on feminism, culture, and media studies. It explores areas such as the conjunctions of gender, race, class, and sexuality with audiovisual culture; new histories and theories of film, television, video, and digital media; and politically engaged approaches to a range of media practices.


Black History Month Reads

To celebrate Black History Month, we are featuring some of our recent books and journals that explore Black and African-American history, issues, and culture.

978-1-4780-0089-1Bloodflowers by W. Ian Bourland examines the photography of Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955–1989). Fani-Kayode’s art is a touchstone for cultural debates surrounding questions of gender and queerness, race and diaspora, aesthetics and politics, and the enduring legacy of slavery and colonialism.

In Black Feminism Reimagined, Jennifer C. Nash reframes black feminism’s engagement with intersectionality, contending that black feminists should let go of their possession and policing of the concept in order to better unleash black feminist theory’s visionary and world-making possibilities.

Drawing on writing by medieval thinkers and travelers, Enlightenment theories of race, the commodification of women’s bodies under slavery, and the work of Tyler Perry and Bishop T. D. Jakes, in Jezebel UnhingedTamura Lomax shows how black women are written into religious and cultural history as sites of sexual deviation. Lomax traces the historical and contemporary use of the jezebel trope in the black church and in black popular culture, showing how it disciplines black women and girls and preserves gender hierarchy, black patriarchy, and heteronormativity in black families, communities, cultures, and institutions.

ZaborowskaMagdalena J. Zaborowska uses James Baldwin’s house in the south of France as a lens through which to reconstruct his biography for her book Me and My House. She explores the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity in his complex and underappreciated later works.

In None Like Us Stephen Best offers a bold reappraisal of the critical assumptions that undergird black studies’ use of the slave past as an explanatory prism for understanding the black political present, thereby opening the circuits between past and present and charting a queer future for black study.

In her book, Vexy Thing, Imani Perry recenters patriarchy to contemporary discussions of feminism through a social and literary analysis of cultural artifacts—ranging from nineteenth-century slavery court cases and historical vignettes to literature and contemporary art—from the Enlightenment to the present.

Black feminist critic Ann duCille combines cultural critique with personal reflections on growing up with TV as a child in the Boston suburbs in Technicolored to examine how televisual representations of African Americans—ranging from I Love Lucy to How to Get Away with Murder—have changed over the last sixty years.

In Murder on Shades Mountain, Melanie S. Morrison tells the tragic story of the murder and attempted murder of three young women in 1930s Birmingham, Alabama, and the aftermath, which saw a reign of terror unleashed on the town’s black community, the wrongful conviction and death sentencing of Willie Peterson, and a black-led effort to free Peterson.

MahlerFrom the Tricontinental to the Global South by Anne Garland Mahler traces the history and intellectual legacy of the understudied global justice movement called the Tricontinental and calls for a revival of the Tricontinental’s politics as a means to strengthen racial justice and anti-neoliberal struggles in the twenty-first-century.

In Fugitive Modernities, Jessica A. Krug traces the history and meaning of Kisama—a seventeenth-century fugitive slave community located in present-day Angola—by showing how it operated as a inspirational global symbol of resistance for fugitives on both sides of the Atlantic.

As the contributors to “African Feminisms,” a special issue of Meridians, show, African feminisms not only vary widely in form but also maintain vibrant and sometimes tense relations with one another around topics such as sexuality, national policies, and transnational solidarity. Read the issue, freely available through March 5.

Global Black Consciousness,” a special issue of Nka, aims to open up and complicate the key paradigms that have shaped the vibrant work on theories and cultural productions of the African diaspora. Contributors offer a critical and nuanced analysis of global black consciousness as both a citing of diasporic flows and a grounded site of decolonizing movement.