On March 4, I woke up to an urgent message from Avaaz in my email asking me to join the global effort to protect the Earth’s rivers. An image of a polluted river with denuded sides crowded with people trying to bathe or to pan (it was unclear which) graced their petition. This could be any water body anywhere. Yet, I have argued for paying attention to the specificity of types of water bodies in my scholarly work, thinking to militate against the tendency to dissolve all to water within the framework of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), the reigning policy paradigm. It matters whether water comes in a plastic container or from a tube-well. It matters what type of a river it is, say, braided or meandering. Entirely different sets of experiences, practices, policies, problems spring to mind with each.
My intuition is served by the recent spate of efforts to give personhood to rivers as distinct from other water bodies. New Zealand’s Whanganui, United States’ Klamath, Colombia’s Amazon, Canada’s Magpie are all rivers which have had personhood given to them. The western legal concept of a person with rights and responsibilities has been tasked to express varying Indigenous notions of the river, from embodying ancestors to aspects of Mother Earth. Whereas the notion of personhood has been used to much pernicious effect, such as in the granting of personhood to corporations, invariably the effort to extend personhood to rivers is to protect them, say from mining or damming or to secure them for eco-tourism, the latter bringing with it its own issues and concerns.
Even if such legal claims are yet to be tested and the protective, redemptive measures that unfold from them yet to be borne out in practice, the granting of personhood to rivers seems a positive development. It helps express in however awkward a fashion a range of relations to rivers beyond thinking of them as “ecological service infrastructures” and provides a conceptual bridge for the imagination to take flight to explore other possible relations to rivers than the ones to which one is accustomed. It raises the question for me: by means of this legal claim, what experiences and possibilities present themselves to people who have otherwise very instrumentalist relations to rivers? Can we reimagine our relation to rivers?
As I explore in my recent book on the Jamuna River in Bangladesh, the river expresses itself in myriad ways among those who live alongside it. While writing my book, I was hard pressed to find elaborate cosmologies with respect to the river. Inspired by these recent moves to grant personhood to rivers, I turned to newspaper reportage on rivers in Bangladesh to see how these moves had registered within the Bangladeshi imagination. The English national daily, the Daily Star, known for its consistent focus on the plight of rivers in Bangladesh, records the appalling state of the many rivers of Bangladesh (the Government of Bangladesh portal records 800). The articles point to visual evidence and studies to show how rivers are being filled in to create roads and build factories and how their waters are becoming toxic due to chemical, industrial and household wastes. Some are more forthright in saying that Bangladesh rivers are dying; in fact, 29 are considered biologically dead, unable to support life, possibly asphyxiating.
Among the causes for this crisis in the rivers of Bangladesh are infrastructural tendencies towards river training and the creation of embankments left over from British colonial times. Other articles point to unfair water arrangements with India, notably the Farraka and Gajoldoba Barrages that caused the decline of the Padma and Teesta Rivers in Bangladesh. In a grimly amusing interview with Saber Hossain Chowdhury, head of the parliamentary committee on Environment, Forest and Climate Change, he recounted “they [the industry’s ministry] make the same excuses each time, massive employment and earning of foreign currencies are involved with the tannery industry and a shutdown will have a negative impact,” followed by “We have asked the environment ministry to take measures to sever electricity connection to the respective industrial units upon their failure to act on the directives” (“Slow Death of the Dhaleswari” Daily Star July 18, 2022). And in a clear recognition that the forces that spell the death of rivers are the very same forces that seek to capture all resources in Bangladesh, another article specifies that names of encroachers on rivers be put on lists to prevent them from running for office, getting bank loans or even leaving the country (“Protecting Rights of Rivers: Turning Intentions into Action, Nov 20, 2020).
Such, then, is the context within which the Bangladesh High Court conferred legal personhood upon the Turag River in February 2019 and by extension all rivers in Bangladesh. Writing in October 2021, Suraya Ferdous explains the history of the concept of environmental personhood to Daily Star readers, tracing it back from Dr. Christopher Stone’s 1972 book Should Trees Have Standing?, to the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court Decision on behalf of natural entities, and to Ecuador’s enshrinement of the rights of Pachamamma (Mother Earth) in 2007 and Bolivia’s “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” (“The Idea of ‘Environmental Personhood’ with Reference to River” Daily Star, Oct 16, 2021). The author notes that the important shift is in perception, from anthropocentricism that upholds natural entities as mere resources for human use, to considering that entities have their own rights to shield themselves from human exploitation. “Legal personhood entitles a river to sue, to utilise compensation for its own wholesomeness, to have a say in multipurpose projects and to have a right in rem not to be affected adversely” (ibid). The National River Conservation Commission (NRCC), created in 2014, was granted guardianship of the Turag. Given the parlous state of law and order in Bangladesh it should not surprise that the NRCC’s efforts to publicize the names of encroachers on rivers are equal parts heroic and pusillanimous for quickly shelving any further actions against them.
What is interesting in the case of Bangladesh extending the rights of personhood to rivers is what transfers from the most capacious understanding of the notion of personhood of rivers. This is another way of asking: what experiences and possibilities present themselves to people who have otherwise very instrumentalist relations to rivers? Can we reimagine our relation to rivers? In the case of say the Whangaui River in New Zealand, it is seen as continuous with the Maori social body—any harm to it is harm to Maoris. Meanwhile, rivers in Bangladesh are granted a more limited set of rights that stops shy of treating them as persons. Rather, they are in the stated custody of persons whose practical action is to protect the rivers, again not for the rivers’ own sake but for the sake of the general good. This fits within the normative Muslim perspective, in which nature is given to humans for their use but also to be safeguarded as God’s creation against human excesses (Bangladesh is majority Muslim). Here too is an unstated reference to Hindu-Muslim relations in these parts through the implicit concern with associating humans with non-humans or rendering non-humans humanlike. What is worrying for me in this question of what transfers or doesn’t transfer is the continued occlusion of those bodies which may put themselves with rivers along a continuum of personhood. Indigenous populations or Adivasis in Bangladesh have long maintained relations with sacred groves, mountains and water bodies. They have also long suffered violence and dispossession of their ancestral lands. While personhood for rivers may enter the Bangladesh imagination through the route of international legal actions, it is dispiriting to find that it does not spur inquiry into Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, as if they have nothing to add on the matter or insights, experiences, or even critiques. In the event marking the launch of the bilingual translation of the above-mentioned High Court judgment in English and Bengali (“Protecting Rights of Rivers: Turning Intentions into Action, Nov 20, 2020), we hear from students of geography and law, various high-ranking officials of the Bangladesh Government, the senior editor of the Daily Star, lawyers, environmental activists associated with Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), and members of the NRCC. The usual faces, the usual voices, join in an undoubtedly noble struggle to keep alive rivers in Bangladesh, but offer no new possibilities for re-imagining our relations to rivers.
Naveeda Khan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University and author of Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan and the new book River Life and the Uprising of Nature. Save 50% on both books, now through April 17, with coupon code SPRING23.
“Interaction with forests is not a choice. Only how we interact with them is.”
Forests have been around way before humankind. They master life and thought. How much do they know about time and the stars? Or about geometry and chemistry? What about grief and joy? We should ask them, just as many forest dwellers, human and otherwise, have been doing for millennia. We, humans, still need to learn to hear and understand the forests’ answers. Today, March 21, is the observance of the International Day of Forests, a date instituted by the United Nations only eleven years ago. The theme for 2023, “Forests and Health,” is a reminder of how our collective well-being, our flourishing, is deeply rooted and entangled with the fate of these sylvan landscapes—a fate increasingly compromised on account of rapacious economic systems, predatory policies, volatile infrastructures, and armed interests.
Although most of us would associate forests with wilderness and rural places, forests contribute a great deal to the health of urban populations and industrialized societies. A recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization made that link very explicit. And a tiny virus that jumped from wild animals to human hosts in 2019 and that has provoked more than 6.5 million deaths worldwide is a reminder of that entangled relationship. Interaction with forests is not a choice. Only how we interact with them is. In fact, it is only by virtue of that interaction that we cultivate our humanness.
Consider the following word: naku. It belongs to the Sapara language, the mother tongue of a small number of individuals that compose the Indigenous Sapara nation living in the Amazon, on Ecuador’s eastern border with Peru. Naku might roughly be translated as forest, that sylvan world that surrounds, welcomes, and nourishes this and the about 400 Indigenous nations that call the Amazon rainforest their home. But, unlike the source of natural resources and environmental services that the FAO describes in the aforementioned report, naku describes a profusion of sentient beings (some of animal and vegetal form, others made of more intangible but not less real components) with whom people share different degrees of intellectual, bodily, and spiritual connections. The world, hold different Sapara leaders, is naku, is forest; and to know the world, with all its ferocity and kindness, is fundamentally to engage in meaningful relations with the myriad beings that forests harbor. One cultivates one’s own humanness in the company of these sylvan worlds, as a guest of forests, not as a master of them.
What happens when these relations are severely hindered by war? That is the question that drove my ethnographic inquiry in Bajo Atrato, a region located in the forestlands located on the northwestern Colombian Pacific coast. I saw how armed conflict is an experience wherein suffering extends beyond the people, provoking a form of collective harm that is embodied by the other-than-human beings and the sentient places that compose the traditional territories of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples. Trees heavily pocked from gunfire; rivers that became floating cemeteries of trees; spiritual protectors of game that decided to keep animals out of the reach of people; snakes capable of injecting into their victims’ wounds a poison that pollutes the land that warlords had transformed into oil palm plantations; evil beings that, after having been released by powerful shamans in their attempt to protect communities from the raids carried out by armies, are now wreaking havoc, drowning people and devouring their noses and their fingers. These are some of the afterlives of war, and they have triggered a kind of ecological violence that cannot be easily tackled with the language of human rights and environmental degradation.
War, just like everyday human life, is always a multispecies effort. War, at least as it has been waged in the forests of Colombia, challenges assumptions regarding selfhood, bodies, the elements of life, and the distinctiveness of humans. And given that armed conflict compromises the web of relations through which people and different sentient beings weave their lives together, it also compels us to explore what justice means and how it can be achieved in regions where colonialism, state violence, and militarism have entangled human and nonhuman lives and shown their shared vulnerability. On the International Day of Forests, we should recall that when forests are harmed, when they run amok because of our destructive actions, not only is human health at stake, but the fate of the world itself is jeopardized, because without forests, our world will not simply be poorer. Our world will not be a world at all.
Monique Moultrie is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University and author of Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality, also published by Duke University Press. In her new book Hidden Histories, she collects oral histories of Black lesbian religious leaders in the United States to show how their authenticity, social justice awareness, spirituality, and collaborative leadership make them models of womanist ethical leadership. By examining their life histories, Moultrie frames queer storytelling as an ethical act of resistance to the racism, sexism, and heterosexism these women experience.
How does Hidden Histories build on or diverge from your earlier book Passionate and Pious?
My prior work centered on Black women as they make choices about their sexuality within larger celibacy movements. While Passionate and Pious had a chapter about Black lesbian Christian women asserting their sexuality in these prescribed sexual spaces, at minimum I was tracing a story of Black Christian women leaders’ messages about sexuality. Yet, ultimately the text centers on what their followers decided to do as described to me by women participating in these movements. In Hidden Histories, my focus is slightly different as I consider Black female religious and sexual actors exerting their agency in religious spheres. Both works are about Black women in leadership and both take seriously the sexual lives of Black women. Hidden Histories diverges in its emphasis on the lived realities of leadership as I provide the first collection of oral histories of Black lesbian religious leaders. I hope that Hidden Histories offers through these Black women’s stories a model of leadership that is applicable to everyone.
In your introduction, you mention how being a heterosexual ally who is not a religious leader placed you in an “outsider/within” scenario during these interviews. Within the interview setting, how did you navigate the complex, intersectional issues at hand as an “outsider”?
During the interviews I recognized that my role was to share their story and to get it right. While I was not a religious leader, I understood their passion and calling to leadership. As the spouse of a religious leader, I also could empathize with what the personal costs were for them. I made every effort to not be “in the story” but to reflect the story in my theorizing. My gleanings from their life histories needed to be professional, but I needed to share enough of myself to be vulnerable to the process. Yet, I did not pry into their private lives unless they wanted me to document something about their partners. While my first book was all about personal stories and sexual intimacies, I did not inquire about these things in the oral histories. There were many experiences we could share like racism, classism, sexism, etc., but I knew as a heterosexual I carried privileges that they did not experience. My interviews had to demonstrate a critical awareness while simultaneously trying to get their stories connected to my interest in social activism. Balancing these stories was a delicate dance.
What was the most surprising perspective or unexpected insight you heard while conducting these interviews?
Honestly, I was surprised by the number of Black women in leadership in non-majority Black spaces. When I started the project, I expected Black female religious leaders to be in Black Christian churches since statistically Black women are the most numerous participants in Black Christianity. Finding Black women leaders in other religions and women who were leading in predominately white spaces was surprising as it reiterated the impacts of sexism on Black women’s thriving. For example, each of the women who were leaders in the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a predominately Black gay- and lesbian-affirming denomination, left the denomination. (This was not just because of their experiences with sexism; but, like others admitted, the hypocrisy in communities created for freedom from oppression was disheartening.)
Denomination-swapping was also surprising to me as a lifelong Baptist who only briefly dabbled as a member of an African Methodist Episcopal church. The fluidity in the interviewees’ denominational loyalties was unexpected but also demonstrated the obstacles in place for Black women in traditional Black church spaces and the wider economic resources available in predominately white denominations.
The insight I gained was that there are no perfect spaces for Black women leaders. Even the places that should be panaceas had problems, which made their activism, resistance, and overall perseverance even more inspiring.
How do you see the intersectionality experienced by these Black lesbian religious leaders contributing to their pursuit of social justice activism in a way distinct from other groups?
The entire book is my attempt to answer this question. Simply put: being a Black lesbian leader made a difference because of their ability to lead collaboratively, inter-generationally, and from the moral wisdom of Black women. Their intersectional lives make them aware of those on the margins, and because their gender has often limited their access to traditional forms of leadership and the resources accompanying this leadership, they tend to work within communities and with attention to social justice concerns that impact entire communities.
What are your hopes for future scholarship in this field?
I completed a study on cisgender and largely Christian Black lesbian religious leaders. This was a righteous but incomplete task. I have received funding to complete additional interviews of Black transgender religious leaders and non-Christian leaders, but due to the pandemic and my overall lack of access to these communities, my expansion of scholarship has been limited. It is my hope that my study and subsequent interviews pave a path towards exploring Black trans leadership and Black non-Christian female leaders. I also hope that the fields of African American Religion and Gender and Sexuality Studies continue to look to its margins, bringing these voices to the center.
Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women globally. This year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity: going beyond equality to create an inclusive world. We’re excited to share recent books and journals from Duke University Press that align with this mission and commemorate women around the world and throughout history. March is also Women’s History Month, so you can keep the celebration going with these books all month long!
In honor of March being Women’s History Month, Feminism in Coalition by Liza Taylor kicks off our list with a nod to the past. Taylor examines how U.S. women of color feminists’ coalition collective politics of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s is an indispensable resource to contemporary political theory, feminist studies, and intersectional social justice activism.
Legacies of War shifts the stage to the Andes as Kimberly Theidon draws on ethnographic research in post-conflict Peru and Columbia to examine the lives of children born of wartime rape and the impact of violence on human and more-than-human lives, bodies, and ecologies.
Genevieve Alva Clutario’s Beauty Regimesblends American and Southeast Asia Studies in tracing how beauty and fashion in the Philippines shaped the intertwined projects of imperial expansion and modern nation building during the turbulent transition between Spanish, US, and Japanese empires
Changing the Subject by Srila Roy traces the impact of neoliberalism on gender and sexuality rights movements in the Global South, highlighting queer and feminist activism in India.
In Dancer’s Voice, Rumya Sree Putcha uses the figure of the Indian classical dancer to explore the complex dynamics of contemporary transnational Indian womanhood.
AnaLouise Keating’s Anzaldúan Theory Handbookdelves into Chicanx and Latinx Studies in providing a comprehensive investigation of the foundational theories, methods, and philosophies of Gloria E. Anzaldúa.
Throughout a book-length poem, Simone White considers the dynamics of contemporary black feminist life, attesting to the narrative complexities of writing and living as a black woman and artist in or, on being the other woman.
The contributors to Reframing Todd Haynes, edited by Theresa L. Geller and Julia Leyda, blend media studies and women’s studies by reassessing the film and television work of award-winning independent filmmaker Todd Haynes in light of his longstanding feminist commitments and his exceptional position as a director of women’s films.
Catherine Grant in Time of One’s Ownexamines how contemporary feminist artists such as Sharon Hayes, Mary Kelly, Allyson Mitchell, Deirdre Logue, Lubaina Himid, Pauline Boudry, and Renate Lorenz are turning to the history of feminism in the twenty-first century as a way to understand the present moment.
Lives of Jessie Sampter by Sarah Imhoff tells of the queer, disabled, Zionist writer Jessie Sampter (1883-1938), whose body and life did not match typical Zionist ideals and serves as an example of the complex relationships between the body, queerness, disability, religion, and nationalism.
The contributors to Re-Understanding Media, edited by Sarah Sharma and Rianka Singh, advance a feminist version of Marshall McLuhan’s key text, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, repurposing his insight that “the medium is the message” for feminist ends.
Kelli Moore’s Legal Spectatorship traces the political origins of the concept of domestic violence through visual culture in the United States, showing how it is rooted in the archive of slavery.
Also, don’t miss these special issues of journals in feminist and women’s studies:
Büscher and Fletcher’s book traces the controversy over two apparently opposed modes of wildlife conservation: “new” or “Anthropocene” conservation versus a “neo-Protectionist” or “new back-to-the-barriers” movement. The latter trend is essentially a reassertion of the long-dominant approach of the conservation movement, which began with the establishment of national parks such as Yosemite in the US and expanded to include a global network of parks that currently cover roughly 17 percent of the planet. These protected spaces are treated like fortresses, pristine wild areas to be cordoned off while capitalism expands unchecked around the rest of the planet, chewing up nature in the process. This model of fortress conservation was grounded in a nature-culture binary that legitimated the violent eviction of people inhabiting areas to be conserved. In recent decades, this binary thinking came under attack from proponents of the “new” or “Anthropocene” conservation, who argued that ecosystems always change and that humans must figure out how live on and manage the earth. Proponents of this approach embraced activists’ criticisms of the exclusionary impact of traditional “fortress” conservation. But their response was to suggest that the most effective way to protect nature was to give it monetary value. This position, Büscher and Fletcher argue, was essentially a genuflection before the worship of the “free” market that gained ascendency in recent decades. The result is an embrace of measures like environmental services and natural capital valuation that accommodate conservation to capitalism. Neo-protectionists have responded by doubling down on the fortress conservation approach, arguing for setting aside of as much as half the earth to “nature.” In place of these opposed (and evidently failing) camps, Büscher and Fletcher propose an approach they call “convivial conservation.” This approach, they argue, is grounded in political ecology’s critique of both the nature-culture dichotomy and growth-centric capitalism. Convivial conservation stands in solidarity with local, Indigenous movements seeking to restore nature and reinvent what Büscher and Fletcher call convivial forms of conservation that connect humans with the rest of nature. For Büscher and Fletcher, convivial conservation necessitates a shift in how we govern nature, from one based on the negative impacts of the conservation industry’s top-down, technocratic approach to one that frames biodiversity as a global commons rooted in direct-democratic decision making centered on people living with (endangered) biodiversity. Supporting a global biodiversity commons includes a call for reparations for those displaced by past conservation efforts, and the returning of land to local communities as well as the establishment of co-ownership and co-management models based on respecting Indigenous People and their rights to nature. The Conservation Revolution articulates an important challenge to neocolonial and capitalist modes of conservation today, and sets out a model that can engage and empower the people who have long stewarded biodiversity.
From its early efforts in the 19th century to its massive expansion over the past century, conservation and the creation of create protected areas for biodiversity have dispossessed and expelled Indigenous communities from their lands all over the world, becoming a vector of Indigenous removal on par with extractive industries. As protected areas have expanded globally for more than a century, cordoning off more and more land most of which is long inhabited by Indigenous communities, they have expelled an estimated tens of millions of “conservation refugees,” removed from their homes and means of survival based on their relationships to the land. In this analysis, conservation is colonialism.
Mark Dowie examines this history of conflict between conservation and Indigenous peoples and yet argues that these two groups are the most capable of preserving biodiversity. Their collaboration is crucial for the future of the planet. To meet this challenge of collaboration, Dowie confronts the history and mechanics of conservation as colonialism, identifying structural and conceptual conflicts that consistently devalue Indigenous lives and epistemologies. The chapters alternate between offering analyses of the core issues undergirding this conflict and concrete examples that illustrate those concepts. For example, the African Parks Foundation (AFP), a “big, international nonprofit” (BINGO) based in the Netherlands and financially floated by extractive and retail giants like Walmart, seeks to privatize and manage African national parks, which, in its vision, should never include the people who live there. It has thus looked away as the national governments it works with send their cops and soldiers to forcible evict conservation refugees to camps beyond park boundaries. Such deflection of responsibility for evictions is common among BINGOs, which command the conservation movement, receiving 70% of global funding while collaborating, not with Indigenous communities who receive almost zero funding, but with national governments, international banks and financial institutions (like the WTO), international agencies, large foundations, and corporations, including extractive industrial companies. This mainstream, well-funded approach to conservation is rooted in a colonial, anthropocentric approach to nature as a resource, which helps secure funding, but does little to ensure the flourishing of biodiversity. As Dowie highlights, once states and their conservationist collaborators expel Indigenous people from a protected area, new settlers and extractivists move in. The sheer presence of Indigenous communities protects those habitats. The proof is the symbiotic coexistence of Indigenous people and their lands for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Their “kincentric” view of nature as the source of life interwoven with humanity contests colonial views of nature as a place, separate from humans but subject to human control. Dowie highlights the rise of global Indigenous organizing for their sovereignty and for environmental justice, which has “literally changed the way the world regards property, the commons, and human rights” and created new models for Indigenous stewardship of protected areas. While bridging the divides between conservationists and Indigenous communities will require more than importing “traditional ecological knowledge” into colonial epistemologies, but a deep restructuring of nature-human relationships, conservationists must awaken to the truth that protecting biodiversity requires Indigenous stewardship and a stalwart commitment to preserving cultural diversity.
The #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock, obstructing the Dakota Access Pipeline that would poison the land and water of the Great Sioux Reservation, brought together more than three hundred tribal nations, as well as non-Indigenous organizers for environmental and social justice. It set a new precedent for Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaboration. Dina Gilio-Whitaker begins from the Standing Rock water protector movement to examine the fraught relationship and potential, necessary solidarity between Indigenous decolonial movements and environmental justice movements. She emphasizes how the settler colonialism that created a genocidal structure against Indigenous people also inflicted environmental injustice. Indian history is environmental history and justice for Indigenous people is environmental justice. However, mainstream approaches to environmental justice, including analyses of environmental racism, ignore settler colonial conditions at the root of environmental destruction while simultaneously enabling Indigenous erasure. Tracing the interlocking oppression of Indigenous people and violation of the environment, Gilio-Whitaker examines westward expansion and industrialization, Indigenous enslavement, relegation to reservations, termination policies, extractive industries that have poisoned land and people, dam-building projects that flooded entire ecosystems and habitats, and other development projects. For Native people, environmental injustice emerges from the dispossession and environmental deprivation that removed them from the land, the source of their culture, food, and spirituality. And yet U.S. environmental and conservation movements trace their roots to settler colonial concepts of Manifest Destiny and “virgin lands” of pristine wilderness, leading to the model of national parks that create conservation refugees, originating in the formation of Yosemite Park and exported globally as “America’s greatest idea.” Environmental justice will require confronting this history and rooting their movements in Indigenous modes of justice. Gilio-Whitaker raises multiple examples of the collaborations among environmental and Indigenous justice movements, including the “Cowboy Indian Alliance,” composed of white settler ranchers and Indigenous communities in South Dakota, defeated the Keystone XL Pipeline. Indigenous spiritual relationships to land have also provided a key legal tool to challenge development projects that would trammel over sacred sites and destroy environments. Friction and challenges rooted in the divergent world views and approaches to nature continue to afflict these collaborations, as seen in when conservation initiatives whose success required claims to Indigenous sacred sites then get recast as benefits for “the homogenized masses that comprise the American public.” The book concludes by examining other points of potential solidarity and organizing and legal tools through which that solidarity that be forged, like formally recognizing the rights of nature and alternative land arrangements that would return more land to Indigenous stewardship. These collaborations essential for the future of the planet require a decolonial approach to environmental justice, which would “restore right relationship to all involved,” including colonizer and colonized and the land, air, and water we share.
News of the Sixth Extinction has generated a sense of deep urgency about halting the annihilation of threatened species. This urgency leads conservationists to conclude that wildlife poaching and trafficking must be stopped before it is too late. Given the prospect of extinction, it is all too easy to conclude that the ends – saving species – justify the means, including the use of deadly force. In Security and Conservation, Rosaleen Duffy examines the turn towards militarized modes of interdiction that is an increasingly common approach in conservation. Proponents of militarized conservation argue that it is a necessary and even heroic quest to save threatened species. Supporters of this approach, including NGOs, international donors, and national governments, depict critics of the militarization of conservation as naïve or even as opponents of conservation. Yet the militarization of conservation must be subjected to critical scrutiny, and alternative approaches based on more holistic and longer-term thinking need consideration and support. Duffy’s book shows how militarization focuses on the symptoms not the root causes of poaching. Security and Conservation reminds readers of the colonial history whereby some forms of hunting were defined as poaching, a term that effectively marginalizes consideration of how poverty, inequality, historical grievances, and the continuing effects of colonial and racial discourses shape understandings of the circumstances that lead to the killing of wildlife. Duffy’s work highlights the material effects of discursive constructions of poaching. For instance, in the popular documentary film Virunga, park rangers are depicted as heroes engaged in a battle with unscrupulous poachers, and viewers are asked to donate money to become part of “Virunga’s epic fight.” Yet, as Duffy shows, such militarized responses can often ratchet up tensions, leading to enmity and even counter-violence as local communities are subjected to surveillance and often deadly exclusion from protected areas. Ranger training is shifted away from holistic conservation and ecological management towards narrow paramilitary and counter-insurgency tactics, and the distinction between conservation and other forms of armed violence can blur. Duffy challenges the widespread claims that poaching is a key funding source for terrorist networks, and points to the fact that both state and private-sector actors can benefit from oppressive militarization of conservation in what amounts to “accumulation by securitization.” Studies suggest that demand reduction strategies and sustainable livelihood approaches are more effective at tackling poaching than enhanced policing and enforcement alone, Duffy argues. Given the increasing attention focused on the Sixth Extinction, Duffy’s book is an important critical voice challenging the spread of militarized violence around the world.
Fiore Longo and Ashley Dawson, editors (Common Notions Press, 2023)
The need to save world’s biodiversity from extinction is generating increasingly ambitious conservation proposals. For instance, the recent embrace at the UN biodiversity conference of the 30×30 goal of putting 30 percent of the earth’s surface behind fences by 2030 is an indication of the potential globe-straddling impact of conservation policies. But conservation at what cost, and for whom? The testimonies, analysis, and histories gathered in this volume document the resistance of individuals, ethnic groups, and a transnational movement more broadly against neocolonial conservation and the corporate greenwashing that is increasingly intertwined with the work of big conservation organizations. The voices of frontline activists heard in Decolonize Conservation! testify to the violent exclusions perpetuated by dominant models of fortress conservation. These dispossessing policies are not a thing of the (colonial) past. As the climate crisis intensifies, dominant conservation policies are only going to become more of a site of conflict, as governments and corporations look to conservation to offset and greenwash the spiraling contradictions of the capitalist, colonialist world system. Against such fortress conservation and neoliberal policies such as “nature-based services” that are its analogue, activists in the volume propose giving genuine sovereignty to the Indigenous People and local communities who have successfully stewarded the planet’s biodiversity for centuries. Decolonizing conservation is one of today’s most important—if relatively under-acknowledged—environmental struggles, a fight for land back and reparations inextricably intertwined with the global movement for climate justice.
A. Naomi Paik is the author of Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary: Understanding U.S. Immigration for the 21st Century (University of California Press, 2020) and Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps since World War II (UNC Press, 2016; winner, Best Book in History, AAAS 2018; runner-up, John Hope Franklin prize for best book in American Studies, ASA, 2017), as well as articles, opinion pieces, and interviews in a range of academic and public-facing venues. She is developing a project, “Sanctuary for All,” that calls for the most capacious conception of sanctuary, one that brings together migrant and environmental justice. She is co-chair of the Radical History Review editorial collective and has co-edited four special issues of the journal—“Militarism and Capitalism (Winter 2019), “Radical Histories of Sanctuary” (Fall 2019), “Policing, Justice, and the Radical Imagination” (Spring 2020), and “Alternatives to the Anthropocene” with Ashley Dawson (Winter 2023). Collaborating with Gerry Cadava and Cat Ramirez, she coedits the “Borderlands” section of Public Books. She is an associate professor of Criminology, Law, and Justice and Global Asian Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a member of the Migration Scholars Collaborative.
TOP FIVE is a new blog feature where authors, editors, guest editors, and other interesting people associated with Duke University Press are invited to share a list of influences and interests.
Contributors to this special issue examine the heterogeneous imaginaries and social movements struggling against the social and environmental destruction of the Anthropocene—the geological era of climate change driven by a humankind envisioned as homogeneous. Recuperating the alternative worlds, orientations, and subaltern environmental movements that constitute radical historical alternatives to the Anthropocene, the authors conceptualize these alternatives as seeds of ecological insurrection, that sometimes lie dormant for years but are always ready to rise up again when the time is right. At a moment when elites have intransigently refused to decarbonize society, the contributors urge readers to look back to histories of revolt in order to broaden the repertoire of militant tactics available to face the environmental emergency.
The Weekly Read for March 4, 2023 is Crip Genealogies edited by Mel Y. Chen, Alison Kafer, Eunjung Kim, and Julie Avril Minich. The contributors to Crip Genealogies reorient the field of disability studies by centering the work of transnational feminism, queer of color critique, and trans scholarship and activism, showing how a white and Western-centric narrative of disability studies enables ableism and racism.
Crip Genealogies is part of the series ANIMA: Critical Race Studies Otherwise, edited by Mel Y. Chen, Ezekiel J. Dixon-Román, and Jasbir K. Puar. Books in this series bring together queer theory, postcolonial studies, critical race scholarship, and disability theory to foreground the oft-occluded import of race and sex in the fields of posthumanist theory, new materialisms, vitalism, media theory, animal studies, and object-oriented ontologies. ANIMA emphasizes how life, vitality, and animatedness reside beyond what is conventionally and humanistically known.
Prefer the print version? Buy the book and use coupon code E23CRIPG at checkout for a 30% discount!
The Weekly Read is a weekly feature in which we highlight articles, books, and chapters that are freely available online. You’ll be able to find a link to the selection here on the blog as well as on our social media channels. Enjoy The Weekly Read, and check back next week for something new to read for free.
Our Cyber Monday sale continues today and tomorrow. Are you looking for some books that would make great gifts? Here are some suggestions. Use coupon CYBER22 to save 50% on these and all in-stock and pre-order titles.
Looking for gifts for sports fans? We have two new books about basketball. Capturing the magnificence and mastery of today’s most accomplished NBA players while paying homage to the devotion of the countless congregants in the global church of pickup basketball, in Lost in the Game Thomas Beller charts the game’s inexorable gravitational hold on those who love it. And in Big Game, Small World, Alexander Wolff travels the globe in search of what basketball can tell us about the world, and what the world can tell us about the game.
How about a memoir? Give your gay uncle Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood by John D’Emilio, in which the historian takes readers from his working-class Bronx neighborhood and Columbia University to New York’s hidden gay male subculture and the political and social upheavals of the late 1960s. Perhaps you also have a tía or two; they might enjoy Magical Habits by Monica Huerta, in which she draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives. Have a friend who is a graphic novel fan? Give them The Inheritance, a graphic memoir by theorist and filmmaker Elizabeth A. Povinelli, which explores the events, traumas, and powers that divide and define our individual and collective pasts and futures. Another recent memoir is Atlantis, an Autoanthropology, a literary memoir and autoethnography by poet Nathaniel Tarn which captures this multiplicity and reaches for the uncertainties of a life lived in a dizzying array of times, cultures, and environments.
For poetry fans, we have many excellent gift ideas. Nomenclature collects eight volumes of Dionne Brand’s poetry published between 1983 and 2010, as well as a new long poem, the titular Nomenclature for the time being. In or, on being the other woman, Simone White considers the dynamics of contemporary black feminist life through a book-length poem. When the Smoke Cleared contains poetry written by incarcerated poets in Attica Prison and journal entries and poetry by Celes Tisdale, who led poetry workshops following the uprising there in 1971. In Maroon Choreography fahima ife speculates on the long (im)material, ecological, and aesthetic afterlives of black fugitivity. In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, they examine black fugitivity as an ongoing phenomenon we know little about beyond what history tells us. And in Good night the pleasure was ours musician and poet David Grubbs melts down and recasts three decades of playing music on tour into a book-length poem, bringing to a close the trilogy that includes Now that the audience is assembled and The Voice in the Headphones. Get the whole set!
Got a musician or music fan in your life? Here are some recent gift-worthy music titles. Jazz fans will enjoy Ain’t But a Few of Us, a collection of essays by and interviews with Black Jazz writers, edited by Willard Jenkins. Or give Cisco Bradley’s Universal Tonality, a highly-praised biography of jazz bassist William Parker. Perhaps their taste runs to New Wave music instead? Check out No Machos or Pop Stars by Gavin Butt, which tells the fascinating story of the post-punk scene in Leeds, and A Kiss across the Ocean by Richard T. Rodríguez, which examines the relationship between British post-punk musicians and their Latinx audiences in the United States since the 1980s. Rap and hip hop fans will appreciate Breaks in the Air, in which John Klaess tells the story of rap’s emergence on New York City’s airwaves by examining how artists and broadcasters adapted hip hop’s performance culture to radio.
For the activists in your life, we suggest Black Disability Politics by Sami Schalk, which demonstrates that the work of Black disability politics not only exists but is essential to the future of Black liberation movements. And for those interested in advocating for veterans, we suggest Our Veterans by Suzanne Gordon, Steve Early, and Jasper Craven,
And finally, since we’re Duke University Press, after all, we bet you have some theory fans on your gift list. Make sure they have a copy of Lauren Berlant’s On the Inconvenience of Other People, which Judith Butler calls “magisterial” and “brilliant.”
Books ordered this week will arrive in time for Hanukkah and Christmas if shipped to a US address. We cannot guarantee holiday arrival for international shipments. See all the fine print here. Pre-order titles will not arrive in time for the holidays.
We’re pleased that our distributors Combined Academic Publishers and University of Toronto Press are also participating in the sale. Customers outside North and South America should order from CAP using the same CYBER22 coupon code for faster and cheaper shipping. Customers in Canada should head to the UTP site where the prices will reflect the 50% discount, no coupon needed.
Shop now because the sale ends tomorrow, November 30, at 11:59 pm Eastern time.
For Peer Review Week this year we are sharing some excerpts from recent books that discuss the ideas encompassed by this year’s theme, “Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research.” Today’s post is an excerpt from Pollution Is Colonialism by Max Liboiron.
The joke was old even before it appeared in print:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto find themselves surrounded by hostile Indians. The Ranger asks Tonto: “What are we going to do, Tonto?” To which Tonto replies: “What do you mean we, white man (or paleface, or kemo sabe, depending on the version)?”
Its racist ancestry is undeniable: the joke partly evokes the picture of a feckless subordinate who will treacherously abandon his superior at the first sign of trouble — usually with the ethnic or social group to which the subordinate belongs. But even before 1956, ancient variants of the joke were meant to deflate the condescension of individuals who used the royal “we,” and the insulting presumption of people who assumed, for their own purposes, what they had no business assuming.1
We is rife with such assumptions. A familiar, naturalized narrative about environmental pollution is that We are causing it. We are trashing the planet. Humans are inherently greedy, or wasteful, or addicted to convenience, or naturally self-maximizing, and are downright tragic when it comes to “the” commons. On the other side of the coin, We must rise up, work together, refuse plastic straws, act collectively, and put aside our differences.
I’m not going to dwell on how We erases difference and power relations or how it makes a glossy theory of change that doesn’t allow specific responsibility.2 Here, I want to focus on responsibility — the obligation to enact good relations as scientists, scholars, readers, and to account for our relations when they are not good. And you can’t have obligation without specificity. We isn’t specific enough for obligation. You know this — an elder daughter has different obligations than a mail carrier, and you have different obligations to your elder daughter than to the mail carrier. DuPont has different obligations to plastic pollution than someone with a disability who uses a straw to drink. Even though I’m sure you’ve heard that “everything is related” in many Indigenous cosmologies, this doesn’t mean there is a cosmic similitude of relations. You are not obliged to all things the same way.3 Hence there is a need for specificity when talking about relations.
There can be solidarity without a We. There must be solidarity without a universal We. The absence of We and the acknowledgement of many we’s (including those to which you/I/we do not belong4) is imperative for good relations in solidarity against ongoing colonialism and allows cooperation with the incommensurabilities of different worlds, values, and obligations. There are guidebooks to doing careful, specific solidarity work across difference.5 Indigenous science and technology studies (STS) scholar Kim TallBear has written about “standing with” as a methodological approach to doing research in good relation. In her work, she writes that she “had to find a way to study bio-scientists (whose work has profound implications for indigenous peoples) in a way in which I could stand more within their community,” rather than critiquing them from a place of confrontation and not-caring— an approach that she argues is bad feminist practice. She now moves “towards faithful knowledges, towards co-constituting my own knowledge in concert with the acts and claims of those who I inquire among.”6 Indigenous peoples, settlers, and others have different roles and responsibilities in the “challenge to invent, revive, and sustain decolonizing possibilities and persistences.”7 Rather than fixing or saving one another, “giving back,”8 or assuming that ongoing colonial Land relations only harm Indigenous people, “within the condition of alterlife the potential for political kinship and alter-relations comes out of the recognition of connected, though profoundly uneven and often complicit, imbrications in the systems that distribute violence.”9 This is investment without assumed access to our subjects and areas of research.
Max Liboiron is Associate Professor of Geography at Memorial University. Pollution Is Colonialism is available for 30% off on our website with coupon SAVE30.
Hello, Reader! Thank you for being here. These footnotes are a place of nuance and politics, where the protocols of gratitude and recognition play out (sometimes also called citation), where warnings and care work are carried out (including calling certain readers aside for a chat or a joke), and where I contextualize, expand, and emplace work. The footnotes support the text above, representing the shoulders on which I stand and the relations I want to build. They are part of doing good relations within a text, through a text. Since a main goal of Pollution Is Colonialism is to show how methodology is a way of being in the world and that ways of being are tied up in obligation, these footnotes are one way to enact that argument. Thank you to Duke University Press for these footnotes.
1. Ivie, “What Do You Mean ‘We,’ White Man?” Also see Heglar, “Climate Change Ain’t the First Existential Threat”; Hecht, “African Anthropocene”; and Whyte, “Is It Colonial Déjà Vu?” All of these pieces break out of the violence and myopia of “we” as a way to critique mainstream environmental narratives, including the notion of the Anthropocene (which is also a key critique in Murphy, “Alterlife and Decolonial Chemical Relations”).
2. If you want some more of that, see M. Liboiron, “Against Awareness, for Scale”; and M. Liboiron, “Solutions to Waste.” There is also an entire chapter on the problems of We in a currently in-progress manuscript called Discard Studies that I am writing with excellent collaborator Josh Lepawsky (settler).
3. The idea that obligations are specific is put into practice by many different Indigenous thinkers, but this guiding principle is not exclusive to Indigenous groups. I think of New Orleans activist Shannon Dosemagen (unmarked), director of the Public Lab for Open Technology and Science, whose understandings of relations as the primary source, goal, and ethic of community science have led to a career in bringing people together in a good way and building technologies and platforms to support those relations. See Dosemagen, Warren, and Wylie, “Grassroots Mapping.” I also think about Labrador-based scholar Ashlee Cunsolo (settler), director of the Labrador Institute, whose directorship is premised on building and maintaining relations in a context of complex geopolitics and competing interests, and who exemplifies humility, generosity, and gratitude in every setting I’ve seen her in. See Cunsolo and Landman, Mourning Nature. Shannon and Ashlee, thank you for your examples of putting the relational politics that so many people talk about into practice in ways that far exceed the cultural and ethical norms of your existing institutions. It has been a great gift being activist-administrators with you.
4. Acknowledging where you do not belong while remaining aligned with those who do seems to be one of the more difficult lessons of allyship. I recently attended an “Indigenous LGBTQ2S+” gathering where white and non-Indigenous allies were thanked for attending, but then asked to leave so we could build a certain type of community. The settler sitting beside me didn’t leave. She was clearly nervous and unsure of what to do, but her inability to choose the embarrassment of standing up and leaving, and thereby outing herself as a white person, over the choice to stay in a place she had been asked to leave by those she was there to support meant that she probably isn’t ready for the even harder choices involved with Indigenous queer folk. Because of her choice, I had to take time to teach her when she was ignorant of something a speaker said. You can stand with a group without standing in their midst. In fact, sometimes standing-with-but-over-there is the best place to stand. A similar story is told by Sara Ahmed in the context of trying to have a Black Caucus professional meeting in On Being Included. I’m sure you have your own stories.
5. Land, Decolonizing Solidarity; Gaztambide-Fernández,“Decolonization and the Pedagogy of Solidarity”; Walia, “Decolonizing Together”; TallBear, “Standing with and Speaking as Faith”; Amadahy and Lawrence, “Indigenous Peoples and Black People in Canada.”
6. TallBear, “Standing with and Speaking as Faith,” 5. Thank you, Kim, for your big, bold, Out-in-public work and thinking as well as your tableside, quieter talks. I’m sure you know that your work — written scholarship, Twitter essays and jokes, gathering and organizing — props the door open for so many others, and for this I am grateful. Also, love the hair. Maarsi, Kim.
7. Murphy, “Against Population, towards Alterlife,” 122 – 23.
8. TallBear writes about Gautam Bhan’s (Indian) notion of “continuous and multiple engagements with communities and sites of research rather than a frame of giving back,” which maintains a benevolent narrative of wealth and deficit. TallBear, “Standing with and Speaking as Faith,” 2.
9. Murphy, “Against Population, towards Alterlife,” 120.
Happy Disability Pride Month! As we celebrate the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we’re proud to share some of our recent and forthcoming titles that focus on disability studies and histories.
Black Disability Politicsby Sami Schalk explores how issues of disability have been and continue to be central to Black activism from the 1970s to the present by drawing on rich archives from the Black Panther Party and the National Black Women’s Health Project. It’s available for pre-order now.
In How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind, La Marr Jurelle Bruce ponders the presence of “madness” in black literature, music, and performance since the early twentieth century, showing how artists ranging from Kendrick Lamar to Nina Simone activate madness as content, form, aesthetic, strategy, philosophy, and energy in an enduring black radical tradition.
Todd Carmody’s Work Requirements outlines how disability itself became a tool of social discipline by exploring how the idea that work is inherently meaningful was reinforced and tasked to those who lived on the margins and needed assistance during nineteenth-century America.
Observing that trans studies was founded on a split from and disavowal of madness, illness, and disability, Cameron Awkward-Rich’s The Terrible Weargues for and models a trans criticism that works against this disavowal. It can be pre-ordered now.
Long Term weaves LGBTQ and disability studies by using the tension between popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitment and their durational aspect. The essay collection is written by numerous contributors, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace and includes a preface by E. Patrick Johnson.
Sarah Imhoff’s The Lives of Jessie Sampter tells the story of the queer, disabled, Zionist writer Jessie Sampter (1883-1938), whose body and life did not match typical Zionist ideals—thus serving as an example of the complex relationships between the body, queerness, disability, religion, and nationalism.
Jonathan Sterneoffers a sweeping cultural study and theorization of impairment, in which experience is understood from the standpoint of a subject that is not fully able to account for itself in Diminished Faculties.
In On Living with Television, Amy Holdsworth blends media and disability studies by recounting her life with television to trace how the medium shapes everyday activities, our relationships with others, and our sense of time.
In “Disability Dramaturgies,” a special issue of Theater (52:2), disabled practitioners and scholars explore how strategies of care—long cultivated and practiced by disabled artists and the creative communities around them—might speak to the present moment. This special issue is edited by Madeline Charne and Tom Sellar and will be freely available in full for three months.
Zeynep Korkman and Sherene Razack are editors of “Transnational Feminist Approaches to Anti-Muslim Racism,” a new special issue of Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism that traces the global circuits and formations of power through which anti-Muslim racism travels, operates, and shapes local contexts. The full issue is free to read through the end of June; start reading here.
What makes “Transnational Feminist Approaches to Anti-Muslim Racism” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?
Transnational feminists begin with the idea that gender is not an abstract system but rather one that emerges in and through global capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. Attentive not only to the differences in women’s lives but also to the inequalities among women, transnational feminists have long had a preoccupation with global circuits of power. This collection of essays offers insight into how anti-Muslim racism travels along such global circuits. As racism travels and becomes attached to local conflicts, Muslims are installed as a pre-modern, barbaric, racial Other, a racial category that consolidates white supremacy and other civilizational discourses. The collection is the first to discuss how global white supremacy is upheld through anti-Muslim racism.
The transnational feminist analysis that this special issue embraces emphasizes that anti-Muslim racism is a gendered phenomenon. Muslim women are cast as singularly oppressed by Muslim men who in turn are cast as the universal enemy. Meriting extraordinary levels of violence, Muslims are imagined globally as threats to civilization who must be met with force. The global figures of the Muslim as “terrorist,” and the Muslim woman as oppressed and in need of saving, handily obscure the tremendous force that is directed at Muslim communities. Although the discourses of anti-Muslim racism travel globally, there is no singular overbearing structure of oppression. Likewise, Muslims are not any one thing. This special issue attends to the imbrication of the global with the local and to Muslims as complex and dynamically constituted social and political subjects.
What are some topics that readers can expect to find covered in the issue?
How do you imagine the issue could be used in courses, or as a basis for future scholarship?
The special issue will be of interest to scholars who explore how class, gender, and sexuality are central to formations of racial dominance, how these discourses travel globally, and how to resist. Gender studies scholars will find a nuanced consideration of agency and feminist political organizing. All readers will be able to deepen their knowledge of how race, class, gender, and sexuality interlock in women’s lives, in national discourses, and in imperial and colonial systems.
The enduring contribution of the issue is the message that the transnational terrain of anti-Muslim racism demands solidarities across regions. As feminists, we must learn and unlearn as we trace the investments we each bring to a transnational feminist politics. Our scholarship has to bear the weight of these critical reflections on our own praxis.