Afterlives of Accumulation: Political Ecologies of Hope in Blasted Landscapes

Despite the proliferation of apocalyptic renderings of the near future (e.g. Wells 2019), in recent years scholars have begun to call for greater attention to the experiments that might flourish in the midst, or in spite, of the destructive forces propelling capital accumulation (Gibson-Graham 2015; Braun 2015). While processes of primitive accumulation, including enclosure of common lands, dispossession, and extraction, continue to animate capitalist expansion around the world, a long-term tendency among critical scholars to foreground moments of despoliation has served to eclipse a fuller understanding of the possibilities for life that remain or emerge in the aftermath of ruination (Tsing 2015).


This session aims to address this aporia by examining the possibilities of socioecological recuperation for the landscapes, (non)human lives, and livelihoods that have been ravaged by the forces of late industrialism (Fortun 2017). Ruins are often understood as sites of amazement, as monuments of manufactured history (Lefebvre, 1991) that freeze a past that never existed. But the ruptured materiality of spaces of destruction can be used as an archive for both dispossession and appropriation, a text of vanishing landscapes that are remade through new uses, narratives, and silences. Rather than theorizing contemporary existence as the endpoint of a historical process of capital accumulation, “blasted landscapes” and the social relations that unfold within them can generate the potential for new and vibrant socioecological configurations of liveliness, flourishing, and hope (Kirksey, Shapiro, and Brodine 2014).  


In this session, we stay with the trouble (Haraway 2016) of engaging with the ambivalent socioecological potentialities of life among (and beyond) the ruins. Papers in this panel offer diverse empirical and conceptual vantage points, examining: the afterlives of agrarian transition in Costa Rica; animal sanctuaries amid accelerating more-than-human commodifications; ruination and rebirth in coal country Appalachia; (de-)contaminated life in the aftermath of nuclear disaster; and coastal redevelopment in the aftermath of a devastating tsunami. Responding to the call to examine what emerges from damaged landscapes, these papers collectively probe the afterlives of accumulation, at once exposing economic and environmental disruption as the precarious condition of troubled times while also foregrounding emergent forms of life cultivated in its aftermath. 


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