PANEL: Forces of Nature: Police, Ecology, Order

Dark as a Dungeon: Coal, Cops and Cages in Central Appalachia

Judah Schept

Eastern Kentucky University


Against reliable tropes that signify difference, distance and deficiency, Central Appalachia has been central to the making of the capitalist state. While Appalachian coal fueled industrialization and World Wars 1 and 2, by the early 21st century the coalfields had become home to 16 prisons, many of them built on top of old coalmines and mountaintop removal sites, with incarceration at times replacing coal as the central economic and affective motor of communities. But prison proliferation in Appalachia cannot be reduced to the need for rural jobs nor to crime trends and punishment regimes. This paper argues that prison growth in the region must be understood as an expression of the social and economic relations foundational to Central Appalachia, that is, as an historical interface with the forces of acquisition, consolidation and accumulation. From settler capitalist expropriation and speculation to company towns, and from mine guards to sheriffs to private detective agencies, police power—the manufacturing of capitalist social order—created Central Appalachia. As such, understanding contemporary prison building requires attention not only to sentencing laws and discourses about rural economic development, but also to the role of the prison in managing labor, pacifying potential unrest, and administering an order centered on racial capitalist social relations.


Keywords: capitalism, carceral state, extraction, police, prisons


Securing Nature’s Return: Environmental Policing at the Savannah River Site Nuclear Reservation

Andrea Miller

University of California, Davis


Occupying an ecologically diverse area of 310 square miles along the Savannah River in South Carolina, the Savannah River Site nuclear reservation was once a major producer of plutonium and tritium for the US nuclear program. Currently, the reservation functions as a nuclear waste storage site, home of the recently terminated MOX (Mixed Oxide) Fuel Fabrication Facility, and a possible future location for plutonium pit production for US nuclear weapons. Since its construction in the early 1950s, the Site has also housed the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), a vast ecological research program founded by the oft-described father of modern ecology, Eugene Odum. At SREL, Odum and his students utilized the dispossessed lands of former farming communities such as Ellenton, South Carolina, to examine the ecological principle of secondary succession. Within secondary succession, nature’s inevitable return subsumes and replaces human land uses, an “orderly process of community change” described as analogous to human-driven processes of development and civilizational progress (Odum 1959). As the principle area of ecological research that aligned the interests of the University of Georgia and Odum with that of the Atomic Energy Commission at SRS, secondary succession is a useful analytic through which to interrogate the Ecology Lab as security world, a site of production and enclosure maintained through myriad forms of state and economic violence. I argue that, taken together, both the principle and Odum’s studies of secondary succession conducted at SREL function as a mode of environmental policing, those practices of enclosure, dispossession, and governance that work on and through the natural and built environment. Through its capacity to render that which was previously manmade “natural” and to generate “order” in nature, Odum’s secondary succession simultaneously enacts and obfuscates colonial practices of policing and dispossession.


Keywords: environmental policing, dispossession, succession, nuclear, Eugene Odum


“I'll take Cthulhu over you devils any day”: Tentacles, Capital, and Police

Bill McClanahan

Eastern Kentucky University


Recent estimates place the number of loose, formerly-domestic pythons and their offspring in Florida to be over 100,000. Considering collisions of this snake population and police power, this paper rethinks invasive species, imagining them as useful and evocative illustrations of the ways in which the horror(s) of police and capitalism are expressed in the visual and literary language of the tentacular. I describe the various ways in which the tentacled imagery of ‘the weird’ invokes the fear of strangulation and devourment, each essential technologies of capitalism and police. I note that in the snakes, cephalopods and other tentacular beasts historically associated with capital, in the use of police dogs and police murder by strangulation, and in rhetoric surrounding the ‘invasion’ of human migration we might locate the ways in which contemporary social and economic anxieties are often both realized-in and visualized-through encounters with the animal and the ‘ecological’. I argue that invertebrate, vegetative, and reptilian invasion serve as the central image and imaginary for anxieties endemic to capitalism, anxieties which, in an era of ‘global weirding’, find form at the intersections of humanity, capital, police, and ecology.

Keywords: police, capitalism, horror, tentacles

“Nature’s Predators”: The Police Hunt as Weaponized Nature 

Tyler Wall

University of Tennessee, Knoxville


In this paper I explore the weaponization of nature as it plays out in the carnivorous world of police K9, with specific focus on police discourses around police as “hunters of men.”  To do this, I provide a close reading of the cynegetic corpus (i.e. training manuals, industry magazines, books, etc.) of leading police K9 “manhunters” to uncover the different ways “nature” operates as a normative concept for the naturalization of racialized state violence. K9 manhunters, I suggest, are interested less in developing a rigorous theory of nature (human or animal) as they are in advancing and naturalizing what Didier Fassin calls a “moral economy of repression,” or implicit and explicit rationalizations for morally justifying relations of violence, inequality, and domination. This paper, then, explores how the moral economy of the police hunt depends on what Lorraine Daston calls the “moral authority of nature,” as if by appealing to something called “nature” automatically renders the “hunting of man” natural, just and necessary. Ultimately, I demonstrate how a cynegetic conception of human nature – what I call the figure of predatory nature – is the central organizing principle in the world of police K9. More specifically, the figure of predatory nature collapses a Social Darwinist-infused vulgar sociobiology of “Man the Hunter” with a Hobbessian animus of homo homini lupus, or man is a wolf to man. In other words, the ideological scaffolding of the entire police K9 industry rests on shared assumptions about predator/prey relations as the evolutionary pillar of human nature. Here the social world, including the institutionally coercive relations known as “police and society,” is said to be motored by animalistic drives and instincts – “visceral desires” and “primordial needs.” And just as the “animal kingdom” is naturalized as a contest of “survival of the fittest” in a “struggle for existence,” so is the police power naturalized, and celebrated, in similar terms. 


Keywords: nature, naturalization, police, K9, vulgar sociobiology, manhunt, predation


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