McCook, Stuart

McCook, Stuart George. States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760-1940. 1º ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

The physical space created in this narrative ranges across the Caribbean, looking at agricultural pursuits in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Costa Rica, Colombia and Venezuela. But more specifically, this is not a story of imperial exploitation that renders local actors passive (as is the case in Tucker). Instead, McCook draws on the innovations of Close Encounters of Empire and conceptualizes scientific institutions like Harvard’s Atkins Gardens at Cienfuegos, Cuba, the Escuela Superior de Agricultura de Medellín, Costa Rica’s National Museum, etc. as contact zones producing “creole science” something unique to the plant sciences of these countries because ecological variation rendered the imposition of U.S. scientific hegemony useless.

The periodization spans the broad period of late-nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century liberal reforms, and tells a story of the technocratic transformation of nature in the service of liberal states, beginning with export-oriented monocropping and the plant sciences’ treatment of the problems it posed and intensification efforts—especially in the sugar and coffee sector—and ending with the reorganization of the plant sciences during the Depression. The narrative’s general arch not only marks the reorganization of nature and the domestication of forests, but the production of “nationalist floras,” as botanists made local floras known to science, they also contributed to national positivist projects by giving plants a “civil status” and making them legible to the state.

Guha, Ramachandra, and Joan Martínez-Alier.

Guha, Ramachandra, and Joan Martínez-Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South. London: Earthscan Publications, 1997.

The introduction frames the essays to come in reference to post-materialism. Guha and Martínez-Alier juxtapose some of Aldous Huxley’s observations of tropical nature with the theories of his fellow privileged British intellectual, G.M. Trevelyan, to illustrate the core notions of the post-materialist view of nature. While Huxley could never see the tropics appealing to the British leisure travellers, Trevelyan was convinced that it was precisely the condition of affluence and so-called modernity enjoyed by Londoners that fomented a kind of reverence for nature, that with all material needs met by industrialization and urbanization (as Ronald Inglehart’s post-materialist theory goes), people pined for a clean, pristine environment. What Guha and Martínez-Alier argue here is that this view of the “full-stomach” environmentalism (calling on Nash) of the North neglects the possibility of the South’s “empty-belly” environmentalism. What I wonder is how firmly they will hold on to this North-South confrontation and whether it will get in the way of their analyses.

To close the introduction, they offer two groupings of sample cases: one shows Southern moments of opposition to northern forms of conservation (resistance to tiger protection by the Chenchus of Andhra Pradesh, India and by Siberians, also resistance by fisher folk in the Galapagos); while the other gives account of various forms of Southern environmentalism (Reaction to Eucalyptus farming in Thailand, the Ogoni struggle and a case of Southern experts doing an inspection of Dutch environmental policy and conditions).  

I've done seperate posts for the individual essays from this volume that I chose to focus on:

Guha, Ramachandra

Guha, Ramachandra. "Mahatma Gandhi and the Environmental Movement." In Ramachandra Guha and Joan Martínez Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South. London: Earthscan Publications, 1997.

This essay looks at the environmental thinking and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. Here Guha probes Gandhi’s writings for critiques of industrialization—and the coming Green Revolution in a 1946 account of soil fertility—modern civilization and village industry and he traces those ideas through the work of Gandhian disciples such as JC Kamarrapa (public finance), Mira Behn (Himalayan forestry and agriculture) and more recent activists involved in the Chipko movement, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna.

Interestingly, Guha also takes on the myth surrounding Gandhi and Nehru’s opposing visions of national development, not by denying they had opposing views, one proto-environmentalist and the other fiercely developmentalist, but by showing how the two men, despite disagreeing, never harbored animosity toward one another, and by showing that by independence Gandhi’s village-centered vision had long-since fallen out of favour with most in the nationalist movement. Thus, Guha suggests that to have adopted the proposals of Gandhi and Kamarrapa at the time would have signified a fundamentally undemocratic move, going against the view of the polity. Further, I like Guha’s summary, stating: “One may justly honour Gandhi and Kumarrapa for being ahead of their time; but it is grossly unhistorical to, as well as unfair, to condemn Nehru for being, merely, a man of his time.” (165) That said, it nonetheless makes for a powerful myth-reinforcing illustration when you see Medha Patkar and the NBA using Gandhian tactics of civil disobedience to resist the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which was conceived by Nehru.

Guha, Ramachandra

Guha, Ramachandra. "The Environmentalism of the Poor." In Ramachandra Guha and Juan Martínez Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South. London: Earthscan Publications, 1997.

Guha’s essay on the environmentalism of the poor treats three case studies: the foundational struggle of the Indian environmental movement, known as the Chipko movement, in which peasants in Garhwal Himalaya resisted logging between 1973 in 1980; the poster struggle of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA); and the resistance against Karnataka Pulpwoods Limited (KPL), a joint-sector company (owned by the state and Harihar Polyfibres) monocropping eucalyptus in Karnataka. This last case is treated in more detail.

In trying to mark the distinctions between post-materialist, Northern, pristine-nature environmentalism and the environmentalism of the poor, Guha portrays Southern struggles against degradation as a new class conflict: “Where ‘traditional’ class conflicts were fought in the cultivated field or the factory, these new struggles are waged over gifts of nature such as forests and water ….” (5) Further, these struggles pit “ecosystem people” who rely on their surrounding environment against “omnivores” whose primary aim is surplus production and export. Those who submit to the rule of the omnivores, watch their subsistence evaporate and become ecological refugees in the ever-growing slums surrounding megalopolises like Mumbai … and Lima.

Whereas the environmentalism of the poor takes on class dimensions and is marked by social justice more than a reverence for empty nature, Northern environmentalism is presented as the opposite: the product of affluence, it tends to be organized around new social movements rather than village structures (18) while resorting to mechanisms characteristic of more complete democracies, such as court cases, lobbying and media campaigns.

Turner, Terrence

Turner, Terrence, “Indigenous Rights, Environmental Protection and the struggle over forest resources in the Amazon: the case of the Brazilian Kayapo.”  in Conway, Jill K, et al, eds. Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Humanistic Studies of the Environment. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.

This piece looks at the Kayapo of the Xingú Valley and the way their role in environmental protection and exploitation has ben misconstrued by romantics and “glass-case” conservationists. Turner discuses two cases: the Altamira mobilization of Feb., 1989, and the relation of some Kayapo with gold miners and loggers. In each case he examines Kayapo ontology as a way of discrediting Northern appropriations of their struggle.

In the case of the Altamira mobilization against a massive hydro project on the Xingu, Turner argues that the type of conservation being advocated correlates to Kayapo conceptions of the utility of forest resources and not to the Northern conceptions of them as “primitive ecologists.” By showing how the event was ordered around the ritual of the New Corn Ceremony (converging upon a village setting, felling a forest tree as a communal bench, reenactment of the maize tree myth) and explaining the participation of women as an embodiment of the concerns highlighted by the event (loss of Kayapo culture through environmental degradation) Turner suggests the entire event was “a dramatization of the environmental values of Kayapo culture in the service of a Kayapo version of environmental activism.” (158) When examining how this may have been misconstrued he points to the way the event’s Portuguese and English communications with the press and civil society representatives in attendance were “couched in the rhetoric of international First World environmentalism and international Fourth World ethnic nationalism.” (153).

Piccato, Pablo

Piccato, Pablo. The Tyranny of Opinion: Honor in the Construction of the Mexican Public Sphere. Durham, Duke University Press, 2010.

Piccato looks at how romanticist rhetoric was adapted in the defense of honor and the impact that had on the public sphere during the República Restaurada and the first half of the Porfiriato. Impressively written and sharply theorized, this book makes significant—and timely—strides to broaden politics in a way that incorporates personal hubris and rhetorical style. Some very interesting ideas are brought up, like the role of passion and heroism in closing the public sphere (something Cornel West touches on in a very different context when he discusses the legacy of MLK), or the way Diaz’s regulation reflected a process by which honor became property protected under the law, effectively commoditizing hubris. Yet as a story of how male aristocrats transformed the public sphere, the general narrative of The Tyranny of Opinion still leaves me unsettled.

Sure, Piccato’s treatment of journalists and students complicates the top-down approach. Both groups, given their precarious position as poverty stricken yet active participants in the formation of public opinion are seen as transcending class. And taking a page from Chambers’ playbook, Piccato does have one chapter on the way common women defended their self-identification as gente decente in the courts. But this book is no example of politics from below in the style of Chambers. Nor is it a case of morality being defined through domination and resistance, as French describes. Indeed, while Chambers examines the place of honor in shaping the political participation of common early republican Arequipeños, and French demonstrates how class formation in the mining districts of late Porfirian and revolutionary Chihuahua relied not on economic stature but on a contentious negotiation of middle-class manners and morals, Piccato—with few exceptions— addresses elite agency, treating honor as a Siglo de Oro construct that male aristocrats duel over.

Chambers, Sarah C

Chambers, Sarah C.. From Subjects to Citizens: Honor, Gender, and Politics in Arequipa, Peru, 1780-1854. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Chambers uses a study of honor in political culture to deconstruct the process by which Arequipa acquired the myth of the White City, the idea that it has always been a bastion of liberal democratic ideals and ethnic homogeneity. Instead, She argues that what seemed the idea that Arequipa has been a constant source of unified opposition to Lima, was in fact the result of a continual hegemonic process, which to be fully understood requires looking at the role of plebeians, or artisans, traders and tavern workers. She takes her cue from Mallon and gives us a story of politics from below, although this one deals with the urban popular classes of a Spanish American provincial city.

Drawing mostly on court documents, Chambers shows how plebeian actors vigorously contested notions of honor, and ultimately fueled the process by which honor changed from a colonial code rooted in status to a republican signifier of virtue.

Mallon, Florencia

Mallon, Florencia E. Peasant and Nation the Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

In Peasant and Nation, Mallon’s treatment of the central highlands takes a turn toward what she deems political history from below. By examining the way in which ethnicity- and gender-based hierarchies influenced the way rural communities generated nationalist discourses (she calls this communal hegemony), Mallon foregrounds the agency of rural actors in the process by which a state becomes hegemonic. This time comparing the case of Junin with cases from Puebla and Morelos, Mexico, and Cajamarca, Peru, she concludes that the Peruvian state would not become hegemonic until the Velasco regime based on the way hegemonic national discourses played out at the local, regional and national level. In the case of the central highlands of Junin, the separatist tendencies of the Comas Federation and the inherent rejection of Lima articulated at the regional level made the achievement of regional consent for state policy impossible until well into the middle of the twentieth century, even despite the flourishing communal political culture that arose in the fight against Chile. What I want to highlight about this case is that in her treatment of this three-tiered conflation of hegemonic processes, Mallon is still reliant on the articulation approach.

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