Environmental Studies

New Books in June

Summer is almost here! Kick off the new season with some of the great new titles we have coming out in June.

Perfect for vacation reading, Shola von Reinhold’s decadent queer literary debut LOTE immerses readers in the pursuit of aesthetics and beauty, while interrogating the removal and obscuring of Black figures from history.

Examining the reception of evolutionary biology, the 1925 Scopes Trial, and the New Atheist movement of the 2000s, Donovan O. Schaefer theorizes the relationship between thinking and feeling by challenging the conventional wisdom that they are separate in Wild Experiment.

In Gridiron Capital, Lisa Uperesa charts the cultural, historical, and social dynamics that have made American football so central to Samoan culture.

Thulani Davis provides a sweeping rethinking of Reconstruction in The Emancipation Circuit, tracing how the four million people newly freed from bondage created political organizations and connections that mobilized communities across the South.

In The Small Matter of Suing Chevron, Suzana Sawyer traces Ecuador’s lawsuit against the Chevron corporation for the environmental devastation resulting from its oil drilling practices, showing how distinct legal truths were relationally composed of, with, and through crude oil.

In Discovering Fiction, eminent Chinese novelist Yan Lianke offers insights into his views on literature and realism, the major works that inspired him, and his theories of writing.

The contributors to Grammars of the Urban Ground, edited by Ash Amin and Michele Lancione, develop a new conceptual framework and vocabulary for capturing the complex, ever-shifting, and interactive processes that shape contemporary cities.

In Myriad Intimacies, Lata Mani oscillates between poetry and prose, genre and form, register and voice, and secular and sacred to meditate on the ways in which everyone and everything exists in mutually constitutive interrelations.

Working at the intersection of urban theory, Black studies, and decolonial and Islamic thought, AbdouMaliq Simone offers a new theorization of the interface of the urban and the political in The Surrounds.

Sophie Chao examines the multispecies entanglements of oil palm plantations in West Papua, Indonesia in her new book In the Shadow of the Palms, showing how Indigenous Marind communities understand and navigate the social, political, and environmental demands of the oil palm plant.

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Courtney Berger’s Sale Recommendations

Image reads: use code SPRING22, Spring Sale, 50% off all in-stock books and journal issues through May 27

You have one week left to save 50% on in-stock books and journal issues during our Spring Sale. If you’re still wondering what to buy, check out Executive Editor Courtney Berger’s suggestions.

A white woman with short grey and white hair wearing glasses. She is wearing a white top and a necklace.

This is always a tough assignment: can you recommend some books for the spring sale? All the books, I want to say. But, evidently that doesn’t make for a compelling blog post, and I’m told that I must select just a few. So, here are my picks. (But, secretly, I am whispering, All the books.)

Cover of Passionate Work: Endurance after the Good Life by Renyi Hong. Cover is a painting of a man in a white suit working on a laptop, sitting atop the shoulder of a giant robot. This robot looks like a man in a black suit, a phone attached to his ear. The robot is breaking, with smoke coming out and paint peeling off, revealing orange metal underneath.

Hot off the presses: Renyi Hong’s Passionate Work: Endurance After the Good Life. If you’ve ever balked at the advice to “follow your passion” or “do what you love and the money will follow,” this is the book for you. Hong considers how the idealization of work as a passionate endeavor that sustains people emotionally and spiritually papers over the conditions of labor in late capitalism, which are dominated by precarity, unemployment, repetitive labor, and isolation. He shows us how passion has become an affective structure that shapes our relationship to work and produces the fantasy of a resilient subject capable of enduring disappointment and increasingly disadvantageous working conditions. Hong asks us to question our compulsory attachment to labor and, instead, to consider forms of social and emotional attachments that might better sustain our lives.

Cover of Suspicion: Vaccines, Hesitancy, and the Affective Politics of Protection in Barbados by Nicole Charles. Cover features a 2015 art piece called Waterlogged, by Bajan artist Simone Asia. The piece features a person's face with flora around it in a variety of colors.

Another new book that hits on squarely on pandemic politics: Nicole Charles’s Suspicion: Vaccines, Hesitancy, and the Affective Politics of Protection in Barbados. Charles examines resistance to government-led efforts in Barbados to vaccinate girls against HPV. Framing this resistance not as “vaccine hesitancy” but instead as a form of legitimate suspicion, Charles shows how colonial and postcolonial histories of racial violence, capitalism, and biopolitical surveillance aimed at regulating and controlling Black people have shaped Afro-Barbadians’ relationship to the state and to medical intervention. The book undoes conventional narratives of vaccine hesitancy and scientific certainty in order to open up space for addressing the inequalities that shape health care and community care.

Cover of Hawai′i Is My Haven: Race and Indigeneity in the Black Pacific by Nitasha Tamar Sharma. Features a photograph of singer Kamakakēhau by Kenna Reed. Photo is of a bearded Black man in a large pink shaggy collar with pink flowers around him.

You might pick up Nitasha Sharma’s Hawai’i Is My Haven: Race and Indigeneity in the Black Pacific because of the stunning cover, but you’ll stay for Sharma’s compelling analysis of Black life on the islands. Despite the prevalence of anti-Black racism in Hawai’i, many Black people regard Hawai’i as a sanctuary. Sharma considers why and shows how Blackness in Hawai’i troubles US-centric understandings of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity. Through extensive interviews with Black residents—including transplants, those born in Hawai’i, and many who identify as dual-minority multiracial–Sharma attends to Black residents’ complex experiences of invisibility, non-belonging, and liberation, as well as the opportunities for alliance between anti-racist activism and Native Hawaiian movements focused on decolonization.

Calling all foodies and lovers of The Great British Bake Off: Anita Mannur’s Intimate Eating: Racialized Spaces and Radical Futures dwells on culinary practices, texts, and spaces that resist heteropatriarchal norms of the family, the couple, and the nation. Mannur shows us how racialized and marginalized groups use food to confront and disrupt racism and xenophobia and to create alternate, often queer forms of sociality and kinship.

Our lists in environmental humanities and environmental media continue to grow. Here are a few new titles to look out for:

Nicole Starosielski’s Media Hot and Cold asks us to reckon with the politics of temperature. Thermal technologies—from air conditioning to infrared cameras—serve as both modes of communication and subjugation, and Starosielski’s book points to the urgent need to address the political, economic, and ecological ramifications of “thermopower” and climate control. In Climatic Media: Transpacific Experiments in Atmospheric Control Yuriko Furuhata highlights the intertwined development of climate engineering, networked computing, and urban design in the transpacific relationship between the US and Japan during the Cold War. Min Hyoung Song’s Climate Lyricism turns to literature as a site for confronting climate change. In the lyrical voice (the “I” who addresses “you”), Song finds a tool that can help us to develop a practice of sustained attention to climate change even as we want to look away. And, lastly, in Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House Isabel Hofmeyr brings us to an unlikely site for thinking about the environment and literature–the colonial customs house. It was here that books were sorted, categorized, and regulated by customs agents, and where the handling of books reflected the operations of empire both at the water’s edge and well beyond the port.

Use coupon SPRING22 to save on all these titles and more. If you’re located outside North and South America, we suggest you order from our partner Combined Academic Publishers using the same coupon. You’ll get faster and cheaper shipping. See the fine print here.

New Books in March

Need something to read over Spring Break? Check out our amazing titles coming out this March!

In Bigger Than Life, Mary Ann Doane examines how the scalar operations of cinema, especially those of the close-up, disturb and reconfigure the spectator’s sense of place, space, and orientation. Doane traces the history of scalar transformations from early cinema to the contemporary use of digital technology.

In Poetic Operations, artist and theorist micha cárdenas considers contemporary digital media, artwork, and poetry in order to articulate trans of color strategies for safety and survival. Drawing on decolonial theory, women of color feminism, media theory, and queer of color critique, cárdenas develops a method she calls algorithmic analysis.

In Intimate Eating, Anita Mannur examines how notions of the culinary can create new forms of kinship, intimacy, and social and political belonging. Drawing on critical ethnic studies and queer studies, Mannur traces the ways in which people of color, queer people, and other marginalized subjects create and sustain this belonging through the formation of “intimate eating publics.”

In Warring Visions, Thy Phu explores photography from dispersed communities throughout Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora, both during and after the Vietnam War, to complicate narratives of conflict and memory. While the visual history of the Vietnam War has been dominated by American media, Phu turns to photographs circulated by the Vietnamese themselves.

In Familial Undercurrents, Afsaneh Najmabadi uncovers her family’s complex experiences of polygamous marriage to tell a larger story of the transformations of notions of love, marriage, and family life in mid-twentieth-century Iran.

In Racist Love, Leslie Bow traces the ways in which Asian Americans become objects of anxiety and desire. Conceptualizing these feelings as “racist love,” she explores how race is abstracted and then projected onto Asianized objects.

Throughout Atlantis, an Autoanthropology, Nathaniel Tarn captures this multiplicity and reaches for the uncertainties of a life lived in a dizzying array of times, cultures, and environments. Drawing on his practice as an anthropologist, he takes himself as a subject of study, examining the shape of a life devoted to the study of the whole of human culture.

In Workers Like All the Rest of Them, Elizabeth Quay Hutchison recounts the long struggle for domestic workers’ recognition and rights in Chile across the twentieth century. Hutchison traces the legal and social history of domestic workers and their rights, outlining their transition from slavery to servitude.

In Earworm and Event, Eldritch Priest questions the nature of the imagination in contemporary culture through the phenomenon of the earworm. Through a series of meditations on music, animal mentality, abstraction, and metaphor, Priest uses the earworm and the states of daydreaming, mind-wandering, and delusion it can produce to outline how music is something that is felt as thought rather than listened to.

In Scales of Captivity, Mary Pat Brady traces the figure of the captive or cast-off child in Latinx and Chicanx literature and art between chattel slavery’s final years and the mass deportations of the twenty-first century. She shows how Latinx expressive practices expose how every rescaling of economic and military power requires new modalities of capture, new ways to bracket and hedge life.

In Queer African Cinemas, Lindsey B. Green-Simms examines films produced by and about queer Africans in the first two decades of the twenty-first century in an environment of increasing antiqueer violence, efforts to criminalize homosexuality, and other state-sanctioned homophobia.

In Living Worth, Stefan Ecks draws on ethnographic research on depression and antidepressant usage in India to develop a new theory of value. Framing depressive disorder as a problem of value, Ecks traces the myriad ways antidepressants come to have value, from their ability to help make one’s life worth living to the wealth they generate in the multibillion-dollar global pharmaceutical market.

In The Florida Room, Alexandra T. Vazquez listens to the music and history of Miami to offer a lush story of place and people, movement and memory, dispossession and survival. She transforms the “Florida room”—an actual architectural phenomenon—into a vibrant spatial imaginary for Miami’s musical cultures and everyday life.

In Plastic Matter, Heather Davis traces plastic’s relations to geology, media, biology, and race to show how matter itself has come to be understood as pliable, disposable, and consumable. The invention and widespread use of plastic, Davis contends, reveals the dominance of the Western orientation to matter and its assumption that matter exists to be endlessly manipulated and controlled by humans.

In Lesbian Potentiality and Feminist Media in the 1970s, Rox Samer explores how 1970s feminists took up the figure of the lesbian in broad attempts to reimagine gender and sexuality. Samer turns to feminist film, video, and science fiction literature, offering a historiographical concept called “lesbian potentiality”—a way of thinking beyond what the lesbian was, in favor of how the lesbian signified what could have come to be.

The contributors to Reframing Todd Haynes, edited by Theresa L. Geller and Julia Leyda, reassess his work in light of his long-standing feminist commitments and his exceptional career as a director of women’s films. They present multiple perspectives on Haynes’s film and television work and on his role as an artist-activist who draws on academic theorizations of gender and cinema.

In Vulgar Beauty, Mila Zuo offers a new theorization of cinematic feminine beauty by showing how mediated encounters with Chinese film and popular culture stars produce feelings of Chineseness. To illustrate this, Zuo uses the vulgar as an analytic to trace how racial, gendered, and cultural identity is imagined and produced through affect.

Jia Zhangke on Jia Zhangke is an extended dialogue between film scholar Michael Berry and the internationally acclaimed Chinese filmmaker. Drawing from extensive interviews and public talks, this volume offers a portrait of Jia’s life, art, and approach to filmmaking.

In this new edition of Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution, C. L. R. James tells the history of the socialist revolution led by Kwame Nkrumah, the first president and prime minister of Ghana.

In Climatic Media, Yuriko Furuhata traces climate engineering from the early twentieth century to the present, emphasizing the legacies of Japan’s empire building and its Cold War alliance with the United States.

China in the World by Ban Wang traces the shifting concept of the Chinese state from the late nineteenth century to the present, showing how the Confucian notion of tianxia—“all under heaven”—influences China’s dedication to contributing to and exchanging with a common world.

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Q&A with Tania Murray Li and Pujo Semedi

AuthorsTania Murray Li is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and author of Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier, also published by Duke University Press. Pujo Semedi is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Universitas Gadjah Mada and author of Close to the Stone, Far from the Throne: The Story of a Javanese Fishing Community, 1820s–1990s. In their new book, Plantation Life: Corporate Occupation in Indonesia’s Oil Palm Zone, Li and Semedi examine the structure and governance of contemporary palm oil plantations in Indonesia, showing how massive forms of capitalist production and control over the palm oil industry replicate colonial-style relations that undermine citizenship.

What led each of you to plantation research?

Pujo Semedi:

Well it is basically a continuation of my previous research on a fishing community in the north coast of Java where in a matter of decades fishers were able to destroy the natural stock of fish in a fertile marine ecosystem. A precious opportunity to obtain welfare from the richness of mother nature sunk into an abyss. The fishers were living in poverty, the government failed to obtain a sustainable supply of protein to feed its people, and the sea was stripped of its fish.  I found the destruction of the fishery a perfect illustration of what Garret Hardin (mistakenly) called a “tragedy of the commons,” which is more accurately described as a tragedy of open access: anyone could access the resource hence no one took responsibility for protecting it. Both fishers and government officials dreamt of a fish stock cornucopia while in fact living the sad consequences of an open access situation.

My research in the fisheries led me to pose a new question: what happens when resources are highly privatized, owned by a single person or institution? Is privatization a sure way to avoid destruction of resources, as Hardin proposed? A plantation is a large and highly privatized institution in which people make a living from hundreds of hectares of land and an array of machinery that belong to a single company. So I did research on a coffee/tea plantation in Java in 2003-6; the book is not finished yet. And then came this project in 2010.

Tania Li: 

For me the interest started with crop booms which bring dynamism to rural economies. I had studied a spontaneous, farmer-driven cacao boom in Sulawesi and wanted to see what happened in a boom that was driven by corporations. I also became aware that since 2000 the plantation format, which had been in decline, was again expanding massively in the Indonesian countryside. I wanted to understand what that meant in human terms.

How does the contemporary plantation compare to and differ from colonial-era plantations? How does the rise of global capitalism/corporatization affect the ways in which plantations operate today?

Semedi:

The first difference is scale. In the heyday of colonialism there were around 2 million hectares of plantation in Indonesia. About half were located in Java where labor was relatively easy to obtain and the rest were in the east coast of Sumatra, the infamous Deli plantations supported by indentured labor mostly from Java and China. Now there are more than 10 million hectares of plantations and new concentrations in Kalimantan and Papua.

The expansion began in the 1980s when the Indonesian government facilitated capital owners to invest in the countryside, based on the idea of increasing the country’s productivity and the wrong assumption that the area was unoccupied. Now the government knows the land is occupied but implicitly assumes that the people who live there are people of low value whose livelihoods can be sacrificed without compensation or recognition. Officials also assume that plantations grow oil palm more efficiently than local farmers, but that is unproven.

The second difference concerns the actors involved. In the colonial period plantations were sites for European capital; a century later at least half the plantation corporations are owned by Indonesian capitalists, and transnational corporations also have a heavy component of Indonesian ownership. A dozen Indonesian oligarchs are firmly in control. So colonial-era plantation-style capitalism has become Indonesianized.

Li:

At one stage in our writing we made a diagram in which we attempted to identify common elements and differences between colonial and contemporary plantations. The labor regime is an obvious place to start. Colonial plantation labor in Sumatra was indentured but in Java plantation workers were always free to come and go, as they are in the plantation sector today, so the difference is less stark than it seems. Plantation infrastructure, technology, layout, housing and hierarchy are almost unchanged.

The most significant difference we identified is in the political milieu. In colonial times plantation owners and managers expected government officials to facilitate their ventures. This is still true today but now government officials and politicians expect to profit from plantation presence, so a much larger set of actors have an incentive to support them. Sadly this expansion of the political field does not make plantation presence more democratic; quite the opposite. It brings the political, administrative and corporate regimes into new kinds of alignment and leaves citizens unprotected. In colonial times Indonesian villagers did not have the rights of citizens; the shocking part is that they do not have these rights now either because the people whose job it is to protect citizens are busy protecting corporations.

We argue that plantations are intrinsically colonial. Not only do contemporary plantation corporations rely on the racialized, colonial “myth of the lazy native” to justify appropriating land and importing workers; they continue to create colonial situations not just economically, as resources are extracted and sent overseas, but politically and socially as well.

The title of your book indicates a focus on plantation “life,” even though plantations, as you argue, operate as machines (a word usually associated with the non-biological) and cause a great amount of destruction and death. What led to your decision to emphasize “life” even so, and how does that shape your project?

Semedi:

This machine of production is operated by people—real people, not theoretical and abstract ones—whose life is structured and shaped by relations set in place by plantations.

Li:

Pujo’s response opens towards the ethnographic aspiration of the book. There are many studies of the death and destruction that accompany plantation presence, but so far not much attention to the new sets of relations or what we call the forms of life that emerge in a plantation zone. Plantation presence shapes not only landscapes and livelihoods but also communities and subjectivities, law and government, aspirations and claims. We estimate that around 15 million Indonesians are now living a plantation life, whether as workers on plantations or as residents of the residual nook and cranny spaces between plantations. So what kind of life is it?  Our ethnographic approach is designed to address that question.

What are some of the unique, theoretical concepts your book offers for understanding modern-day plantations?

Semedi:

For me the theorizing followed from an empirical puzzle. I found from my study of plantations in Java that some of them ran at a loss for multiple decades, yet they did not fold. So what kind of entity is a corporate plantation, and what kind of cultural, political and economic relations enable it to persist and replicate?

Li:

Theorizing the corporation is one part of our conceptual tool kit. Another is the concept of occupation, and specifically corporate occupation. Again, we devised this theorization inductively from our ethnographic research. I noticed that in the margins of my fieldnotes I had written many times “this is a war zone; these people are at war.” But talking it through with Pujo we came to the realization that war was not quite the right term. It suggests armed conflict, which we did not encounter; indeed we did not see any guns anywhere, as security guards do not carry them and we did not witness any direct confrontations involving armed police. The violence was real but it was built into the infrastructure: the presence of a plantation on customary land; roads designed to transport palm fruit not people; credit schemes that entrap and impoverish; laws that favor corporations.  Violence was also ambient. An early draft had a chapter we called “an uneasy feeling” where we described an atmosphere of strain, resentment, frustration, anger, and anxiety about the future. These are the structures of feeling of an occupied population. Villagers and workers know that the presence of massive corporations in rural spaces produces an unjust situation, but they cannot change it and have to find ways to live with it. This often means collaborating with the occupying force, which leaves a bad feeling. 

Plantation Life draws on collaborative research involving around a hundred students from your two institutions, Gadjah Mada and the University of Toronto. (You speak to your collaborative practices in the appendix to your book, but perhaps you’d like to say a bit for our blog readers.) What was the greatest reward of this collaboration, and what was the greatest challenge?

Semedi:

As a teacher, the greatest reward is seeing how the students learned about plantations as a form of life on site.  They obtained knowledge that I cannot simply teach in a classroom. Some of the students continued further to write their master’s thesis about the plantation; and three students wrote PhD dissertations on palm oil in Kalimantan. The training opportunity was really valuable.  Challenges? It takes some energy to organize a good number of students to work in several villages at the same time. But the students were good in supporting each other, especially in dealing with language barriers.

Li:

The big plus for me was collaborating closely with Pujo. We had a partnership in both the fieldwork and the writing, which I found very enriching. As I read the book now, I can reconstruct how we came up with the ideas, the fieldnotes we drew on, and hundreds of discussions, decisions and most of all, revisions! We took the text to pieces and reconstructed it several times, something I’m used to doing with my own writing but I wondered if Pujo would have the patience. It turned out he was equally determined not to settle for something that wasn’t quite right.

Who do you hope will read your book? That is, who is it for?

Semedi:

I hope this book will be read by scholars in agrarian/plantation studies, either for teaching material or input for further research, that in effect will spread critical knowledge on plantations and help us to decide what we are going to do next. I also hope this work will be read by agrarian policy makers for more or less the same reasons, that they will take the message in this book as serious consideration for their further policy in Indonesian agriculture; that they should not see agriculture in a cost-benefit calculus but as a world lived by people, by their own fellow countrymen.

Li:

The book addresses topics currently under academic and public debate including new and old forms of capitalist globalization, racialized landscapes, and our changing planet. In addition, I believe the political stakes of the book are quite high. In Indonesia plantation corporations and their government allies endlessly repeat the message that plantations are necessary for agricultural productivity and that they bring development and jobs to remote regions. Transnational development agencies like the World Bank echo this mantra on a global scale. Yet none of them provide credible evidence to support their claims, as if the necessity for corporate domination in agriculture is self-evident.

Our book counters the corporate narrative by exposing the distorted form of development that emerges in a plantation zone: the losses are huge and the gains are not as advertised. It also counters the sustainability fix—the notion that massive mono-crop plantations can be certified “sustainable.”  Even a virtuous corporation that obeys all the rules is still a giant, occupying force. In Indonesia, not only is the domination of plantation corporations over a third of all agricultural land harmful, it is unnecessary, as farmers have shown for three centuries that they are capable of highly efficient production.  We hope that our work will be useful to activists who have been mobilizing against plantation corporations for decades without making much headway. 

Read the introduction to Plantation Life for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon code E21PLTNL.

 

New Journals in 2022: Agricultural History & Trans Asia Photography

This coming year, we’re thrilled to welcome two journals to our publishing program: Agricultural History and Trans Asia Photography. Both journals will begin publication with Duke University Press in the spring.

Agricultural History, edited by Albert Way, is the journal of record in its field. As such, it publishes articles that explore agriculture and rural life over time, in all geographies and among all people. Articles in Agricultural History use a wide range of methodologies to illuminate the history of farming, food, agricultural science and technology, the environment, rural life, and beyond. The journal includes innovative research, timely book and film reviews, and special features that unite diverse historical approaches under agriculture-related themes.

Trans Asia Photography, edited by Deepali Dewan, Yi Gu, and Thy Phu, is the first and only open-access international peer-reviewed journal devoted to the interdisciplinary exploration of historic and contemporary photography from Asia and across the Asian diaspora. The journal examines all aspects of photographic history, theory, and practice by centering images in or of Asia, conceived here as a territory, network, and cultural imaginary. Bridging photography and area studies, the journal rethinks transnational and transcultural approaches and methodologies. By centering photographic practices of Asia and its diasporas, the journal foregrounds multiple ways of seeing, knowing, and being, which are distinct yet inseparable from other regional formations. The journal brings together the perspectives of scholars, critics, and artists across the humanities and social sciences to advance original and innovative research on photography and Asia, and to reflect and encourage quality, depth, and breadth in the field’s development.

Check out our full list of journals here.

The Most Read Articles of 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 10 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.

Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy” by Alice E. Marwick
Public Culture no. 75

Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” by Donna Haraway
Environmental Humanities volume 6, issue 1

Solidarity Not Charity: Mutual Aid for Mobilization and Survival” by Dean Spade
Social Text no. 142

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959)” by Shamus Khan
Public Culture no. 91

Necropolitics” by Achille Mbembe
Public Culture volume 15, issue 1

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (1983)” by Manu Goswami
Public Culture no. 91

Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” by Cathy J. Cohen
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies volume 3, issue 4

All Power to All People?: Black LGBTTI2QQ Activism, Remembrance, and Archiving in Toronto” by Syrus Marcus Ware
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 4, issue 2

Radical Care: Survival Strategies for Uncertain Times” by Hi‘ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart and Tamara Kneese
Social Text no. 142

Young Adults’ Migration to Cities in Sweden: Do Siblings Pave the Way?” by Clara H. Mulder, Emma Lundholm, and Gunnar Malmberg
Demography volume 57, issue 6

“The Eye of Fire” in the Gulf of Mexico: Yet Another Warning from the Ocean | A Guest Post by Eric Paul Roorda

What’s more impressive than a long, elaborate fireworks show? 

The OCEAN ON FIRE!

When that happens, it looks like the cauldron of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mount Doom.

An unprecedented phenomenon that was quickly dubbed “The Eye of Fire” formed in the Gulf of Mexico over the Fourth of July weekend, when a gas line ruptured and managed to catch fire underwater

How does that happen?!

Watching the video of raging flames spouting from the Ocean was like staring down a Satan/Cyclops.

The undersea gas line, stemming from a nearby drilling rig, operated by the national Mexican petroleum monopoly Pemex, burned for five hours. That is much, much longer than any fireworks spectacle, but not nearly as loud. 

Not loud in a literal sense, that is. It probably hissed like a gas grill heating up for an Independence Day cookout. But in a figurative sense, it was a deafening warning shot from the future of the Ocean.

“The Eye of Fire” is further proof, if such were needed, that the Gulf of Mexico is a mess. And by extension, so is the Ocean.

The Gulf of Mexico is where the first “Dead Zone” formed, a vast area so anaerobic that organisms other than algae cannot survive there. Annual inundations of fertilizer runoff from the sprawling Mississippi River watershed created the original Dead Zone. It has grown steadily, as years of farming and lawn care keep flushing petroleum-based nitrogen products from the brown water of the rivers into the blue water of the sea. 

Now, Dead Zones are forming, or very likely will form soon, in all similar embayments around the world: The Persian Gulf, The Bay of Bengal, The Mediterranean, Black, and Yellow Seas… Also, big estuaries, where freshwater meets salt, are actively deteriorating as marine environments: The Chesapeake, San Francisco Bay, the Guayaquil River in Ecuador, the Pearl River in China…

But the “Eye of Fire” phenomenon is more closely related to a different debacle in the increasingly dystopian Gulf of Mexico: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. The benthic zone in the region around that catastrophe continues to suffer its consequences—weird mutations and population reduction among our crustacean friends, for instance. The same is true of the littoral region, where beach-walkers must beware oil blobs in the sand.

As the nation’s terrestrial infrastructure erodes and collapses (most recently, condos in Miami; not long ago, an Interstate bridge in Minneapolis), the disintegration of the subaqueous bones of the energy economy do the same.

The cause of the “Eye of Fire” is unknown at this moment, but it is likely to follow the pattern of the myopic over-reach of the Deepwater Horizon operation, drilled at a depth too far. Pipelines everywhere face the same prospect of failure. A freshwater example is the decrepit and accident-prone Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac, which is facing long-overdue scrutiny and causing U.S.-Canada tensions that are ongoing at this very moment.

The fiery eye in the Ocean over the weekend sends the same message as the other disasters that preceded it, and which will follow: We H. sapiens must stop relying on chemical fertilizers and quit burning fossils, or the planet will not be able to sustain our species much longer.

Don’t take it from me; let the Ocean tell you!

Eric Paul Roorda is editor of The Ocean Reader: History, Culture, Politics and Professor of History at Bellarmine University. A recent review in World History Connected called The Ocean Reader “a wonderful supplement for a global or maritime history course or an interdisciplinary course that explores the Ocean on its own terms.” Save 30% on the book with coupon E20RORDA.

Q&A with Max Liboiron, Author of Pollution Is Colonialism

Max Liboiron

Max Liboiron is Associate Professor of Geography at Memorial University. Their new book is Pollution Is Colonialism, which models an anticolonial scientific practice aligned with Indigenous concepts of land, ethics, and relations to outline the entanglements of capitalism, colonialism, and environmental science.

 

You incorporate Indigenous theory and first-person ethnography into your multi-genre book; at the same time, you hold that your book is a guide for settler and non-Indigenous scientists and readers as well as Indigenous ones. How did you write your book with both audiences in mind, and why is it important that your book be understood as such?

At first, I didn’t. Many young(ish), Indigenous, and gender minority people in academia will be familiar with a set of interactions characteristic of “general” academic audiences: gas-lighting, being called biased, having work stolen and not cited, grandstanding, and other wild rudeness. That’s the audience the book originally anticipated, so the writing was often defensive. The first draft even ended with a manifesto called a “mani-no-no” that essentially told the audience not to steal or appropriate the content, which is an acute problem I have with my lab’s methodological work.

But Reviewer 2, who is definitely an Indigenous aunty, was like, “Honey, why did you invite me into this book if you were going to tell me to fuck off?” (not her exact words). With her guidance and with insights from other senior colleagues, I started to talk directly to Indigenous and other not-White, not-settler audiences that I wanted to be generous with, share jokes with, think with. The tricky part is that those different audiences share the page.

So, I decided to do two things. First, I explicitly address the issue of multiple, incommensurate audiences in text. For example, there’s a footnote in the introduction that talks about definitions of de/colonization, and how the one I use is oriented towards a general academic audience characterized by many white, settler audiences. Then I say hello, literally (“hello!) to those folks. It’s a stylistic strategy meant to show that some of the decisions in the text are because of specific audiences, and the greeting is a way to invest in those audiences and welcome them into the text.

The second move is to flag moments of refusal, make in-jokes, and use code-switching, code-meshing, and other techniques to signal different things to different audiences using the same words. Some readers will be fluent in those backroom conversations, while others will read things more literally. Some audiences will see where there is a moment of refusal and a direction not taken, while others will appreciate the many signposts. All are correct readings. Now it’s a more generous book without giving everything away. Thank you, Reviewer 2!

Like most scientists, you talk about methodology as an important part of your practice. However, in your case, you stress methodology as an “ethic.” What does that mean to you, exactly?

Pollution is ColonialismThe argument that methods are always an ethic isn’t my own argument—it’s an ancient concept that I’m just reminding folks of. People like Shawn Wilson and Linda Tuhiwai Smith say it best in their works, Research is Ceremony and Decolonizing Research, respectively. It’s actually odd that some cultures think epistemology (how you know the world), ontology (what the world is like), and axiology (being good in the world) are separated. That takes a lot of work! In one of my all-time favorite articles, “Indigenous place-thought & agency amongst humans and non-humans,” Vanessa Watts has written wonderfully about the weird method of separating those out in Western knowledge systems, which “removes the how and why out of the what,” leaving the world empty and ready for inscription as if it were born that way. Science and technology studies (STS) thinkers like Lorraine Daston write about objectivity as a key technique that tries to pry these things apart. I pitch in to this existing tradition.

You assert that colonization is about relations to land, and so “decolonization” is about transforming that relation to land. In your view, the appropriation of this term in other contexts, especially in revising university courses and syllabi, is itself colonial. Assuming that some thinkers might be resistant to this point, why is it nevertheless important that you make the point, and that your fellow thinkers be open to it?

Yes and no, but mostly yes. Colonization is a land relation, and land has place-based relations. That means there are many types of colonization, so there are many types of de/anti-colonization. In Canada, Métis are in a different set of colonial relations than Inuit. Indigenous people in Canada are in a different set of colonial relations than people in Africa, or those who were stolen from their lands in Africa and forced to the United States. So, it’s a bit cheeky to think there’s a stable and sorted definition of colonialism (or anti-/decolonization) that works across places.

But I do settle on a working definition that frames the text—that colonialism is about settler access to Indigenous land (which includes Indigenous ideas, cosmologies, and life) for settler goals, including benevolent ones. This definition comes out of the places I work and live, including white, settler-dominated academic spaces. It’s a definition that calls out entitlement to Indigenous lands, and establishes that if land relations aren’t changing then decolonization isn’t happening. Including more Indigenous people in an academic syllabus is a form of inclusion, and perhaps it is lovely on those grounds (or not—see Alison Jones and Kuni Jenkins’ “Rethinking collaboration” on this point). But that inclusion leaves colonial land relations in place. I think this is why Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s text, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” is one of the touchstone articles for so many of us. They talk about when all the bad stuff—imperialism, racism, exclusion, sexism, being a jerk—is conflated with colonialism, then all the good stuff—inclusion, anti-racism, taking off your shoes at the front door—is conflated with decolonization. Which means “decolonial” actions rarely involve giving land back or addressing genocide. This, among other reasons, is why specificity is one of the core ethics of the book. It’s why I differentiate between anticolonialism (a whole host of things that don’t reproduce entitlement to Indigenous land and life) and decolonization (giving land back).

Your book offers a critique of some texts on plastic pollution and aligns with others. What are you trying to correct and align with? Why?

Some plastic pollution texts and activism align with anticolonial goals and impacts, and some align with colonial goals and impacts. When I started the book years ago, I assumed there would be lots of scientific case studies I would align against because of inherited colonial methods and values in science, and that I would align with more of the grassroots activism against plastics. I was surprised that the reverse was true.

While the book critiques dominant scientific concepts like assimilative capacity and “mismanaged waste” as reproducing colonial land relations, I also found that endocrinology studies led by white, settler scientists had good land relations that refuted an entitled access to land, bodies, and life. At the same time, I found myself aligning with the #SuckItAbleism movement that argues against banning plastic straws, since they show that universal eradication of any type remakes the world in a single image that never fits everyone and will always dispossess. I talk about how benevolent environmental goals like cleaning plastics off shorelines often assume access to Indigenous land without permission or consent. This work aligns with other Indigenous thinkers like Kyle Powys Whyte and Dina Gilio-Whitaker, among many others, who show that mainstream environmentalism foregrounds access to Indigenous land and its ability to produce value for settler desires and futures.

One of the characteristics of dominant systems, like colonialism, is that what it takes to be true, good, and right becomes so naturalized, so normal, that it is inherited as common sense. One of the reasons I think it’s important to analyze research and activism through the lens of colonialism and land relations is because things that can seem good in one register can still enact a single form of life to the eradication of others.

In addition to your position as an academic researcher, you’ve also been a university administrator, an artist, and an activist. Can you tell our readers more about how these roles relate to your research, if at all?

I’d like to focus on the administrator role. University admin, especially executive admin (what people mean when they say “the university”), is often assumed to be the opposite of activism and anticolonialism; but as someone who has been a professional activist for my entire adult life, I found admin to be the absolute best place to do lasting, systemic, and impactful anticolonial work. One premise of Pollution is Colonialism is that there is no blank slate, no terra nullius, no purity politics from which to do anticolonial work. The book takes up dominant environmental science and plastic pollution activism as its “compromised field,” but it works equally well in university administration. La paperson’s A Third University Is Possible is all about the uneven, not-fully-colonial spaces in universities, and it was one of the most useful activist texts I read as an administrator.

I was the Associate Vice President of Research at Memorial University for two years while I was finishing writing and revising Pollution is Colonialism. The everyday work of that administration not only used the main frameworks in the book, but actually led me to more nuanced understandings of those frameworks, including lessons of accountability, specificity, generalization over universalization, and the idea that all things have land relations (including paperwork). In fact, I would say that the new policy I headed on Indigenous research (which eliminated settler entitlement to do work on Indigenous land/spaces), the creation of the Indigenous Data Sovereignty Agreement (which brought good land relations into data management), and many of the funding priorities, terms of reference, and evaluation frameworks we put in place during that time do the work called for in Pollution is Colonialism far better than any of my science. My admin work was more place-based, more accountable, and more attuned to complex and competing ethics of land relations. As a researcher with academic freedom, I still get to pick through the problems I deal with, even if I opt for hard ones and important ones. As an administrator, things are hurled at you that are impossibly tangled and on fire, and you are accountable to them whether you would choose to deal with them or not. That makes for some acute learning, and some nuanced ethics.

It’s not a coincidence that Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Decolonizing Methodologies) is a Vice-Chancellor, or that K. Wayne Yang (“Decolonization is not a Metaphor”) is a Provost, or that Chris Andersen (Métis) is a Dean. There are many critiques from Black and Indigenous thinkers that the work of anticolonialism and antiracism is not the labour of working on yourself, but the work of changing and reimagining systems. Administrative work is systems work.

Read the introduction to Pollution Is Colonialism for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E21LBRN.

 

The Most Read Articles of 2020

As 2020 (finally!) comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 10 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.

Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy” by Alice E. Marwick
Public Culture volume 27, issue 1 (75)

Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” by Donna Haraway
Environmental Humanities volume 6, issue 1

Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” by Cathy J. Cohen
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies volume 3, issue 4

Necropolitics” by Achille Mbembe
Public Culture volume 15, issue 1

Radical Care: Survival Strategies for Uncertain Times” by Hi‘ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart and Tamara Kneese
Social Text volume 38, issue 1 (142)

Solidarity Not Charity: Mutual Aid for Mobilization and Survival” by Dean Spade
Social Text volume 38, issue 1 (142)

Twin-Spirited Woman: Sts’iyóye smestíyexw slhá:li” by Saylesh Wesley
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 1, issue 3

Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads” by Jessica Marie Johnson
Social Text volume 36, issue 4 (137)

The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy” by Allison Carruth
Public Culture volume 26, issue 2 (73)

All Power to All People?: Black LGBTTI2QQ Activism, Remembrance, and Archiving in Toronto” by Syrus Marcus Ware
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 4, issue 2

In Conversation: Bret Gustafson and Thea Riofrancos

Our newest “In Conversation” video is a collaboration with The Baffler and features Bret Gustafson, author of Bolivia in the Age of Gas, and Thea Riofrancos, author of Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador. The authors discuss natural gas extraction in Bolivia and Ecuador and the relationship between leftist governments and environmental activists. Both books are available now with discount code EXTRCT30 for 30% off.