DEUTERO: What capacity (and incapacity) is there to recognize and attend to “the Anthropocene” in this setting? How might academic projects contribute to or scaffold this capacity?


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August 28, 2019

Might movement, both forced and voluntary, be a defining characteristic of the anthropocene? If not, where might this quality find a home within the analytic questions? 

In preparation for the field school I am reading Edward Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told. Chapter 1, 'Feet', tells the history of the forced migration of slaves from northern coastal plantation colonies to the south. Men and Women, chained together by iron were forced to walk in coffles to South Carolina or Georgia. As Baptist writes 

Men of the chain couldn’t act as individuals; nor could they act as a collective, except by moving forward in one direction. Even this took some learning. Stumble, and one dragged someone else lurching down by the padlock dangling from his throat. Many bruised legs and bruised tempers later, they would become one long file moving at the same speed, the same rhythm, no longer swinging linked hands in the wrong direction (25).

One of the arguments presented in this book is that American capitalism, as we know it today, would be impossible without the the foundations put in place by slave labor. The early chapters also make clear that forced migration, the movement and redistribution of enslaved persons, allowed for the southern states to expand agricultural production and increase white wealth. This eventual transformation of land and capital was predicated on the movement of peoples from one place to another, and as the passage above suggests, this movement had a rhythm, a timbre, a musical modality. 

I contrast this with Zenia Kish's article "My FEMA People": Hip-hop as disaster recovery in Katrina Diaspora where she argues that the music that emerged following Katrina was the first time American hip-hop engaged with "the thematic of contemporary black migration as a mass phenomenon in any significant way" (674). This article also draws attention to the rhythms of post Katrina life; the call and response of Bounce, the vibrations of trauma. Although lyrical expression proved the most potent way for artists to narrate the impact of environmental change and political neglect, the music itself was borne out of the experience of moving through and with disaster. 

Both writings point to the importance of further exploring the rhythms of mobilities as they relate to environmental transformations. I'm struggling to see where this point of inquiry maps to the analytic questions and may be worth some further exploration. 

Baptist, Edward. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Basic Books. New York. (2014)

Kish, Zenia. “"My FEMA People ": Hip-Hop as Disaster Recovery in the Katrina Diaspora.” American Quarterly. 61, no. 3 (2009): 671–92.

Kim Fortun's picture
August 25, 2019

See this report of expected climate change impacts, risks and readiness in cities around the United States.  Baton Rouge and New Orleans have very high probability for sea level rise but don’t look as bad as some cities for “readiness.”  QA deliberations should focus on both the content and design of reports like these -- considering what we need to support “analytics for the Anthropocene” and practical “readiness”  Note that the report was put out by a real estate company, based on data from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN).  Do players like this and the report they produce advance “deutero” capacity in New Orleans and other places?

Tim Schütz's picture
April 22, 2019

Scott G. Knowles:

As part of the STL Anthropocene Field Campus the research team visited the Wood Refinery Refinery History Museum on March 9, 2019. This museum is located on the grounds of the Wood River Refinery, a Shell Oil refinery built in 1917 and today owned by Phillips 66. The site is Roxana, Illinois, just upriver from Granite City, and just over two miles from the convergence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Sitting on the actual grounds of the refinery, the museum is an invitation to think across the micro, meso, and macro scales of the Quotidian Anthropocene, in terms of geography and also in terms of time. This refinery was built at the crux of the WWI, at a time when United States petrochemical production was entering an intensive phase of production, invention, corporate structuring, and global engagement. The museum is an invitation to think across temporal scales, backwards to the start of the refinery--through the individual lives of the workers and engineers whose lives defined the refinery--and forward to indeterminate points of future memory. This photo captures a key moment in an informal interview we did with one of the history guides. He had worked in the museum for decades before retiring. He explained to us that the museum sits in the former research facility of the refinery--and the glass plat he is showing reveals a beautiful artifact, a photograph made of the complex when it was built. Our guide only showed us this collection of slides after our conversation had advanced, perhaps after he was sure we were truly interested in his story, and the deeper history of the refinery. The pride in the place, the community of workers, and the teaching ability of the museum was manifest. The research team felt impressed, but also concerned about the health impacts (and naturally the environmental impacts as well) of the refinery. There was a mismatch in the scales--the memory of the individual tied to emotions of pride and knowledge of hard work done there--and the Anthropocene, global scale of petrochemicals. How do we resolve this mismatch? The glass plate is somehow a clue.