Oral Presentation Session - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Cosponsored by: Central States Anthropological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Anthropocene
Secondary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
In her 2017 Cultural Anthropology blog piece Heather Swanson called on anthropologists to turn their gaze on the agro-industrial Midwest, its everyday forms of environmental violence, and the culture of blindness that prevents Americans from noticing the “banal Anthropocene” in their midst. She called this formation Iowa. Iowa, she argued, is one of the most ruined geographies in North America — one that people have been socialized not to see. In this panel, we take up Swanson’s provocation to generate spaces for storytelling in which we train one another to overcome our learned blindnesses and become better observers of the Iowan Anthropocene. How can we collectively come to grip with the erasure of the prairie and native peoples, the spread of corn monoculture, the depletion of aquifers, the rapid evolution of pesticide-resistant weeds, and the downstream effects of fertilizer runoff? To tell these stories, we must invariably focus our analysis on the industrial plantation or, more broadly, on what Donna Haraway has called the Plantationocene. The Plantationocene is an Earth made in and through histories of the plantation and its logics. Plantationocene is an ordering of world economies predicated on monoculture, alienated labor forms, finance capital, long-distance supply chains, nonrenewable resource inputs, and increasing mechanization and corporate control. It is also a violent re-ordering of multispecies landscapes. Perhaps the most stunning feature of the Iowan Plantationocene is the monotony and regularity of the grid imposed on the landscape by the U.S. Rectangular Public Land Survey System in the late eighteenth century as a technology of agricultural settlement. This grid can serve as a metaphor for the Iowan territorialization, its rationality, and its layered histories of environmental violence.
The five papers in this panel collectively explore the erasures, institutions, material infrastructures, subject-making practices, nonhuman actors, and emergent precarities that make up Iowa as a Plantationocene assemblage. We inquire into the scalable designs of the plantation, the geography-spanning networks of agribusiness, and the imperial appetites that drive the production of cheap corn, soy, and meat. By teasing out the histories and connections that have been overlooked, obscured, and naturalized by white middle class Americans, our goal is to “spectacularize” Iowa’s banal Anthropocene. To render Iowa’s Anthropocene spectacular is not about sensationalizing environmental violence, rather it is about cultivating storytelling arts that hold people’s attentions and transform perceptions of the everyday. Doing so, we might encourage Iowans — the people of the American Plantationocene — to assume the mantel of creating their own storytelling spaces and take up the radical practice of tracing and inheriting histories that make and unmake worlds.