META: How is “the Anthropocene” – by this, or some other name – talked and worried about in this setting? What modes of communication carry and occlude engagement with anthropocenics? What discursive histories shape contemporary articulations?


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Ramah McKay's picture
August 28, 2019
Is there a place for thinking about the relationship between the governance of human mobility and anthropogenic processes in Louisiana? Reading the Andy Horowitz piece about Hurricane Harvey and the McKittrick piece about plantations got me thinking about the governance of human mobility as central to how New Orleans, and especially storms, are narrated. The ways in which mobility is made possible or impeded are central to ’storm narratives’. At the same time, recent news has highlighted how ICE activities have been concentrated in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other parts of the South. As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, "The South is both a destination for new immigrants seeking security in the U.S. and a staging ground for deportation.” Louisiana - although perhaps not New Orleans - seems to be a key site in which these processes are visible. For instance, a report on NBC suggested that, “the number of detainees in facilities contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Louisiana and Mississippi surged from just over 2,000 at the end of 2017 to more than 8,000 as of July. That’s nearly four times as many as were detained in the two states in November 2017, the numbers show. Louisiana, with a population of more than 6,500, now has the largest population of ICE detainees of any single state apart from Texas.”
One reason for this increase in numbers is financial. According to the SPLC, "The South, which already has some of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, is the bargain basement of immigration detention. Facilities charge among the lowest per diem rates in the country in order to land Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts that can create jobs for communities, revenue for municipalities and profits for private prison operators, no matter the long-term cost. It’s an approach that flows from the South’s long history of looking to prisons filled mostly with people of color as a way to build local economies – a history that includes chain gangs and programs that “leased” prisoners to companies for work. Today, immigrant detention is but the latest chapter in that history”
Yet as this quote suggests, this mode of detention is also historical, and that history seems to play out in a number of ways. Facilities used to detain migrants have often also been used as prisons (including the La Salle detention center in Jena, Louisiana), for instance. But it seems that tensions around the notion of New Orleans as a "city of refuge” (Munyikwa 2019) are long-standing. Even as today, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports highlighted Cuban immigrants/asylum seekers, so too are tensions over racialized Caribbean migration longstanding. In the aftermath of the Haitian revolution, New Orleans was a kind of “flashpoint” (Kazanjian 2003) for tensions over migration and race as both French settlers from Haiti fled to Louisiana and as Afro-Creole refugees were expelled from Cuba. One report of the 1809 migration describes how “in Louisiana, as lawmakers moved to suppress manumission and undermine the free black presence, the refugees dealt a serious blow to their efforts.” 
These are all clumsy linkages, and I’m not sure I want to draw historical analogies across contexts about which I have only cursory knowledge, but it seems to me that there are linkages or repetitions of connections between labor, environment, and human mobility that for me provoke questions about the relationship between anthropocenics and regimes of human mobility and carcerality (beyond just the notion of ‘climate refugees’).
Resources consulted:
Southern Poverty Law Center & National Lawyers’ Guild
Munyikwa, Michelle. 2019. ‘Up from the dirt’: Racializing Refuge, Rupture, and Repair in Philadelphia. Dissertation submitted to the Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania.
Jen Henderson's picture
August 28, 2019

META: Water seems to be one important medium through which NOLA envisions the “impacts” of the Anthropocene—scarcity, abundance, temporalities and spatial distributions, management of, and hazards that emerge in its context. Less is said about the causal or attributional aspects of the Anthropocene. How might water function as an entry point into the assemblages of local anthropocenics?

I found the NOLA Hazard Mitigation Plan for 2018, which frames the impacts of the Anthropocene as an intersection of weather extremes amid climate change and evolving vulnerabilities of its people. Four of seven items in the executive summary note water as central to local interventions: flood awareness, flood repair, flood mitigation, flood infrastructure. Too much water or water in the wrong places and the aftereffect of water on infrastructure and lives. One expression, then, is preparedness.

MACRO: Mitigation is an interesting analytic for the Anthropocene. In the US mitigation plans are shaped by the 1988 Stafford Act (which amended the 1974 Disaster Relief Act). Constraints on communities come through rules, regulations, policies, (dis)incentives, and surveillance by state and federal authorities. Much of this is bound by economic and administrative discourses.

Goals are set in this document—broken out by timelines, activities, priorities, and capabilities. Another expression is classification of anthropocenics by subfields and accounting metrics. How do we measure progress and what is deferred to the future, 5-10 years out from today, a goal that has no tangible accountability but is named and acknowledged. What are the practices of naming, responsibility, and making (in)visible in the Anthropocene?

BIO: One new initiative, Ready for Rain, in particular is of interest to me as it highlights the more neoliberal vision for how the public should self-regulate risk and mitigate harm. I hear this as an extension of a government agency program to make the nation Weather Ready. Other bullets highlight “green” buildings, energies, and infrastructures. These could be examples of how the city envisions the Anthropocene feedback loop of humans changing/planning for climate alterations, which is a fairly typical lens.

Some questions: What does the water do? What does the water know? If we trace water in all its instantiations (e.g. historical water, flow of water, chemistry of water, application of water, temperature of water), what do we learn about the future imaginaries of what NOLA will / could / ought to become?

María Elissa Torres Carrasco's picture
August 27, 2019

I found this summary (Sinking into the Anthropocene: New Orleans nature writing) of a visit to New Orleans made by a group of young writers, and what surprised me was their preocupation and insistence in linking the problems and even the nice or "typical" touristics things and landscapes of the city to the ongoing Anthropocene and Climate Change. Is just a piece of exercise of a collaborative writing and the approach to the topic is made by classical anglophone writers, Mary and Percy Shelley among others are quoted, but they talk about important issues like the Sinking, the Chemical Horizon andDaily Commutes. I leave an extract of the text to encourage its reading:

One sculpture that struck the class was an assemblage of tall slabs of glass towering from the grass: Mirror Labyrinth by Jeppe Hein. This is a tri-spiral maze of mirrors that reflect anything and everything the entering viewer sees. This piece conjured the feeling of a funhouse as we stumbled our way through, titillated by sudden sensations of disorientation. But thinking about this sculpture alongside the city’s ongoing gentrification and expansion, in tandem with denial of ecological realities and political resistance to enact real social justice, we could not help but think more along the lines of Cormac McCarthy’s use of the word “funhouse” in his novel The Road: “the ruins of a vast funhouse against the distant murk.” What is new here, now, cannot help but intimate a post-apocalyptic ruin to come.

Kristin Gupta's picture
August 27, 2019

It has become a common refrain to ask how the Anthropocene is experienced locally, but what about corporeally? A growing body of evidence (such as this report from the APA) demonstrates that climate change and its effects are linked to elevated rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and a host of emotions including anger, hopelessness, and despair. After Hurricane Katrina, it was estimated that 1 in 6 survivors experienced PTSD, and Harvard researchers found that suicidal ideation heavily spiked. While discussions of these forms of ecological grief (or "ecoanxiety" by psychologists) have largely focused on mental health, economic impacts, and big storms rather than less spectacular forms of ecological change (especially in New Orleans), I am particularly interested in finding how embodied apprehensions of human vulnerability are experienced within the city, and how these have affected approaches to mortality and practices around death and dying.

Aside from talking to more deathcare professionals in the area (something I hope to do once we arrive), I have found rather robust evidence that there is increased engagement with mortality in New Orleans. Death Cafes, which are community gatherings to discuss death and combat taboos that make it an inappropriate topic of conversation, have regularly met for the past two years. Furthermore, preliminary research on funeral homes in NOLA seems to indicate increased interest in green internment options, with multiple organizations framing green/natural burial as a gentle option that "returns the body to nature." While means of casket burial and cremation have historically worked to “correctly” order death and the dead through preservation or means of obliterating the body as quickly as possible (organizing principles that have that rendered death as an interruption rather than a natural process), these endeavors seem to accept to the pressing realities of individual and earthly mortality by framing death as an opportunity for renewal - a sort of "circle of life." 

Although it is less related to my own area of expertise, one of most surprising discoveries I made was that New Orleans was home to the original "Before I Die" wall. In 2013, artist Connie Chung created a participatory chalkboard in an abandoned house with a fill-in-the-blank question of “Before I die, I want to ______.” (The next day, the wall was completely filled with responses.) Iterations of this project are now in over 75 countries. While Chung does not specifically cite anthropogenics as a source of interest or inspiration, its original placement on a building that stood as a sort of monument to ecological devastation makes me strongly think that there are broader connections to be made here about somatic attunements to climate change. 

Neak Loucks's picture
April 23, 2019

The Weldon Spring Interpretive Center was a discursive jamboree for those of us curious about how anthropocenics are narrated. This particular display at the center stood out to me becuase of its resemblance to other interpretive center or science museum displays representing the "life cycle" of an organism or of cycles of ecosystem conditions (e.g. forest succession). One of the first displays visitors see upon entering the center, the display's format and captions read to me as a clear attempt to control the discourse about nuclear contamination and remediation in the area. The image--or its creator--wants to do the work of suggesting that the clean up process has brought the place "back to how it was," cycling back to a good beginning. The text used in this display is exclusively neutral or positive. The arrows moving from each circle to the next purports to display how "this area has served many purposes over the years." It states "these exhibits are designed to educate you on the history, science, and efforts of many to bring the Weldon Spring site full circle." In this cycle, Weldon Spring is not a hazardouse waste site or contaminated site but rather "a site for remedial action." Thus we are to see the space as a "home to many people," then "a TNT and DNT plant," then "a uranium feed and matierals plant," then "a site for remedial action," "an extensive cleanup effort," "a successful solution," and, finally, "a place to enjoy and learn." In this emphasis on a "return" to good conditions, the displacement of residents, health issues plant workers and others' faced, and the uncertainties or messiness of what adequate clean up is are omitted. In this image, and in much of the interpretive center, the discourse around nuclear materials, its effects and cleanup, is neatened, simplified, into a narrative that de-emphasizes the actual health impacts of these processes and of the political wherewithall that was required to make that remediation happen.

The notion of cycling back to something is a particularly intriguing move

Tim Schütz's picture
April 22, 2019

This 7-minute 'image film' was produced in light of the 100 year anniversary of the Wood River refinery. It briefly touches on the company's products, history and guiding values. I first saw the film in a small cinema room at the Wood River Refinery Museum and found this upload on YouTube. I was curious to see how anthropocenic effects are or are not depicted.  At about 90 seconds into the clip, a plant operator states: "This piece of land, this refinery has been here for a hundred years and it has changed with the world over the last hundred years, through world war two, but now we have women in the refinery." However, the narrative is not further developed, as the film cuts to another worker who recounts visiting the facility with his father. Certainly, a promotional film like this is supposed to present the company in the best light possible. When it comes to social and environmental change, a vague acknowledgment of World War II and a positive framing of women entering the company's workforce might indicate the limits of this visual mode of communication. 

Jason Ludwig's picture
April 22, 2019

Project managers at the Army Corps of Engineers are not concerned with the Anthropocene. Their job at SLAPS and other FUSRAP sites revolves around a different contestable term: remediation. What exactly does Anthropocenic remediation look like in St. Louis? As the ACoE project managers informed us, remediation consists of removing contimated soil and shipping it to approved waste management sites in Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio. It would be interesting to further investigate how ACoE practices of remediation have historically been shaped.

James Adams's picture
April 22, 2019

The Tribute to the Mallinckrodt Uranium Workers is perhaps the most reflexive display in the Interpretive Center at Weldon Springs. By listing the names of the Mallinckrodt employees and acknowledging their sacrifices, the tribute at least intimates how the toxic process of uranium refinement, including the secrecy and deceit that surrounded it, impacted the lives of the local community. And yet, given the juxtaposition of the exhibit next to the "Timeline of the Nuclear Age" and an encompassing display on "The Process" of refinement, the critical nuance of this quotidian, human level is muddled by both the macro events of history and the micro details of scientific practice. It is also worth noting that in the online tour of the exhibit, the purpose and the meaning of the tribute bears no mention all. An image of the arch is provided, but not a single bit of context as to what it signifies. Instead, what we are given access to is only the timeline, the process description, and a romanticized version of the Mallinckrodt story taken from a tour guide that was written in 1959.