How did I go so long with learning about liberation ecology, or reading Arturo Escobar or understanding the ways in which they renovate Marxism with the plethora of new ideas emerging from struggle in the developing world, particularly around environmental justice. The context? ‘…a new emphasis on nature-society relations in fin-de-siecle atmosphere…’
— collapse of many actually-existing socialisms
— resurgence of environmentalist concerns articulated explicitly in global terms
— rise of political ecology (2)
I found this introduction incredibly rich, incredibly brilliant, and quite hard to get through. But in a nutshell, it was worth it entirely as this is the goal:
Looking to help create ‘a more robust political ecology which integrates politics more centrally, draws upon aspects of discourse theory which demand that the politics of meaning and the construction of knowledge be taken seriously, and engages with the wide-ranging critique of development and modernity particularly associated with Third World intellectuals and activists such as Vandana Shiva, Arturo Escobar, and Victor Toledo. … new theoretical engagement between political ecology and poststructuralism on the one hand, and a practical political engagement with new movements, organizations, and institutions of civil society… (3)
I love Vandana Shiva — she transformed by thinking, and Arturo Escobar is doing the same. Victor Toledo is now on my list. So back to the origins of political ecology:
Political ecology — the effort begin in the 1980s to “combine the concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy… [which] encompasses the constantly shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources” (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987: 17).
Key scholars: Susanna Hecht, Harold Brookfield, Anna Bramwell, Susan Stonich, Michael Redclift and Ram Guha. A key text for future reference is Blaikie and Brookfield’s Land Degradation and Society. for all of them, poverty is the central variable in ecological deterioration, not population, market distortion or mismanagement. I though simultaneously ‘hurrah’, and also ‘it’s not rocket science’, but apparently for many people it is. I suppose poverty is not nice to look it, and its solution demands structural change.
What I love most about this chapter is how it summarises various currents of thought, containing wonderful matrices of the phases and major figures in the literature — here is development, which I am still fairly ignorant of:
There is also a good summary of social movement theory, one that is so much more satisfying than say, Tarrow, Meyer & Tarrow or Gamson, not least because it finally gives a good summary of the traditional Marxist view:
‘The productive transformation of nature is the primary activity making possible the whole structure of human existence… from a dialectical view, societal dynamics emerge from contradictory oppositions in the material reproduction of existence, conflicts between the forces of production and a limited natural environment for example, which result in crises. These moments of contradictory crisis are, for classical Marxists, the contexts in which class existing “in-itself” engages in intensified political struggle and becomes class “for-itself,” that is a group with collective identity, a collective agent which forces necessary social and environmental transformations. In Marx’s own words, class is the main form of social engagement, and control of the means of production its primary terrain of struggle (Marx 1970). (28)
Because, after all, the point of all of this is liberation.
They look at the ways in which Gramsci broadened its theoretical power, first through idea of hegemony, state force and ‘common sense. Second, in describing that:
transformative human actions do not result automatically from material contradictions; they are mediated by subjective meanings and conscious intentions. Material changes… may create higher propensities for transformative action and limit the range of it possible outcomes, but ideological and political practices are relatively autonomous and are literally the decisive moments in the transformation of material conditions into political practices. (28)
They point towards Cohen (1982) and (1985) for a good critique of both. Summarise part of Marcuse’s (1964) contribution through his search for a substitute revolutionary subject to play the leading role previously assigned to the proletariat. The way that this challenge was taken up by the “new working class” theorists — Aronowitz (1973), Gorz (1967 – this is sitting in my piles), Mallet (1969), who see welfare state capitalism providing new strategy for labour. These contrast with Poulantzas (1973) and Wright (1979) who reject humanist Marxism to concentrate on classes defined as effects of structures, as well as those theorising the “new intellectual class” — Gouldner (1979) and Szelenyi and Konrad (1979) who look beyond workers to critical intellectuals as the motor of revolutionary change. For all of them, however, Cohen argues that their
presupposition remains production relations key to society and social movements (29)
This helps fit everyone in to a bigger picture, but you can imagine the density of the text. A chapter you will want to keep coming back to.
On to the Post-Marxists, who:
argue that production is only one arena for collective resistance, that groups other than the working class are now significant sources of social movements, that greater attention has to be given to active processes of human agency. (29)
The ways that these are
Very different from ‘resource-mobilization paradigm’ (Gamson, Oberschall, Tilly), where ‘conflicts of interest are built into institutionalized power relations. Collective actions involve the rational pursuit of interests by conflicting groups.
I have an immense frustration with that kind of analysis, it feels so good to have it put within this much broader context as just a small current — because it feels such a big current in much of the social movement literature itself.
On Habermas…I have to read more
Habermas (1984) differentiates system, in which people operate under strategic rationalities following technical rules, and lifeworld, with its communicative rationality oriented towards consensus, understanding, and collective action. For Habermas social movements of resistance emerge when commodifying systems colonize lifeworlds: resistance struggles are as much against dominant rationalizes as they are against institutional control. (29-30)
and the strain of social movement theory focusing on the urban — that community, housing and urban movements are now the drivers of change rather than the workers, particularly Castells (1977):
urban social movements respond to the structural contradictions of the capitalist system; but these contradictions are of a plural-class and secondary nature, involving various deprivations, rather than the working class struggling to control the productive apparatus. Thus protest movements organize around common interests on a variety of terrains of struggle, often in opposition to the state and other political and sociocultural institutions, rather than the economically ruling class directly.(30)
This describes how Castells argues in The City and the Grassroots (a magisterial work that I really loved, have yet to really grapple with) that social movement as agent of transformation is unthinkable in Marxism (Peet and Watts disagree) and
‘that social change happens when a new urban meaning is produced through conflict, domination, and resistance to domination.’ (30)
Here too we have Laclau and Mouffe, Castoriadis, modified by Touraine. All people I need to think about more — especially Castoriadis and Touraine also sitting in piles as yet unread.
This is a broad brush look at primary theorists in these different areas, the articles that follow a rather fascinating look at struggles around the world through a political ecology lens.
Theory for liberation.
[Peet, Richard and Michael Watts (1996) Liberation Ecologies: environment, development, social movements. London & New York: Routledge.]
I found Timothy Morton’s book Hyperobjects fairly incomprehensible — I know next to nothing of OOO, or Object Oriented Ontology — but find the concept of the hyperobject compelling and incredibly useful in thinking about the world. I thank Mark, and Karolina and Anya giving us our time in Poland for bringing it to my attention…
Climate change is the hyperobject under discussion
massively distributed in time and space relative to humans (1).
it is bigger than we can comprehend but is also something caused by us. It is out there impacting in multiple different ways across the world and yet it is also the heat wave and the hurricane we experience directly against our skin. It started long ago yet it defines our future and thus squeezes upon our present. As Morton writes,
The very feeling of wondering whether the catastrophe will begin soon is a symptom of its already having begun. (177)
Because of all this, hyperobjects are reflected in our thought art action, conscious and unconscious. Capitalism is another hyperobject, and to me this opens up so many avenues of thought.
I’ve been trying to deal with the desolation and fear I have been flooded with since Trump’s election yesterday — a day in which I could not work, just restlessly do nothing much at all. In trying to understand this terrible thing, I think a lot can be argued for this idea of climate change as a hyperobject. I think ultimately Trump rode to power on the fear of the immensity and unknowability of climate change and these crisis days of capitalism. This terrifying future that people can feel approaching, the knowledge that everything is shrinking and everything is changing and resources do not exist to sustain America’s current way of life — or ever bring back the days when a high school diploma and a manufacturing job could get you a house and a decent life. The fear this inspires, even when not acknowledged or outright denied.
So the scramble for resources has begun I think, they will be saved for the few, the ‘deserving’, and Trump has made clear who those few are — based on the historic divisions emerging from Native American genocide, slavery, class warfare, and of course our current wars that are all about oil resources. So white folks earning over $50,000 a year voted Trump in through the electoral college once again — he lost the popular vote. Even among, especially among, the climate change deniers there is a bunkering down without any sense of irony. There will be a gathering of resources behind high walls and ever deeper divisions between ‘us’ on one side and ‘them’ on the other. A growing violence and ruthlessness towards ‘them’ in the name of survival — and god knows it has been terrible enough already. My mother will be one of ‘them’, most of my friends and all of those I stand with in solidarity. People of colour, muslims, the poor, immigrants, LGBTQI folks, the disabled. It is like my dad’s old pistol-packing coworker who he helped move a truckload of canned peaches into her bunker for the end of days. A kind of insanity that is based on the philosophy of getting mine, and fuck everyone else.
I sit here, sick with worry. Even more helpless given my distance. So Morton’s abstractions and rhetoric seem a little too abstract — as they did before the election to be honest. But I shall give you a large taste — the opacity of the language may or may not hide something deeper that I am missing. I’m honestly not sure. I think this is a valuable concept to examine today’s world but this is quite a pick’n mix approach to the book that will probably horrify philosophers. I apologise in advance.
Morton’s summation of hyperobjects:
They are viscous, which means that they “stick” to beings that are involved with them. They are nonlocal; in other words, any “local manifestation” of a hyperobject is not directly the hyperobject. They involve profoundly different temporalities than the human-scale ones we are used to. … Hyperobjects occupy a high-dimensional phase space that results in their being invisible to humans for stretches of time. And they exhibit their effects interobjectively; that is, they can be detected in a space that consists of interrelationships between aesthetic properties of objects. The hyperobject is not a function of our knowledge… Hyperobjects are real whether or not someone is thinking of them. (1-2)
They are so big they impact everything, and we don’t have to be aware of it to be true. Which is what I find fascinating about this idea:
No longer are my intimate impressions “personal” in the sense that they are “merely mine” or “subjective only”: they are footprints of hyperobjects… (5)
The world has already ended, Morton argues. The first time in April 1784 when James Watt patented the steam engine. The second in Trinity, NM in 1945, the first atom bomb test. I feel like it has ended a third time in a way. But I mostly hate this rhetoric because while Morton argues this liberates us, I think it does the opposite.
I do however, like to recognise how small we are made by what we face:
For what comes into view for humans at this moment is precisely the end of the world, brought about by the encroachment of hyperobjects, one of which is assuredly Earth itself, and its geological cycles demand a geophilosophy that doesn’t think simply in terms of human events and human significance. (7)
An aside on OOO to place it within philosophy’s canon — this is part of
speculative realism is the umbrella terms for a movement that comprises such scholars as Graham Harman, Jane Bennett, Quentin Meillasoux, Patrica Clough, Iain Hamilton Grant, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, Steven Shaviro, Reza Negarestani, Ray Brassier and an emerging host fo others… to break the spell that descended on philosophy since the Romantic period. The spell known as correlationism, the notion that philosophy can only talk within a narrow bandwidth, restricted to the human-world correlate: meaning is only possible between a human mind and what it thinks, its “objects” … The problem as correlationism sees it is, is the light on in the fridge when you close the door? (9)
Part 1 What Are Hyperobjects?
The awful shadow of some unseen power
— Percy Shelley
This book draws on two things I enjoy, SF and quantum physics — all the things I struggled to come to terms with in Green and Hawking’s work (and failed, significantly in grasping really). Things like tiny forks vibrating and not vibrating simultaneously — visible to the human eye. I wish my own eye could see such a thing.
Hyperobjects are touching us, making our hair fall out, our skin blister, yet they are nonlocal — we are not the centre of the universe nor are we privileged actors. He writes:
Locality is an abstraction…Heavy rain is simply a local manifestation of some vast entity that I’m unable directly to see. (47-48)
In grasping at the local, the individual, we destroy the sense of the larger whole:
Stop the tape of evolution anywhere and you won’t see it. Stand under a rain cloud and it’s not global warming you’ll feel. Cut your throat into a thousand pieces — you won’t find capital in there. Now try pointing to the unconscious. Did you catch it? Hyperobjects compel us to think ecologically, and not the other way round. … Nowhere in the long list of catastrophic weather events…will you find global warming. But global warming is as real as this sentence. (48)
It touches all of us.
In a sense, we can expect human egos to be pockmarked with the traces of hyperobjects. We are all burnt by ultraviolet rays… We are poems about the hyperobject Earth. (51)
Yet this does not negate the specificity of things themselves.
When I think nonlocality in this way, I am not negating the specificity of things, evaporating them into the abstract mist of the general, the larger or the less local. Nonlocality is far weirder than that. When it comes to hyperobjects, nonloocality means that the general itself is compromised by the particular. When I look for the hyperobject oil, I don’t find it. Oil just is droplets, flows, rivers, and slicks of oil. I do not find the object by looking sub specie aeternitatis, but by seeing things sub specie majoris, sub specie inhumanae. (54)
He looks at Negarestani’s Cyclonpedia, suffused with oil — I struggled my way through this book when I first came to London. It is rather weird and wonderful.
Because we can’t see to the end of them, hyperobjects are necessarily uncanny. (55)
It is interesting to think that a bounded object we cannot see the limits of should seem greater than infinity, but I think he’s right:
There is a real sense in which it is far easier to conceive of “forever” than very large finitude. Forever makes you feel important. One hundred thousand years makes you wonder whether you can imagine one hundred thousand anything. (60)
Two asides (for me) on Einstein’s physics and things I don’t understand but rather enjoy grappling with:
…the pencil you are holding in your fingers is only a rigid extended body on account of a false immediacy. Nothing in the universe apprehends the pencil like that, really. Not even the pencil apprehends itself like that. (62)
Spacetime turns from a grid-like box into what Einstein fantastically calls a “reference-mollusk.” Reference-mollusks exist precisely because of hyperobjects that emanate gravitational fields. In these fields geometry is not Euclidean. (63)
There is quite a lot about space in here, theorised in opposition to Newton rather than sociology, which is more familiar to me. So Morton writes
To understand hyperobjects, however, is to think the abyss in front of things. (63)
and then this, which I thought Lefebvre and other had ended decades ago, but I suppose not in physics:
Hyperobjects end the idea that time and space are empty containers that entities sit in. (65)
Hyperobjects are phased: they occupy a high-dimensional phase space that makes them impossible to see as a whole on a regular three-dimensional human-scale basis.
We can only see pieces of hyperobjects at a time. (70)
I struggle with how this is different from non-locality
As it is, I only see brief patches of this gigantic object as it intersects with my world. The brief patch I call a hurricane destroys the infrastructure of New Orleans… (71)
Also with how this is not quite another argument for networks, for connection the way permaculturists would see things, or Capra — but Morton is fairly dismissive of emergence.
Hyperobjects don’t inhabit some conceptual beyond in our heads or out there. They are real objects that affect other objects. Indeed the philosophical view behind thinking that objects are one thing and relations (which is what we’re really talking about when we talk about math or transcendence) are another positively inhibits our transition to an ecological age, even as it poses sophisticated theories of emergence or process. (73)
I need to think more about objects and relations maybe. This too I find rather difficult to get my head around:
The abyss does not underlie things, but rather allows things to coexist: it is the nonspatial “betweeness” of things. Whenever I put my hand into the toaster oven I am thrusting part of my body into an abyss. (79)
The abyss in front of things is interobjective. It floats among objects, “between” them… On this view, what is called intersubjectivity— a shared space in which human meaning resonates–is a small region of a much larger interobjective configuration space. Hyperobjects disclose interobjectivity. The phenomenon we call intersubjectivity is just a local, anthropocentric instance of a much more widespread phenomenon… (81)
Stop privileging the human, the anthropocentric. There are many indigenous systems that do this, to all my relations is this same idea, no? Easier to understand, easier to incorporate into a better way of life. But I continue the struggle with these words, where everything is connected interobjectively through what he calls the mesh, and goes on to write things I am not entirely sure I find useful or not:
Hyperobjects simply enable us to see what is generally the case:
Protagoras notwithstanding, objects are not made-to-measure for humans.
Objects do not occur “in” time and space, but rather emit spacetime.
Causality does not churn underneath objects like a machine in the basement, but rather floats in front of them.
The causal dimension, in which things like explosions are taken to happen, is also the aesthetic dimension, in which things like Nude Descending a Staircase are taken to happen. (89-90)
There is some interesting stuff about cities I shall collect together at the end, but a final thought:
The present does not truly exist. We experience a crisscrossing set of force fields, the aesthetic-causal fields emanated by a host of objects. (93)
PART II: The Time of Hyperobjects
A hyperobject has ruined the weather conversations, which functions as part of a neutral screen that enables us to have human drama in the foreground. In an age of global warming, there is no background, and thus there is no foreground. It is the end of the world, since worlds depend on background and foregrounds. (99)
Ah, the end of the world! I still can’t quite grasp this, but unlike some of the other concepts to be found here, I rather want to. This too:
Lifeworld was just a story we were telling ourselves on the inside of a vast, massively distributed hyperobject called climate… (103)
On sustainability — a major development engine and fundraising mechanism these days, making perfect sense of this:
The common name for managing and regulating flows is sustainability. But what exactly is being sustained? “Sustained capitalism” might be one of those contradictions in terms along the lines of “military intelligence.” (111)
I like, too, the insight that given the way capital operates and how it is based on raw materials –
Nature is the featureless remainder at either end of the process of production. (112)
This is one of the lies our world is built on that is crumbling at the approach of climate change as hyperobject.
I rather like this sentence, what does it mean? I don’t know.
Marx was partly wrong, then, when in The Communist Manifesto he claimed that in capitalism all that is solid melts into air. He didn’t’ see how a hypersolidity oozes back into the emptied-out space of capitalism. (115)
So to come to the end, to look at the city metaphor he uses for the hyperobject — I am actually fascinated that we should have built something so legible, so mappable, that yet could serve as a hyperobject. That is rather fascinating. Morton writes:
The streets beneath the streets, the Roman Wall, the boarded-up houses, the unexploded bombs, are records of everything that happened to London. London’s history is its form. Form is memory. …
Appearance is the past. Essence is the future. The strange strangeness of a hyperobject, its invisibility–it’s the future, somehow beamed into the “present.”(91)
Later in the book he returns to this:
A hyperobject is like a city — indeed a city like London could provide a good example of a hyperobject. Cities and hyperobjects are full of strange streets, abandoned entrances, cul-de-sacs, and hidden interstitial regions. (120)
I’m playing with that idea more. But a final glimpse at Morton’s own descriptions of hyperobjects
What best explains ecological awareness is a sense of intimacy, not a sense of belonging to something bigger: a sense of being close, even too close, to other lifeforms, of having them under one’s skin. Hyperobjects force us into an intimacy with out own death (because they are toxic), with others (because everyone is affected by them), and with the future (because they are massively distributed in time.) (139)
[Morton, Timothy (2013) Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.]
Urban Sprawl and Public Health — a great book! It was amazing to see urban planning and public health brought together in this way — a solid primer on both for each, along with a plea for professionals to start working together to fix this. Because sprawl is killing us.
I myself would throw in a soupçon of sociologists and geographers and community organizers to the health and planning mix as well, because what was missing? More analysis on the nature of development and how the drive for profit drives this urban form, more analysis on the struggle of everyday people to fight for and against some of these dynamics, and the ways in which race and land have long been linked (but there is more of this second aspect than in many another book). Still, despite these critiques, I confess that few things get me going the way that talking about the city and health in the same book do.
Health & Sprawl facts:
In the last 15 years, the US has developed 25% of all the land developed in the past 225 years of its official existence. (xii)
Between 1960 and 2000, average American’s yearly driving more than doubled — 4,000 to nearly 10,000 miles per years. “rush hour” spread over seven, not 4 and a half, average driver’s time spent stuck in traffic each year: 6 to 36 hours in Dallas, 1 to 28 hours in Minneapolis, 6 to 34 in Atlanta. (xiii)
Sprawl — a term from William H. Whyte! Did I know that? He wrote an article for Fortune in January 1958, titled ‘Urban Sprawl’. There are a variety of definitions and measurements of sprawl, here they follow those that incorporate both land use and transportation as intrinsic. They focus on four main aspects — density, land use mix, automobile dependence and connectivity (or how destinations are linked through transportation systems (7). (5)
I particularly like how much they use illustrations, this is a good one:
I also liked the ‘transect’ — a look at the continuum between sprawl and compact neighbourhoods (16)
Chapter 2 looks at the origins of sprawl, and it is based almost in its entirety on Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier. So it summarizes the multiple factors that have lead to spraw, and it is a very long list. He heads it with the pull of the suburbs and the (European) cultural values Jackson believed underlay that pull — domesticity, privacy and isolation (28). In addition you have land ownership as a mark of wealth and status, alongside (partly driving perhaps, but I’m a cynic that this drove development rather than sales) a love of land itself and antipathy toward cities. (29) The Garden City movement feeds into this, embodied by Frederick Law Olmstead, along with the new technologies and construction methods and lots of cheap land (no mention of conquest here of course). There is a little here on the willingness of cities to spend taxes on providing infrastructure like roads and sewers — directly subsidising this kind of development as opposed to improving older neighbourhoods or public housing. The rise of the automobile and destruction of public transportation. The rise of zoning. The HOLC and the FHA, federal policy and money going towards new housing for whites (I do wish, though, that they had read Freund).
Still, I like the simplicity of their conclusions though:
Sprawl, as we know it today, appears deceptively chaotic. In fact, it is a highly ordered and predictable form of development. An edifice of public and private instruments erected over the past three-quaters of a century reinforces and extends sprawl. (42)
There is a little on financing here, and that real estate financing now works on an expectation of profits within 5-7 years — more built-in obsoleteness. I wish they had connected this to Harvey’s ‘spatial fix’ but that’s complex I guess. This is my field though, and this is a good summary.
Urban health is not my field, though I have a good deal of practical organising experience on the subject.
Frumkin et al compare the evolution of urban health with public health through ‘epidemiologic transition’ — and these titles really do inspire the SF writer side of my brain: The Age of Pestilence and Famine, The Age of Receding Pandemics, and where we are now: The Age of Degenerative and Man-Made Diseases. In cities, infectious diseases once dominated, but sanitary infrastructure ended that to a great extent. But industrialisation introduced pollution, and mental health and violence are not forgotten here, with growth in poverty, social dislocation and crime. (45)
From a public health perspective, the critical problems that grew as cities did were: garbage, commercial activity (tanning and other nasty things), sewage, water, air, and housing. (46)
An interesting aside:
In New York, Assemblyman Aaron Burr [founding father and profiteer] obtained a charter for the Manhattan Company, a private firm that was to hold a monopoly on piped water for the next quarter of a century. (51)
Privatised water is nothing new. Nor are the images from Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives. My family for example, hanging out with the other half in Pittsburgh, probably looked much like this, though they were never in this particular alley.
The Results: A Plethora of Infections
Their heading, not mine. I had not read of the yellow fever epidemics that swept through Washington D.C. — as President Washington fled in 1793 leaving over 5,000 dead, or over ten percent of the city’s population. (55)
The book quotes a citizen group in Philly writing:
if the fever shall become an annual visitant, our cities must be abandoned, commerce will desert our coasts, and we, the citizens of this great metropolis, shall all of us, suffer much distress, and a great proportion of us be reduced to absolute ruin. (56)
Cholera, Typhoid…Cities in these early days were ‘incubators of infectious disease’ (57)
Now this is Pittsburgh just as my great-grandparents were arriving:
But slowly this would change…
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as sanitary challenges were met and as industrial pollution was managed, the toxicity of cities–the factors that most threatened residents’ health and well-being and even helped drive migration out of the cities–came overwhelmingly to revolve around social circumstances. (61)
The heading for this section is ‘The Social Pathology of City Life’. (61)
during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as sanitary challenges were met and as industrial pollution was managed, the toxicity of cities–the factors that most threatened residents’ health and well-being and even helped drive migration out of the cities–came overwhelmingly to revolve around social circumstances. (61)
The urban crisis — it is interesting, perhaps a little troubling how the social is here linked with the epidemiological, but I am often troubled by the public health gaze at poverty. Foucault was too, so I’m in good company. The book here notes the riots of the Red Summer of 1919 — yet it doesn’t distinguish these horrifying white killing sprees where literally hundreds of people were murdered with ‘riots’, what inhabitants themselves described as ‘uprisings’ in protest of police brutality and living condition in Watts in 1965, LA again in 1992 and etc (62).
It is interesting to consider the ‘urban health penalty’, however:
a complex of environmental conditions such as deteriorating housing, inadequate access to nutritional food, and scant medical care, and health consequences such as untreated hypertension, cardiocasvualr disease, intentionala dn unintentional injuries, and infectious diseases. (63)
Interesting to read of a 1990 article in New England Journal of Medicine showing that men in Harlem had lower life expectencies than in Bangladesh.* They write:
A literature of urban health arose, focusing on these conditions and how to provide health care to the victims. (63)
From here on to the nitty gritty.
I like this chart:
‘As the model illustrates, land use patterns affect each category of athropogenic emmissions–their location, their quantity, their dispersion in the air, and how people are exposed. (66)
And a summary of what air quality means for health:
Air pollution threatens human health in four principal ways. The two most important are by increasing mortality and by threatening respiratory health. In addition, air pollution can damage cardiovascular function and increase cancer risk. There is evidence for some other health effects as well. (80)
The ‘epidemic’ of obesity must be well known to anyone doing community work, or even who just reads the paper.
Being overweight is itself a well-established risk factor for a number of diseases. people who are overweight die at as much as 2.5 times the rate of non-obese people, and an estimated 300,000 Americans die preventable deaths each year as the result of being obese. (96)
So sprawl obviously has some share of this, creating environments where no one walks. Where it is dangerous to walk even if you wanted to, and there were somewhere to go. What features of the environment help people become more active?
Frank, Engelke and Schmid** identify three dimensions of the built environment…. land use patterns, design characteristics and transportation systems. (99)
Pikora et al*** expand on this, primarily in area of design — functional factors, safety factors, aesthetic factors and destination factors. So — a mix of different land uses, availability of sidewalks and footpaths, enjoyable scenery, the presence of other people in the space being physically active, safety.
Fucking rocket science, this is.
Injuries and Deaths from Traffic
Holy Jesus, this will make you never want to get in a car again. Over 40,000 people a year die by automobile. (110)
Water Quantity and Quality
So, you got your microbial contamination of water, your chemical contamination. You have your water scarcity. Sprawl affects all of these — thus the section titled ‘The Hydrology of Sprawl’. The rain falls, it percolates through foliage, roots and soil — cleansing itself as it does — to recharge groundwater and the water table. About half of us drink water from surface sources, and the other half from groundwater. My family drank from groundwater once, now we’re on a list, because it was contaminated. But that’s a longer story.
Forested areas are best at capturing and cleaning water, paved streets and rooftops, as you can imagine, fail completely. It all becomes chemical and pollutant-rich run-off. They give a view of what development’s effect is on this process:
The stormwater runoff from suburban development contributes to microbial contamination as it ‘includes large loads of waste from pets and wildlife and nutrients from such sources as fertilizers’. Heavy runoff also carries sediment, these can protect dangerous bacteria like giardia as they sit in filters and drains. And then you have your further suburbs using wells and their own septic systems. The final way is unexpected — the continued growth of suburbs means the focus is on building new infrastructure, not repairing and cleaning out the old, which desperately need it. So our own pipes and things are poisoning us.
The chemical contamination is more obvious I think, all the toxic things we uses every day as well as those deposited by cars and exuded by factories all get swept into the water supply as well.
this is good to see here, I think it is left off of such analyses far too often. They remind us that sprawl is partly caused by a desire to get away from the city, into nature, into all that is good for mental health. Yet this is only one aspect of the suburbs — possibly offset by highways, sameness, box stores, speed, large scales, and just the amount of time people spend driving.
There is a whole of information on just how bad for us driving is. How it increases stress, makes us angrier. Studies on road rage. All of these things could, most likely do, contribute to morbidity.
This comes from community. They define such a sense of community as a
“feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”**** There are four aspects of this sense of community: membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection. (161)
They look at the many ways community psychologists, human ecologists, and sociologists have talked about community and social capital, but much of it is based on Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, so I won’t go on too much more here except for the ways it affects health. I’ll be dealing with Putnam too. Everyone quotes him.
Research has focused on two broad aspects of the social environment: structural features and social support. Structurally, people look at the density of relationships and extent of social networks. Social support is described as the the amount of emotional support (and other kinds?) in times of need (166. In a nutshell: People with strong social networks live longer. Lots of studies confirm it (you can see the Marmot Review on the UK). (166) The same correlations hold true for social capital.
Sprawl, on the other hand, tends to to diminish both networks and capital in several ways:
Cars have much to do with this, the amount of time people spend driving restricts free time for civic engagement.
sprawl ‘reduces opportunities for spontaneous, informal social interactions’ (173)
‘sprawl privatizes the public realm’, people who spend all their time at home don’t value public space, green space, suburban voters almost always vote to limit government programs with social goals or for public transportation
sprawl divides people into homogenous communities.
sprawl disrupts continuity of life as people age — can’t move into smaller house in the same neighbourhood (173)
1998 report from the Transit cooperative Research program found that ‘sprawl weakens households’ connection both to their immediate neighbors and to the larger metropolitan community. (174)
But it turns out that some sprawl better than others — the built environment and design can affects this, so there is some hope. But this first post is on all that is wrong, the second on what can be made right…
Health Concerns of Special Populations
I do like that there is focused attention on how sprawl impacts different groups, acknowledging that the costs of it are not even. There is a long list…Given that women are usually doing most of daily chores and chauffeuring of kids, the burden falls disproportionately upon them.
Children breath more rapidly, have narrower airways — thus pollution has much more impact on them than on adults. The lack of physical activity affects them more — and yet when they are physically active in polluted areas, it is more dangerous for them. Part of childhood is exploration of the world and the self away from parents — yet we have built spaces where that is not safe, impacting the mental health and development of kids. They are isolated, and don’t have the wealth of networks and adults watching out for them that a health community might have.
The elderly, too, are severely impacted. Communities that aren’t walkable require cars — so people drive long past the time they should not. Elders are isolated, unable to exercise, unable to have meaningful connections that improve their health and quality of life. This is often also true for those who are disabled. How dare we create cities without sidewalks.
Then, of course, there are the poor and people of colour. A reprise here for HOLC and FHA regulations, the racism that confined people into inner cities (I don’t think they quite realise how prevalent this continues to be). The steady concentration of poverty and its related health impacts in areas of higher pollution. The disparities of race in class so visible in health and morbidity statistics.
The connections are multiple and strongly evidenced. Enraging really. I like that they don’t stop there, but include a final chapter on possibilities for changing our cities and our future. That will follow in the next post.
*McCord C., Freeman, H. Excess mortality in Harlem. New England Journal of Medicine 1990; 322: 173-179.
**Frank, Engelke and Schmid (2003) Health and Community Design: How Urban Form Impacts Physical Activity, Washington D.C.: Island Press.
*** Pikora, T et al (2003) Developing a framework for assessment of the environmental determinants of walking and cycling. Social Science and Medicine 56: 1693-1703
I’ve been working on research proposals and job applications, along with working on articles, and slowly growing into how I think theoretically about my many years as a community worker and organiser, and how I can work in my new role to make this world better. Whatever my new role comes to be exactly, given how few jobs exist, and without ceasing to be an activist as a volunteer for this, that and the other of course. So much of our work and thought is driven by the kinds of questions we ask, and nowhere have I found more difference than in the kinds of questions people ask and think are worth finding answers to.
In a large project, few things are as important as your research question.
So the fact that within the wonderful Environmental Justice Reader (mostly blogged here) someone sat down, and wrote out typical questions for the different areas of ecocriticism was wonderful, and impossibly useful to me. I think this should be done for every field. Not as a way of limiting our questions, but as way to help you position yourself, of knowing who you most want to be in conversation with. Of not judging others unfairly, because they never started off knowing what you wanted to know.
Then of course, there is the whole question of knowing what other people want to know, and how your own questions fit into that, so you can get funding. But that just drags a whole exciting world of curiosity and possibility into the dust, and there’s no need to do that in a blog post. I will save that for my paralyzing moments of existential questioning.
Reed, T.V. ‘Toward an Environmental Justice Ecocriticism’ (145-162)
Like all edited collections, Environmental Justice contains a wealth of information on very different struggles and places, but I liked how it brought together politics, poetics and pedagogy. From the introduction by Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein (3-14), this starts with some of the basic history, as how environmental struggle emerged has shaped it and is as much part of the complexities of its definition as anything else:
In the last several decades, environmental justice movements around the world have grown out of convergences between civil rights movements, antiwar and antinuclear movements, women’s movements, and grassroots organizing around environmental justice issues.
It’s defining moments, cited in every background:
1987 report sponsored by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (UCC-CRJ), that ‘found race to be the leading factor in the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities and determined that poor and people of color communities suffer a disproportionate health risk.’ (4)
1991 – First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.
Environmental justice movements call attention to the ways disparate distribution of wealth and power often leads to correlative social upheaval and the unequal distribution of environmental degradation and/ or toxicity. (5)
Another good definition [from Environmental Justice Literature to the Literature of Environmental Justice, Julie Sze, 163-180]:
Environmental justice is a political movement concerned with public policy issues of environmental racism, as well as a cultural movement interested in issues of ideology and representation. Environmental justice challenges the mainstream definition of environment and nature based on a wilderness/ preservationist frame by foregrounding race and labor in its definition of what constitutes “nature.” It places people, especially racialized communities and urban spaces, at the center of what constitutes environment and nature (Sze, 163).
Soenke Sehle rephrases this as she writes about pedagogy, I love both of these definitions as they bring together people and place, networks and connections:
One of the core challenges of environmental justice education is to translate the mantra of ecology (all is connected) into a web of concrete relations that includes not only ecological but cultural, economic, and political processes. Different concepts of nature correspond to actual contradictions between different and competing notions of environmental politics. (338)
There is more on the differences between the environmental and environmental justice movements, also between city and country, city and sprawl:
Much of mainstream environmentalism goes hand in hand with an uncritical acceptance of the ongoing cultural, economic, and political shift toward suburbia: many environmentalists have yet to embrace the city as an ecologically sound alternative to the sprawl at the heart of ongoing suburbanization and are, it seems, quite unlikely to do so anytime soon.
Even though the history of ecology is closely intertwined with the history of empire, environmentalism as a social and political concern is often given an exclusively “metropolitan” genealogy, omitting experiences of colonial (settler) states and histories of popular resistance. (334)
These themes of city and wilderness, colonialism and empire and struggle, are picked up in different ways by all of the different pieces in the book.
Devon Peña from a roundtable on environmental justice on economics, culture and value:
Under the capitalist system we have a very complex set of struggles that are emerging around the commodification and privatization of water. You see, for the Pueblo Indian and the Hispano Mexicano alike, water was not a commodity. It was not the exchange value that was important. So that water was treated not as a private property right, that you could sell and separate from the land. Rather, water was seen as a communal value and an ecological value that sustained a way of life in place. (22)
We need to find a pathway to ecological sustainability and social justice. My answer to that is that those ways are already there. In thousands of local efforts to create democratic workplaces, to create production processes that aren’t based on the destruction of the environment or the worker…. I urge my colleagues at the table to think how environmental justice is, in a way, moving away from the literature of toxicity to the literature of sustainability. (23)
It is hard, no? To move from toxicity? Because it kills, it kills people and it kills communities. I like this call though, to do both. To identify what is destroying lives, and to theorise how we might rebuild them, what we need to create something better. This is Terrell Dixon on the challenges involved — because toxicity works to destroy what is needed to create something better:
I emphasize that what we can call the toxicity chain is not only physical, that the way we have degraded our environment, our own bodies and those of other citizens, also creates a web of mistrust where government and corporations come under suspicion. The result is deep divisions along lines of class, ethnicity, and gender. once they see how all of this stems from how society works, or fails to work with toxicity, students come to recognize how toxicity fractures the potential for community. (24)
I like that this book tries to embody the different ways of knowing and being in the world. It is full of academic articles, but these come after the roundtable of activists, the words of people in struggle. This foregrounding of community voices is also key to environmental justice struggle and engaged scholarship. From Mei Mei Evans:
Personal testimonies have been the lifeblood of the environmental justice movement, bearing witness as they do to the material effects of policy-making, not on the corporation’s or the government’s bottom line, but on human lives. These witnessings, in other words, are not abstractions or analyses; rather, they are the chronicle of the consequences of environmental injustice. (29)
From here on to specific stories. A handful, and not even representative. The story of Point Hope, Alaska made me sick, a painful anger and sorrow in my stomach. A physical thing. This is where the logics of technology for profit divorced from any ethical frameworks of sense of responsibility to human beings or the earth lead.
In 1957, far away from Point Hope, nuclear scientists at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) established Project Plowshare, a national program to explore “peaceful” uses of nuclear bombs. Plowshare intended “to highlight the peaceful application of nuclear explosive devices and thereby create a climate of world opinion that [was] more favorable to weapons development and tests.” In order to create favorable world opinion Plowshare advocates proposed the use of nuclear bombs for civilian construction projects. Nuclear bombs could improve a “slightly flawed planet” to allow for easier extraction of natural resources and to create waterways. (106)
They wanted to test this, and settled on using bombs to create a new harbor at Cape Thompson, 30 miles South of Point Hope. I found a graphic online.
The Atomic Energy Commission called the plan to create the harbor at Cape Thompson “Project Chariot.” The original Project Chariot plans called for the equivalent of 2.4 million tons of TNT to excavate the mile by half-mile harbor and the mile by quarter-mile entrance channel, an amount of TNT 160 times that which was dropped on Hiroshima. (106)
I can’t even write that without wanting to throw up. Project Chariot was not actually carried out as planned, instead they used the site to study how radioactive materials dispersed through waterways. The military and defense implications of that are clear. And ugly.
To find out, the USGS scientists constructed twelve plots demarcated with two-by-fours. On some plots they sprinkled the radioactive sand transported to Alaska from the Nevada Test Site…. On other plots the scientists sprinkled pure forms of radioactive isotopes… (Edwards, 107)
After the experiments they bulldozed everything into a huge mound. They didn’t tell the Inupiat tribe hunting and fishing in the area anything.
The tribe is still fighting. The many forms of cancer that emerged? Doctors would consistently blame those on lifestyle choices, like smoking. The complicity, or perhaps just blindness, of doctors is visible in case after case. They are so geared to seeing medicine as an individual problem, health something we must take control over as if we lived in neutral spaces. But there are no neutral spaces.
There is a lot more to find if you begin digging into the generation and disposal of nuclear and other toxic waste. Like the way we are dumping toxic waste on the Pacific islands. This made me physically sick as well, not least because this is the kind of thinking facilitated by development capitalism:
Here, at different times, the previous colonizers and others in the nuclear arena (governments and commercial operatives) have proposed that nuclear and toxic waste be thought of by Pacific Islanders as a form of development — as a way to enter the global economy. It has been presented as their niche market, as they say in globalization discourse. (Kuletz, 130)
I didn’t know how the Western Shoshone at their annual protests of the Nevada nuclear test site (whose sands were used to poison Point Hope) created solidarity around the issue of nuclear waste, inviting people from Kazakhstan (victims of the USSR’s bombing tests) and the Pacific Islands. This Fourth World indigenous network gives some glimmers of hope.
In describing the Marshall Islands’ decision to accept waste from the US, as opposed to all those nations part of the Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific Movement (NFIP), it is interesting how Kuletz describes a new geography:
We need to see this situation spatially because it is quite literally a reorganization of space (not to mention identity) linking the Marshalls to the United States and thereby breaking the unity of Pacific Island resistance to Western neocolonial power. Space here is organized along missile corridors, training theaters, and restricted zones, as well as the construction of radioactive contamination zones, such as the Bikini Atoll or the Kwajalein lagoon, which has been polluted by depleted uranium as a result of the missile tests. (Kuletz, 137)
I found much to think about in terms of what I am working on in ‘Sustaining the “Urban Forest” and Creating Landscapes of Hope: An Interview with Cinder Hypki and Bryant “Spoon” Smith, by Giovanna Di Chiro. I very much like the format of interviews as a way to bring activist voices into conversation. In describing Baltimore — and these divisions of race and class that are so central to environmental justice, that are capable of fracturing community:
Baltimore, Maryland, one of the nation’s oldest industrial cities, is characterized by its residents as a “city of neighborhoods.” The friendly descriptor “neighborhood” invokes the notion of commitment, connection, belonging, and investment; the positive side of “community.” However, “neighborhood” also signifies the potent racial divisions — sometimes degenerating into communalism — that characterize the city’s social climate. Baltimore’s neighborhoods are primarily delineated by race and income, and residents of each neighborhood clearly recognize the unofficial boundaries that demarcate the separate sections of the city. (de Chiro, 286)
And a few words on how to move forward:
I don’t think we can transform broad political systems until we know we can transform a little bit of our own neighborhood. (Cinder Hopki, 298)
…you know how you referred to neglected and abandoned urban areas as “geographies of sacrifice”? As a poet, that term really catches at my heart. I think of all these wastelands that we’ve polluted…I would like to say that art and greening can help create “geographies of possibility,” and “geographies of hope.” (Hopki, 306)
I really liked the poetics section, I like reading about novels. Yet it always makes me feel that I would rather be the novelist than the critic, that I would be better going to the source. I have a longer list, now, of books to read, starting with Solar Storms by Linda Hogan. My next post is looking more closely at the chapter on ecocriticism by T.V. Reed but really, this section set me working harder than ever on the short stories and new novel. You know, the things I do in my free time. Being a self-supporting writer seems even crazier than becoming an academic. But both feel far away, though I did earn $10 this month for a story.
And finally the section on pedagogy. I loved this, the discussions of creating a curriculum and thinking through how to teach environmental justice brought to life far better the key ideas and themes as well as the central debates than any literature review I have read. And as a teacher, I loved thinking about ‘Teaching for Transformation’ as explored by Robert Figueroa, and the openness of Steve Chase’s article on teaching environmental justice at Antioch. I loved how they built off of popular education, and how Chase turned a moment of crisis is turned into a moment of learning that we all can share and use to improve our practice. This was invaluable.
All together I love the ways that this volume embodied a holistic approach — not just in bringing together politics, poetics and pedagogy (which would be a lot), but in bringing many voices and worldviews and struggles together through talks, testimony, articles and interviews. It is definitely a volume to learn from.
Adamson, Joni, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein (2002) Environmental Justice: Politics, Poetics and Pedagogy. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Environmental Justice: A Roundtable Discussion with Simon Ortiz, Teresa Leal, Devon Peña, and Terrell Dixon, by Joni Adamson and Rachel Stein (15-28)
‘Testimonies’ – From Mei Mei Evans (29-31)
Radiation, Tobacco and Illness in Point Hope, Alaska: Approaches to the “Facts” in Contaminated Communities, Andrea Simpson, 82-104
The Movement for Environmental Justice in the Pacific Islands — Valerie Kuletz, 125-144
Sustaining the “Urban Forest” and Creating Landscapes of Hope: An Interview with Cinder Hypki and Bryant “Spoon” Smith, Giovanna Di Chiro, 284-307
Notes on Cross-Border Environmental Justice Education – Soenke Sehle (331-349)
I loved John Gaventa’s book on power. I read it a good while ago, but it came to me as I read more and more about social movement analysis that it would be good to look at it again — and the more I love it. Because it does not start from the question of why do people organise and challenge power, but from the question of why they don’t do it more often.
This is a study about quiescence and rebellion in a situation of glaring inequality. Why, in a social relationship involving the domination of a non-élite by an élite, does challenge to that domination not occur? What is there in certain situations of social deprivation that prevents issues from arising, grievances from being voiced, or interests from being recognized? Why, in an oppressed community where one might intuitively expect upheaval, does one instead find, or appear to find, quiescence? Under what conditions and against what obstacles does rebellion begin to emerge? (3)
That, I think, is the right question. Not surprising, I suppose, from someone who was the director of the Highlander Center after Myles Horton. Gaventa names some of the theories that help explain this before replacing them with something much better:
…the sociological literature of industrial societies offers an array of explanations for its roots: embourgeoisement, hegemony, no real inequality, low rank on a socio-economic status scale, cultural deficiencies of the deprived, or simply the innate apathy of the human race…Rather than deal with these directly, this study will explore another explanation: in situations of inequality, the political response of the deprived group or class may be seen as a function of power relationships, such that power serves for the development and maintenance of the quiescence of the non-élite. The emergence of rebellion, as a corollary, may be understood as the process by which the relationships are altered. (4)
It looks to the question: what is that nature of power? Bases its analysis not on Foucault, but on Steven Lukes in Power: A Radical View, and the way this debate on power has expanded C. Wright Mills.
Lukes (& Gaventa) on Power
Lukes argues that power consists of three dimensions. Gaventa summarises as do I — given that Lukes is still on my stack of books unread:
One-Dimensional Approach: the pluralists, like Robert Dahl and Nelson Polsby. Quoting Dahl:
My intuitive idea of power is something like this: A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that he would not otherwise do.’*
This definition is focused on behaviour, on doing, on participating.
It makes the following assumptions
grievances are assumed to be recognized and acted upon
participation is assumed to occur within decision-making arenas, which are open to any organized group (5)
because of the openness of this system, leaders may be studied, not as élites, but as representative spokesmen for a mass
Gaventa describes the consequences:
Political silence, or inaction, would have to be taken to reflect ‘consensus’, despite the extent of the deprivation… To make plausible inaction among those for whom the status quo is not comfortable, other explanations are provided…because the study of non-participation in this approach is sequestered by definition from the study of power, the explanations must generally be placed within the circumstance or culture of the non-participants themselves. (7)
We know the list: apathy, political inefficacy, cynicism or alienation…amoral familism (I think I knew that was on the list).
What is there inherent in low income, education or status, or in rural or traditional cultures that itself explains quiescence? If these are sufficient components of explanation, how are variations in behaviour amongst such groups to be explained? (8)
Groups do sometimes rise up, fight back. Something else must be going, so we move to the two-dimensional approach, introduced by Schattschneider, further developed by Bachrach and Baratz (again, none of whom I have read).
… power’s ‘second face’, by which power is exercised not just upon participants within the decision-making process but also towards the exclusion of certain participants and issues altogether. (9)
Thus, power’s second dimension and
The study of politics must focus ‘both on who gets what, when and how and who gets left out and how’** (9)
Here’s another good explanatory quote from Michael Parenti ‘Power and Pluralism: A View form the Bottom’ Journal of Politics 32 (1970)
‘One of the most important aspects of power is not to prevail in a struggle but to pre-determine the agenda of struggle…
But still, this is not sufficient to explain the patterns in resistence and acquiescence that we see. Lukes brings in the three-dimensional approach, here he is quoted by Gaventa:
A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests.
A may exercise power over B by getting him to do what he does not want to do, but he also exercises power over him by influencing, shaping or determining his very wants.
Gaventa continues, his own commentary puctuated by quotes from Lukes again:
the analysis of power must avoid the individualistic, behavioural confines of the one- and to some extent the two-dimensional approaches. It must allow ‘for consideration of the many ways in which the potential issues are kept out of politics, whether through the operation of social forces and institutional practices or through individuals’ decisions…the three-dimensional view … offers the prospect of a serious sociological and not merely personalized explanation of how political systems prevent demands from becoming political issues or even from being made.
this allows considerations of social forces and historical patterns involved in hegemony per Gramsci, and Ralph Milliband’s work on the engineering of consent (in The State in Capitalist Society which I maybe should read).
No dimension cancels out the others, they work in combination and each level represents a mechanism of power:
1st — ‘who prevails in bargaining over the resolution of key issues…political resources–votes, jobs, influence–that can be brought by political actors to the bargaining game…(14)
2nd — same as above, and in addition a ‘mobilization of bias’. Continues to quote Bachrach and Baratz
A set of predominant values, beliefs, rituals, and institutional procedures (‘rules of the game’) that operate systematically and consistently to the benefit of certain persons and groups at the expense of others. (1970, p, 43)
Some of the forms of non-decision making: force, threat of sanctions, invocations of norms and precedents, manipulation of symbols (like ‘communist’ and ‘troublemaker’), establishing of new barriers. These are easily identifiable, others exist that are not so observable, like institutional inaction, or B deciding not to make a demand of A for fear of anticipated reactions.
3rd — least developed and understood
Their identification, one suspects, involves specifying the means through which power influences, shapes or determines conceptions of the necessities, possibilities, and strategies of challenge in situations of latent conflict.
‘study of social myths, language and symbols’, ‘study of communication of information’, ‘focus upon the means by which social legitimations are developed around the dominant, and instilled as beliefs or roles in the dominated’, ‘locating the power processes behind the social construction of meaning and patterns that serve to get B to act and believe…’ (15)
Thus we have direct and observable forms: control of information, mass media, processes of socialization. Indirect: psychological adaptations to the state of being without power, adaptive responses to continual defeat, extensive fatalism, self-deprecation, undue apathy. Greater susceptibility to internalization of values and beliefs.
This understanding develops from Freire — people are unable to engage actively with others, denied ability to reflect upon actions or act upon them. Gaventa quotes Gramsci:
…it can reach the point where the contradiction of conscience will not permit any decision, any choice, and produce a state of moral and political passivity. (Gramsci 1957, p 67)
the dimensions of power, each with its sundry mechanisms, must be seen as a interrelated in the totality of their impact. (20)
Thus all of these dimensions of power insulate A from challenge from B, but — and Gaventa looks always to how these injustices can be overcome, which is again why I think this is so useful:
as the barriers are overcome, so, too, do A’s options for control lessen. And, just as the dimensions of power are accumulative and re-enforcing for the maintenance of quiescence, so, too, does the emergence of challenge in one area of a power relationship weaken the power of the total to withstand further challenges by more than the loss of a single component. (24)
Methodology for studying power
rather than assuming the inaction or inertia to be ‘natural’ in the mass and activism as the phenomena to be explained (as is done in the pluralist methodology), this approach initially assumes that remedial action upon inequalities by those affected would occur were it not for power relationships. (26)
How do you see it? Understand the mechanisms by which repressive power relationships are operating? This
… requires going outside the decision-making arenas and carrying on extensive, time-consuming research in the community in question. (27)
Thus it is necessary to:
1 — look at the historical development of an apparent ‘consensus’, whether this has actually been a choice, or shaped by power relationships
2 — look at processes of communication, ideologies and actions
3 — to posit or participate in ideas or actions which speculate about or attempt to develop challenges — response will shower if power relations operating (27).
Like Stuart Hall, Gaventa has a poor opinion of the idea of ‘false consciousness:
The unfortunate term ‘false consciousness’ must be avoided, for it is analytically confusing. Consciousness refers to a state, as in a state of being, and thus can only be falsified through negation of the state itself. If consciousness exists, it is real to its holders, and thus to the power situation. To discount it as ‘false’ may be to discount too simply the complexities or realities of the situation…To argue that existing consciousness cannot be ‘false’ is not to argue the same for consensus. (29)
To illustrate both this understanding of power and this method of its study, Gaventa then goes on to destroy any possible belief that the ‘acquiescence’ of coal miners in the Appalachians is due to their own lack of intelligence, culture or because they are happy and smiling in their work.
First he details the precise ways the American Association first came to own 80,000 acres of land in the Cumberland Gap — and the way this first key encounter of people losing their lands through essentially a combination of brute force and fraud had been internalized as their own fault. He outlines the power this company came to hold over its tenants and local power structures. He oulines the ideology developed to support this power:
the notion of ‘a common purpose’ in mining and development
the idea that benefits were attainable by all through hard work
the idea that the new structures represented progress, civilization
rewriting the old ways of mountaineer, which were shaped by their relationship to nature and their harmony with it, to be seen as man’s role as a conqueror
Where there had been a solidarity of family and farm there was now an industrial solidarity…Although life had involved work before, it had not been so gloried — nor bought as a mass product. Where there had been a sense of contentment, there was a progress that transformed. Where there had been a struggle to obtain a harmony with nature, this civilization would dominate nature and free the creating capacities of man. However, for the study of power it is not enough to say that this was a different ideology; one must look at the processes or mechanisms through which it was instilled. (62)
Gaventa sees this as a complex process of colonialism, one occurred driven by the initial mining boom in Middlesboro in at least 4 observable ways:
A distortion of information: the industrial order was introduced to the mountaineers’ society by conspicuous consumption, with an exaggerated demonstration of its benefits (63) Made into a resort, attracted the wealthy. —
The exaggerated attractiveness of the industrial order, on the one hand, carried with it the degradation of the culture and society of the mountaineers, on the other. (65) Similar to process of racialism in colonization process. Glorification of the one culture and degradation of the other could combine with the ideology of openness and hard work to help ensure a ‘choice’ by the mountaineers to pursue the new values. (66)
More direct appropriation of local culture — replacement of old names in places of cultural development with new names from foreign cultures, while places of work and mines retained old labels. ‘By the imposition of one identity over another in the cultural arena…the development of a counterhegemony was made less likely…(67)
connected to socializing influences of government, church and school controlled by the Company.
Gaventa notes an increase of violence, but horizontal against each other (refers back to Freire who also describes this). Compares to other similar regions, shows that:
the ‘consensus’ of the miners in Yellow Creek was inherent neither in their conditions nor in their nature, but grew from the effective wielding of power–in all its dimensions–by the new ‘instruments’ of civilization. (75)
Gaventa continues through the historical formation that elads us to the present. After the initial boom and destruction of previous ways of life and though came the rise of unionisation, the violence of its destruction, and the maintenance of power relationships into the present (of the book’s writing of course). He gives several case studies.
Throughout the book Gaventa focused on the articulation of structure and culture (though articulation is not a word he uses, and comes of course from Stuart Hall, but this is exactly the relationship Hall is trying to examine as well). He looks at how local politics is entirely within the control of the power structure. He returns to the various approaches to power and how they illuminate current conditions, showing the interrelated nature of these forms of exercising power.
He ends with an account of a current (1980) struggle, a campaign that began organizing around garbage collection, then started to move towards land reform given that the land was not owned by those who lived or worked there, but by people living far away. Those in struggle found that this was the crux of the problem. You want to see power relations in action, you try such a challenge. Gaventa describes the repression they faced: twenty-bullets through a community worker’s home, office of health and development group burned down, alternative school also destroyed by fire (214). People branded as communists, ignored by local government and agencies.
A later campaign against the multinational company owning the land couldn’t even discover where ownership actually resided, much less how to make them accountable.
I loved the dark humour of this:
Although the power of decision and non-decisions may allow the powerholder to remain beyond protest, the powerlessness of the protestors does not protect them from repercussions from their actions. (249)
The fact that the discontent is so often overlooked says less about the Valley than it does about the methodological biases found in the dominant approach in American to the study of power (252-53)
A historical approach is needed to reveal
the shaping of patterns and routines which underlie the power relationships of the present … just as a ‘view from below’ allowed a unique perspective of ‘power’s hidden faces’ (253)
Only as these multiple aspects of powerlessness are overcome may the conflict that emerges in power’s first dimension be said to be amongst relatively competing groups, upon clearly conceived interests, in an open arena.
Rebellion, to be successful, must both confront power and overcome the accumulated effects of powerlessness. (258)
To end on a high note with hope for the future:
While the notion of universal democracy in America may consequently be a myth, it is not an impotent one. As long as the belief in ‘openness’ can be sustained, the phenomenon of power may continue to be separated from the understanding of non-participation. And as long as the roots of quiescence can continue to be blamed upon the victims of power, then democracy of the few will continue to be legitimated by a prevailing belief in the apathy or ignorance of the many. (260)
*’The Concept of Power’ in Bell, Edwards, Harrison Wagner (eds) (1969) Political Power: A Reader in Theory and Research’ p 80
**Bachrach and Baratz (1962) and (1970)
[Gaventa, John. (1982) Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.]
Masanobu Fukuoka…I have now read his first book, One Straw Revolution, and his last, Sowing Seeds in the Desert. There is such a distance between eastern and western ways of knowing and thinking, I like how provocative it is to explore the spaces between them. I like how this book sets them in dialogue. Reading Fukuoka reminds me of seeing the Dalai Lama talk at the LSE — they seem so idealistic, they speak using familiar words but in such different ways, seem so removed and unworldly and thus so easily taken advantage of by a capitalist system that thrives on co-opting everything and turning it into profit. Yet really, seems to me their points are needle sharp in deflating the engorged balloons of western, capitalist ways of knowing and valuing. If you listen.
From the editor Larry Korn, who also helped bring the first book into the world:
The most conspicuous of the cultural difficulties is that the Japanese way of telling a story or developing a complex argument is different from the approach that is generally taken in English. In Japanese, the author typically begins with the theme or the point he wishes to make, then he offers an anecdote or an argument that helps to take that story or bolster the point before returning to the theme, which is restated. Then the author goes on another loop, again returning to the theme. One might say that these side stories or arguments form the petals of a flower with the theme as its center. (xxx)
In Western writing, however, the linear is preferred. The character arc. The beginning ramping up to a climax and then a tidy conclusion. Even in our non-fiction.
There has never been a generation like the present where people’s hearts are so badly wounded. This is true of every are of society–politics, economics, education, and culture. It is reflected in the degradation of the environment, which comes about through the material path humanity has chosen. Now we have the ugly sight of industry, government, and the military joining forces in the struggle for ultimate power. (14)
I don’t know that this linear thinking can be blamed for our current world, but it is part of the larger pattern I think. Curious that old certainties about cause and effect, our capacity to know everything, so many simplifications are being increasingly challenged by new thinking in biology — and this sounds remarkably like the kind of thing Brian Greene writes about in terms of new directions in physics:
Time does not simply flow mechanically in a straight line in a fixed direction. We could think of time as flowing up and down, right and left, forward and backward. As time develops and expands, multifaceted and three-dimensional, the past is concealed within the instant of the present, and within this instant of time is concealed the eternity of the future. (26)
All made of the same things, connected at the base like a chain of islands whose tops are above the ocean
In the past, present, and future, the true disposition of nature is toward abundance for human beings and for all species. Therefore the question should not be “Why are there too many people?” but rather, “Who has created the scarcity into which they are born?” And then, finally, “How can we heal the earth so it can support future generations?” (42)
On the equality and interconnectedness of all things…
Plants, people, butterflies, and dragonflies appear to be separate, individual living things, yet each is an equal and important participant in nature. They share the same mind and life spirit. They form a single living organism. to speak of creatures as beneficial insects, harmful insects, pathogenic bacteria, or troublesome birds is like saying the right hand is good and the left hand is bad. Nature is an endless cycle, in which all things participate in the same dance of life and death, living together and dying together. (43)
It is in using massive interventions to destroy parts of the cycle, with very little understanding of it and driven by motives of profit, that we have arrived at the point of destruction. This lack of holistic understandings is endemic, seen in many a western method for solving things.
When the specialized Western medicinal approach is used, the question of what gives life and health to the whole body and mind is put off. In other words, modern Western medicines puts the human body ahead of the human spirit. This separation is a starting point for emotional anxiety among people today. (44)
Fukuoka keeps them together:
Gradually I came to realize that the process of saving the desert of the human heart and revegetating the actual desert is actually the same thing. (47)
This is all talking about land and spirit and some of us (not me, especially not any more) will be rolling their eyes. But this understanding of the capitalist economy, the ‘Money-sucking Octopus Economy’ (50) as he calls it, is interesting, it definitely breaks things up in a different way than I am used to. At the heart of the octopus? politicians and the military-industrial-government complex. The legs?
maintenance of the transportation network
control of agencies administering transportation
supervision of communications
establishment of an economic information network
education and administrative advising
control of financial institutions
control of information
control of citizens’ personal computers and registration (53)
I like this list, it’s funny that control of land and resources is not on it.
There is nothing I don’t agree with about consumption and our economic model though:
I have often said that value does not lie in material goods themselves, but when people create the conditions that make them seem necessary, their value increases. The capitalist system is based on the notion of ever-increasing production and consumption of material goods, and therefore, in the modern economy, people’s value or worth comes to be determined by their possessions. But if people create conditions and environments that do not make those things necessary, the things, no matter what they are, become valueless. Cars, for example, are not considered to be of value by people who are not in a hurry.
Economies that aim at production and consumption of unnecessary products are themselves meaningless. (51)
Yet that is our economic model of development. And it is all about control and the marketing of products — whether luxury goods or Monsanto’s technologies:
When I went to apply for a visa from the Somalian government, I was flabbergasted when they told me that any kind of instruction that agitates the farmers and encourages them to become self-sufficient would not be welcome. If such activity went too far, they said, it would be considered treason. (76)
Colonial agricultural policies…Big money into big damns, big irrigation, drawing water from aquifers leading to salinization of land, cash crops, ending nomadic cultures resulting in massive stress on one area of the land and damage to a culture and a people, national parks that its former indigenous residents must leave, and suddenly go all the way around in their movements. The are sudden insights, like the ways that the irrigation of water in high dikes controls the people who surround it, cuts them off from free movement and free access to water. And it puts blame where blame is due:
I started with the recognition that the causes of desertification in most areas are misguided human knowledge and action. If we eliminated them, I believed that nature would certainly heal itself. (87)
It examines the real costs of our current agricultural practices of GMOs, monocropping and etc — Fukuoka writes ‘Agricultural “Production” is Actually Deduction’ (88):
If you really count all the inputs of cost to the environment, mining and fossil fuel extraction, construction of machinery, damage from cash crops etc, we have the most inefficient agricultural systems possible…
It is not just in Africa that these problems exist.
About half of the land in the United States is, or is becoming, desert. I felt that the expanding American desert was at least as great a problem as the deserts of Africa, but most Americans seemed totally unaware that their country is becoming more arid. (123)
We don’t talk about those kinds of things, but it threatens the communities, like New Mexico’s acequia farmers, most likely to offer hope and the capacities to sustainably grow food in increasingly arid condition.
I do like that he toured the US saying this kind of thing:
Everywhere I went I preached the abolition of lawn culture, saying that it was an imitation green created for human beings at the expense of nature and was nothing more than a remnant of the arrogant aristocratic culture of Europe. (129)
This philosophy is a very particular way, very Japanese way of embracing the world, of changing it.
When people are released from the idea that they are the ones who have created things and have abandoned human knowledge, nature will return to its true form. The rebirth of nature is not simply a return to the primitive, it is a return to the timeless. My method of natural farming aims at liberating the human heart… (140)
I loved this final quote, partially a reminder that even if we are not the ones who love land and roots as farmers, we still can live in sustainable ways. But mostly it is good to encounter — to know — that radically different ways of being are still possible in this world:
I still remember the words of an Ethiopian tribesman who at first rejected my ideas of natural farming. “Are you asking me to become a farmer?” he asked. “To be attached to the soil and to accumulate things are the acts of a degraded person.” (52)
I came to Enrique Salmón’s Eating the Landscape through The Colors of Nature, this covers some of the same territory, but I learned even more about the Colorado Plateau that we had just been driving through. The landscapes of my baby-self, and so many of my dad’s stories. But no one in my family ever had anything as awesome as this:
I recall the many plant-related lessons I learned in my grandma’s herb house. this latticed structure was filled with hanging dried and living plants as well as pungent and savory smells from the many herbs hanging from the ceiling. The roof was no longer visible through the layers of vines that draped over its eaves to the ground. (3)
I love this connection between food and landscape, so obvious and yet I had not quite seen it in this way before.
…because so much of the food we are discussing in this book comes directly from the land, food landscapes remain intact when old recipes are regenerated. The food itself, and the landscapes from which it emerges, remembers how it should be cooked. This can happen because the food itself activates in us an encoded memory that reminds us how to grow, collect and prepare the food. (9)
Thinking about what our food teaches us about our landscape…well. I have learned a lot through my short time on smallholdings, through growing up in the desert, but I don’t know enough.
An essential lesson for us, as we continue on our current self-destructive path of monocropping, genetically modifying our food using artificial irrigation, and overfertilizing, will be to relearn how to cook our landscapes: the manner in which we sustainably steward our food crops, relying on a process that began in our home kitchens. (10)
It is not just loss of knowledge through city living or supermarkets, I think of Vandana Shiva writing about just how much the proponents of monocropping have actively destroyed. Yet there is so much happening that gives me hope. Like Emigdio Ballon, come from the highlands of Bolivia to Tesuque Pueblo of New Mexico. Working now with the Pueblo to grow fruit trees and beans, and maintaining a seed bank of heirloom crops.
I think too of settler and scientist arrogance, the kind that has driven unsustainable agricultural practices through the fields and lives of small farmers on the land for generations. Not seeing the complex systems these farmers were often embedded within:
For the longest time, the conservation and environmental movement had assumed that the human-environment equation would always result negatively for the land…until recently, researchers had not considered the possibility that humans could actually enhance their landscapes; that human communities might actually play a role in enhancing diversity; or that humans could be a keystone species of some ecological systems. (75)
In southern Arizona the Hohokam are everywhere, I remember hearing stories, imagining their presence across the land. There is a chapter on the Sonora desert and this:
The word Hohokam from the Pima language — always translated as ‘”those who have gone,” or “those who have vanished.” Archaeologist Emil Haury, who has studied the Hohokam, provided a more literal translation of “all used up.” (82)
Up near Phoenix, along the salt river, they built extensive irrigation systems. Left them. Salmón writes that this is possibly because they became salinized, silted up. Instead of upping the ante, the people returned to a simpler agricultural system, one that was more beneficial to their landscape and more sustainable over the years.
Damn. I can’t imagine that conversation, our current reality is worlds removed from that kind of thinking. Perhaps this is a great part of the problem. One other thing I never have experienced, but so want to:
The diversity of the Sonora Desert seems more obvious the farther one travels through its namesake Mexican state. (128)
There are lots of stories here of the Colorado plateau, the fields in canyons and along washes hidden from sight — oh, I wished so much we caught just a glimpse. He writes of Peabody Coal’s draining of the aquifer and the drying up of springs. An enterprise bringing death to extract energy, destroying place to facilitate movement. A mindset alien to the people here, and to me. I loved the description of a concept from Juan Estevan Arellano:
Hispano querencia: that which affords his people a sense of place. Querencia is also simply the love for the land and place. (118)
To Hispanos, querencia is a blend of mental spaces not only involving bioregionalism but also including emotional, spiritual, cultural and ecological health. When people think of land the concept is enmeshed with notions of cultural memory. These and other mental spaces merge into a multidimensional blended space… (118)
This is the space of resilience, of community, of words. The thing evoked so powerfully in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry describing these same places. It is strange finding the language of development I am so familiar with rewritten, recoded in this way:
Story is at the core of community resilience. It comprises the matter, substance, and adhesive of human capital. Stories communicate our values through the language of our heart and our emotions. Stories are what we feel. In northern New Mexico, enough of the viable land remains in which the story of querencia can be housed. (121)
More ways to reframe development debates, from The Declaration of Seed Sovereignty that came out of the Traditional Agriculture Conference held March 10-11, 2006 in Alcalde, New Mexico:
Sustainable stewardship and cultural resilience are neither decisions nor rights. Nowhere in the Declaration of Seed Sovereignty does the notion or term of rights arise. Instead, the associations conferred to include in their “living document” concepts of relationships, generational memory, embodied practices, spirituality, caring, respect, traditions, and celebration when declaring their revival and survival of their way of life. Together, these concepts reflect identity connected to responsibility towards one’s place in a community within a landscape. (150)
Everything is relational and connected.
Salmón, Enrique (2012) Eating the Landscape: American Indian Stories of Food, Identity and Resilience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
More poetry from Jimmy Santiago Baca, poetry of place and home. Poetry of labour. What it means to build or rebuild a house that will hold you, that will hold meaning. From Martín:
I gutted the plaster frame house,
nailed, puttied, roofed, plumbed,
poured cement, sheet-rocked, tiled, carpeted,
tore-out, re-set, piled, burned, cleaned, cemented, installed,
washed and painted,
trimmed, pruned, shoveled, raked, sawed, hammered, measured, stuccoed,
until, calloused handed, muscle-firmed, sleek hard bodied, our small house rose from a charred, faded gravemarker, a weather-rotted roost for junkies and vagrants,
wind, rain, and sun splintered
jagged stories of storms on,
I corrected, re-wrote upon this plaster wood tablet, our own version of love, family and power. (47)
But It burns down, this home. They need someplace to stay. Temporary places that don’t fit. These dislocations I share, so rarely found in books.
From Meditations on the South Valley
Cruising back from 7-11
In my 56’ Chevy truckita,
beat up and rankled
clanking between rows
Of shiny new cars–
“Hey fella! Trees need pruning and the grass needs trimming!”
A man yelled down to me
from his 3rd-story balcony.
“Sorry, I’m not the gardener,” I yelled up to him.
Funny how in the Valley
an old truck symbolizes prestige
and in the Heights, poverty.
Worth is determined in the Valley
by age and durability,
and in the Heights, by newness
In the Valley,
the atmosphere is soft and worn,
things are passed down.
In the heights,
the air is blistered with glaze
of new cars and new homes.
How many days of my life
I have spent fixing up
rusty broken things,
charging up old batteries,
charging pieces of old batteries,
wiring pieces of odds and ends together!
Ah, those lovely bricks
and sticks I found in the fields
and took home with me
to make flower boxes!
the old cars I’ve worked on
endlessly giving them tune-ups,
changing tires, tracing
cursing when I’ve been stranded
between Laguna pueblo and Burque.
It’s the process of making-do,
of the life I’ve lived between
breakdowns and break-ups, that has made life
I could not bear a life
with everything perfect. (59-60)
Read a book sometimes, and someone captures just what you been missing in these places you been living.
in the Valley at my house y parcelita de tierra, I added, raised, knocked down, until over months and years, the place in which I lived had my own character. I could look at it and see myself.
reflects a faceless person, with no future, no past, just an emptiness. (61)
I remember the house my dad built, I want to build a poem too — and I am happy these words have been breathed into the world. A different kind of home.
After that, the interior of the house
emanating blue dawn light,
full of gusto in the fresh-timber smelling house,
proud of the 3 bedrooms, hallway, livingroom & kitchen,
my finest poem I thought,
that sheltered me from the rain and wind,
as we worked our way
into doors, staining kickboards, putting doorknobs in,
(fine-tuning the poem),
measuring cabinets, leveling the floors,
shimmying here & there,
spitting & stomping, throwing our tools down in disgust
and huffs of temper,
yelling into the cold mornings
at each other, trying to go on and finish
in six weeks. (97-98)
Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.