Call for Posts: Life on the Frontier: The Environmental Anthropology of Settler Colonialism

Een Suikerfabriek. Lithograph of a painting by Abraham Salm, 1865-1872. Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
This thematic series poses the question: What kinds of nature are forged through settler colonialism? A distinct form of colonization, settler colonialisms do not merely conquer people and territory—they seek to transplant and redefine. The desires, fears, messianism, violence, masculinity, sexuality, and racism that characterize settler colonialism shape how colonists imagine and interact with the environments and people they encounter—generating contradictions that colonizers and the colonized are forced to contend with. Settlers (variously defined for the purposes of this series) introduce and remove plants and animals for agricultural production or biological control, while nostalgically transforming their new environments to mimic their homeland. Additional species and viruses are unintentionally transmitted; free from predators, competitors, or immunities, they proliferate. Articulating with this work of landscape modification, settler colonialisms fashion borderlands through their concept of “the frontier,” generating novel identity categories that are negotiated, rejected, or reconfigured by colonized people and their descendants. These borderlands and the areas “beyond” them can manifest as spaces of abjection and exception—open to genocide and ecocide—but also of capitalist or imperial fantasy.

The environmental legacies of settler colonialism are many. What can anthropological approaches contribute to our understanding of the environment in contexts of settler colonialism, present, past, and future? What new areas of research on settler colonialism are opened up by recent thinking on ontology, decolonization, infrastructure, affect, or the more-than-human?

The Engagement blog calls for submissions that can help sort through these and associated questions, building on existing contributions from environmental anthropology but also feminist STS, postcolonial studies, political ecology, race critical theory, and more. Posts engaging well-known sites of settler colonialism (e.g., the Americas, Australia, or Southern Africa) are welcomed, as well as less conventional ones, such as Mars, Antarctica, oceans, or the human genome. Alter-genres such as the science fiction short story or poetry are also welcome.

Three potential directions include:

  1. Bodies, Identities: What forms of gender or sexuality emerge in settler culture and how are these inscribed upon landscapes? How do desire and paranoia texture identity formation in relation to the environments of the frontier? In what ways do settler colonialisms inhere in bodies?
  2. Landscaping: What kinds of land modification—gardens, plantations, dam construction, etc.—are found in settler spaces and what do they say about colonial processes? What kinds of “frontier-work” do settler plant and animal species do?
  3. Blowback: What are the (un)intended environmental consequences of settler colonization? How have colonized people resisted or re-appropriated frontier theories of nature?

Submissions can take the form of ~1,500-word essays; short photo and video essays; poetry and experimental prose; and other forms in consultation with the editors. Zoe Todd (Carleton University) and Clint Carroll (University of Colorado at Boulder) will provide commentaries on the submissions. Please indicate your interest or make inquiries by email to the Engagement co-editors:

Colin Hoag: choag@ucsc.edu
Theresa Miller: millerth@si.edu
Chitra Venkataramani: cvenkataramani@gmail.com

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