Tag: environment

Environments that Could’ve Been

Speculation is inevitable in social science. Infinite variables exceed what a researcher can grasp, making confidence hard to attain. There are always gaps in our knowledge of reality, and we fill those with guesses and hunches. Along these lines, in my own work, I am in the same camp as Alan Klima’s Ethnography #9, which tries to do away with non-fiction realism in the social sciences and instead invites literary sensitivities to understand the world beyond what is representable. (read more...)

So long, Indiana Jones, or who owns “El Mirador”?

The rule of “finders, keepers” has held true for most archaeological discoveries at least since museums, as we now know them, have existed. Collectors of foreign objects have been around, of course, as long as war, but the officialization of plunder for the purpose of exhibiting foreign treasures in public spaces dates back to the Enlightenment (mid 18th to early 19th centuries), when feeding museums was part of anthropologists’ tasks, an expectation that survived until very recently. Explorers and discoverers were romanticized and immortalized in literature and, later, film. The debate over ownership of archaeological sites and objects has followed a similar arch; now the decolonization of knowledge and critiques of cultural appropriation are central to anthropological debates. Despite growing public questioning of ownership of the past and its objects, the ghost of Indiana Jones continues to capture and seduce many. The battle over who decides over the Mayan archaeological (read more...)

Science and Justice: “Impartial” Water Monitoring and Resistance to the Escobal Mine in Guatemala

Editor’s note: This is the third post in an ongoing series called “The Spectrum of Research and Practice in Guatemalan Science Studies.” A water monitoring process conducted around a controversial mine site in Guatemala highlighted the central, but also contested and indeterminate, role of science in environmental struggles. Groups with competing aims, and distinct conceptions of science and politics produce (or influence the production of) distinct forms and interpretations of science to ground their claims and shape the outcome of environmental conflicts. (read more...)

Black Geographies: New Maroon Studies and the Politics of Place

Jamaican Maroons are the descendants of Africans who escaped enslavement on plantations in the early colonial period. Mentions of the Maroons in the colonial record begin around 1655, when the British, having routed the Spanish from Jamaica, started facing fierce guerrilla resistance from groups of Africans who had established free communities in the hills. The Maroon population grew as frequent revolts on the plantations facilitated the flight to freedom in the hills. The British unsuccessfully tried to subdue the Maroons by force of arms. Ultimately, they signed peace treaties with the leaders of the two main Maroon groups in 1739. The treaties included land grants and recognition of Maroon autonomy, but also included stipulations that the Maroons help capture runaways and subdue revolts in the future. (read more...)

Archiving for the Anthropocene: Notes from the Field Campus

Editors’s note: Click here to read the author’s MA thesis expanding on this topic. On a chilly Sunday afternoon in March, our Field Campus group walked through downtown Granite City, Illinois. Located just 6 miles north of St. Louis, the downtown was a markedly post-industrial landscape. Many of the red brick buildings were vacant and showed signs of lasting decay. Weedy patches of open land occasionally provided views of a large nearby factory. It was hard to tell if coffee and sandwich shops were closed forever. The factory, a U.S. Steel Corps manufacturing plant called Granite City Works was founded by two German immigrants in 1896, along with the city itself. In 2009, the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) ranked neighborhoods in Granite City at the second highest risk for cancer in the country, highlighting the plant’s coke ovens as a likely source (McGuire 2009). Coke oven emissions include benzene, arsenic, and lead (Earthjustice 2019) – that people breathe, and soils absorb. Another source of toxic air pollution has been the NL Industries/Taracorp lead smelter. Before its closure in 1983, the smelter contaminated over 1,600 households in Granite City and beyond, eventually turning into an EPA superfund cleanup site (Singer, n.d.). The US EPA recognized that the highest concentrations of lead in the air are around smelters. Lead in the air means lead in the soil. Tearing down houses in “blighted” sections of the city exacerbates the problem since demolitions release the lead in the paint of older buildings (Blythe 2019). Granite City is certainly a hot spot. As we walked through Granite City, we were guided by our local collaborator and artist Chris Carl, whose work with the urban renewal group New American Gardening “explores garden making on vacant lots and post industrial land.” Chris led us to the particular plot, pointing to a number of concrete blocks scattered around the ground. One of the blocks featured a warning symbol etched into its top, the other had the letters ‘Pb’ scrawled upon it – which, as he informed us, is the chemical abbreviation for lead. The blocks were Chris’s “DIY version of a lead remediation,” an intervention he began after a project by the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and a visit by EPA officials who confirmed low levels of lead all over the area after conducting the requisite soil testing. The levels on the site we were standing on, however, had proven to be “off the charts.” Notably, both Madison County and the U.S. Steel Trust had provided funding for this pilot plot. (read more...)

At the Edge of Land and Water: Navigating sea level change in Chennai

It was 8am in Ennore, a coastal region at the northern-most tip of the city of Chennai and home to artisanal fishers who have traditionally lived along the shores of the Bay of Bengal.  I had recently started my fieldwork on property relations at coastal spaces around Chennai there. The sun was out, the fishers were busy sorting through the catch of the day, and the smoke from the factories around made everything look hazy. My neighbor and long-time Ennore resident, Kumar uncle, decided to introduce me to fishers he knew at Periyakuppam, a fishing village in the area. We met the fishers and as we stood facing the sea, I asked them about the history of the village and changes in the landscape over time. In response, they pointed at the sea and said, “Look! Do you see the sand there, the sea water extended till that point until last week, but it has receded further now…come again next month and see what we’re talking about!” Just a few minutes later, they shifted their gaze to the left and asked, “Can you see those ships in the distance? That is where the port is. They built it for the ships bringing coal to the power plant. They put in sea-walls around there…” and once again, shifting their gaze towards the shore and the sea they said, “Look there, half the land in that village is now under water; it’s because of those stones from the sea-walls over there.” (read more...)

The Nature of the Copy

From the dead center of an all-white eye, a lone sapling rose two feet tall. Cyclical ridges and valleys, etched in bioplastic by an unseen watchmaker, encircled the solitary lifeform and separated it from the mottled, decaying plant matter that had been strewn about nearby with intention, detritus by design. Lying adjacent on the table-in-sylvan-drag, a digital tablet and paper pamphlets displayed the word Nucleário.[1] Nucleário and the five other prototypes exhibited at the 2018 Biomimicry Launchpad Showcase in Berkeley, California, were, according to the event’s online marketing, projects from a “new species of entrepreneur” who practices “biomimicry,” the “conscious emulation of life’s genius,” a refrain I would hear repeatedly during my fieldwork on contemporary chimeras of biology and design. “Genius,” a cultural category once reserved for the presence of spiritual inspiration, here refers to the technical creativity of a re-animated nature that designers attempt to imitate in new devices like Nucleário.[2] Under the solar-paneled roof of the David Brower Center, whose eponym served as the first executive director of the Sierra Club, teams from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Taiwan, and the United States had gathered to compete under the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which, this year, prompted designers to devise solutions for the mitigation and reversal of climate change. The prize: a cash award of $100,000 given by the Biomimicry Institute, a Montana-based nonprofit organization dedicated to “building a new generation of sustainability innovators” through educational initiatives.[3] (read more...)

Dramatising the Future

This is the third in a series of posts by scholars who attended the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne, an event hosted in September by Deakin University as part of the larger Anthropocene Curriculum project. Over the four days of the Campus, 110 participants from 49 universities (plus several art institutions and museums) attended keynotes, art exhibits, fieldtrips, and workshops based around the theme of ‘the elemental’. Earlier this year, at the Emerging Writers Festival panel on ‘Writing the Anthropocene’, I was asked if I thought that, in imagining a future world for my 2016 novel The Island Will Sink, I also had an ethical responsibility to ‘get it right’. The question was asked by a writer who also worked as a sustainability officer in community organisations. It led to more uncomfortable questions: As a writer of fiction, is it a problem to use the predicted extinctions and environmental catastrophes of the not too distant future to produce (amongst other things) stakes in a literary production? (read more...)