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AURA Panels at Anthropological Association Annual Meeting

Strong AURA presence in San José, California on 14-18 November.

Heather Swanson will be organizing and participating in three AURA-related panels at the 2018 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in San Jose, California on 14-18 November 2018. Anna Tsing, Elaine Gan, and several friends of AURA will also be participating in the important event. See the full programme here


1. The Plantation Condition: A Conversation among Anna Tsing, Paulla Ebron, and Julie Guthman

The colonial plantation permeates the industrial present. In this roundtable conversation, Julie Guthman, Anna Tsing, and Paulla Ebron — three of today’s key plantation thinkers — appraise the enduring legacy of the colonial plantation within our contemporary moment and its crises of livability. The following propositions and questions set the stage for their dialogue:   

a. The plantation is a technique for disciplining labor, amplifying fertility, and concentrating wealth in the hands of elites. As an arm of capital, how has the colonial plantation mutated over time and readjusted its grip on the world? 

b. The plantation is an assemblage of projects that transforms what it is to be human. What kinds of encounters, intimacies, long-distance connections, social mixing, and apartheids are essential to its operation? How do people resist and endure the plantation’s brutalities, disciplinary structures, and dehumanizing impulses? How do the categories and lived experiences of race, class, and gender emerge within its assemblage form? 

c. The plantation is a site of mounting and inescapable ruination. How does the slow-motion violence of the plantation impinge on bodies, coalesce into landscapes, and ripple through geopolitics? What force do plantation aftermaths and ruins exert in the world?   

d. The plantation is a grid of multispecies relations. What are the infrastructures, inputs, and cross-species coordinations that allow the plantation to function, but that also predispose it to crisis and leakage? 

e. The plantation is a force that alters the course of Earth history. Has the colonial plantation propelled the capitalist world-system and biogeochemical earth-systems into dangerous new trajectories? 

Within the history of anthropology, the plantation has been an important site of research and analysis (e.g. Mintz, Wolf, Hurston, Stoler, Carney). This roundtable seeks to revitalize plantation studies by analyzing imperial formations and more-than-human landscapes together. Doing so, the plantation becomes a boundary object for anthropologists working at the edges of race, colonialism, political economy, landscape, and multispecies relations


Participants: Paulla Ebron (Stanford), Anna Tsing,  Julie Guthman (UCSC), Kregg Hetherington (Concordia)

Organizers: Zac Caple (South Florida) and Heather Swanson


2. Plantationocene: The Banality of Iowa


In her 2017 Cultural Anthropology blog piece Heather Swanson called on anthropologists to turn their gaze on the agro-industrial Midwest, its everyday forms of environmental violence, and the culture of blindness that prevents Americans from noticing the “banal Anthropocene” in their midst. She called this formation Iowa. Iowa, she argued, is one of the most ruined geographies in North America — one that people have been socialized not to see. In this panel, we take up Swanson’s provocation to generate spaces for storytelling in which we train one another to overcome our learned blindnesses and become better observers of the Iowan Anthropocene. How can we collectively come to grip with the erasure of the prairie and native peoples, the spread of corn monoculture, the depletion of aquifers, the rapid evolution of pesticide-resistant weeds, and the downstream effects of fertilizer runoff? To tell these stories, we must invariably focus our analysis on the industrial plantation or, more broadly, on what Donna Haraway has called the Plantationocene. The Plantationocene is an Earth made in and through histories of the plantation and its logics. Plantationocene is an ordering of world economies predicated on monoculture, alienated labor forms, finance capital, long-distance supply chains, nonrenewable resource inputs, and increasing mechanization and corporate control. It is also a violent re-ordering of multispecies landscapes. Perhaps the most stunning feature of the Iowan Plantationocene is the monotony and regularity of the grid imposed on the landscape by the U.S. Rectangular Public Land Survey System in the late eighteenth century as a technology of agricultural settlement. This grid can serve as a metaphor for the Iowan territorialization, its rationality, and its layered histories of environmental violence.


The five papers in this panel collectively explore the erasures, institutions, material infrastructures, subject-making practices, nonhuman actors, and emergent precarities that make up Iowa as a Plantationocene assemblage. We inquire into the scalable designs of the plantation, the geography-spanning networks of agribusiness, and the imperial appetites that drive the production of cheap corn, soy, and meat. By teasing out the histories and connections that have been overlooked, obscured, and naturalized by white middle class Americans, our goal is to “spectacularize” Iowa’s banal Anthropocene. To render Iowa’s Anthropocene spectacular is not about sensationalizing environmental violence, rather it is about cultivating storytelling arts that hold people’s attentions and transform perceptions of the everyday. Doing so, we might encourage Iowans — the people of the American Plantationocene — to assume the mantel of creating their own storytelling spaces and take up the radical practice of tracing and inheriting histories that make and unmake worlds.


Participants: Andrea Rissing (Emory), Kregg Hetherington (Concordia), Alex Blanchette (Tufts) Zac Caple (South Florida), Heather Swanson?

Organizers: Zac Caple and Heather Swanson


3. The World Multiple: The Quotidian Politics of Knowing and Generating Worlds

The aim of this roundtable is to explore possibilities for engaging and analyzing worlds beyond the “one-world world” of modernist Western technoscience using the figure of the world multiple. Worlds multiple are social-material worlds generated through quotidian practice. They draw from and subvert dominant modes of worlding associated with the modern West, and help us make sense of how people strive to make worlds living in and for. We work with the world multiple to think through the diverse forms of resistance, resilience, and adaptation that people enact in their everyday worlding practices. 

The past few decades have witnessed a heightened concern over environmental issues framed at a planetary scale, such as climate change, rises in sea levels, contamination of the biosphere, and species extinctions, that have come to be known as signs of life in the “Anthropocene.” How might we join critical reflections on the violence imposed upon human and non-humans on this planet? How can we do so while maintaining a critical wariness towards the holisms conjured forth by this new planetary consciousness? 

In parallel to this development, we have also observed growing attention to indigenous and traditional environmental knowledge as a way to navigate the Anthropocene. Knowledges that were previously marginalized for their “irrational” mixing of “social” and “natural” entities are now being seen as promising ways to engage the natural environment in more scientific ways. While there is an inclusive drive to make up for past epistemological discrimination and violence, the incorporation of indigenous and traditional knowledges into existing frameworks prolongs the hegemony of modern technoscientific expertise, and its basic assumption of a one-world world. We ask: how might we think beyond “incorporation,” and give heed to the interactions between modern, indigenous, and traditional forms of life? 

This roundtable explores these questions by focusing on the quotidian practices through which worlds are conjured as social and material realities, that is as worlds multiple. Moreover, we attend to the multiplicities immanent in and engendered by these practices, and the politics that they embody. We especially consider the relationships between modern technoscience and other forms of knowledge and practices—described as indigenous, traditional, folk or vernacular—in peoples’ engagements with the world. To do so, this roundtable brings together anthropologists working on multispecies ethnography, ontological anthropology, and postcolonial theory to explore the world multiple as a figure for thinking beyond the “one-world world,” and make sense of the complex and multidimensional realities that people live in the current moment. 


Participants: Marisol de la Cadena (UC-Davis), Moe Nakazora (Kyoto), Stacey Langwick (Cornell), Mei Zhan (UC-Irvine), Sasha Welland (Washington), Elaine Gan (AURA; NYU), Shiho Satsuka (Toronto), Keiichi Omura (Open Univ. Japan), Heather Swanson, Anna Tsing, Grant Otsuki (Victoria-Wellington)