Tag Archives: assemblage

Can lakes and rivers have rights?: Voters in Toledo, Ohio weigh in

By Eden Kinkaid, University of Arizona

2011 Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie (Wikimedia.org)

In a recently passed ballot initiative, voters in Toledo, Ohio granted legal rights to Lake Erie, the 11th largest lake in the world. As The New York Times reports, Lake Erie has seen numerous environmental crises in the last several years, including a major algal bloom in 2014 that rendered water temporarily unfit for drinking and bathing. This incident, and others like it, have been linked to agricultural runoff from surrounding farms that fueled the rapid growth of the toxic algae.

These ongoing threats to the health of the lake led a coalition of locals, Toledoans for Safe Water, to advocate for its protection. Working in partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, an organization known for developing “rights of nature” legislation, advocates prepared a Lake Erie Bill of Rights that was included on the February 26 ballot. A majority of voters – 61% – voted in favor of the measure. While the success of the initiative is inspiring, the decision is already facing legal challenges on the grounds that it does not have legal standing and that it will negatively impact area farmers’ livelihoods.

In the last fifteen years, the geographical spread and success of “rights of nature” measures, like Lake Erie’s, has been quite remarkable. The first such measure, an ordinance in Tamaqua Borough designed to outlaw fracking, emerged in 2006. Since then, the concept of “rights of nature” has appeared in ordinances, laws, resolutions, and even national constitutions around the world. It has been used by indigenous groups, communities, cities, states, and nations to protect natural bodies, including rivers, ecosystems, and sacred territories. How are we to understand this new wave of environmental activism? Will the rights of nature stand? Will they be a solution to the myriad environmental issues facing populations across the globe?

In a recently published article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, I consider these questions through an analysis of another recent rights of nature ruling: a decision granting legal personhood to the Ganga (Ganges River) in India. Like the Lake Erie initiative, this case grants legal personhood to the Ganga to protect it from rampant pollution and development. The similarities between these cases, however, stop there. The rights of the Ganga were declared in a court ruling concerning illegal encroachment on river banks, whereas the Lake Erie decision was a ballot initiative. The Ganga case focused on the sacredness of the river to India’s Hindu majority rather than the more ecological concerns of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. Further, each case advocates for different ways to govern the natural bodies. In the case of the Ganga, governance strategies are based on legal precedents governing the personhood and trusteeship of religious idols in temples. Recognizing the central role of Hinduism in the ruling, critics worry that it may come with unintended consequences. Given the uneven history of environmental governance in India and the current religiously polarized political moment, the concern is that the ruling could be enforced selectively to police Muslims and other marginalized populations who live and work near the river.

It is clear, then, that these two decisions, like many rights of nature rulings, are born of radically different contexts and will likely have a variety of impacts and implications. To understand the significance and potential implications of these rulings, I argue we need to attend closely to the geographical, historical, and cultural contexts in which they occur. In my article, “Rights of nature’ in translation” I attempt to come to terms with the marked differences visible within rights of nature activism around the world. In some sense, “rights of nature” appears as a global movement to protect natural entities, yet these cases emerge from very specific and irreconcilable geographical and cultural contexts. They demonstrate understandings of the environment and governance that are clearly linked to specific places, yet they make use of a seemingly “universal” legal language and an international set of precedents. We might ask then, are the rights of the Ganga the same as the rights of Lake Erie? Given their vastly different historical and geographic contexts, does the rights of nature mean the same thing in each case?

In my article, I argue that this question should make us rethink the form of “global” social movements. Rights of nature discourse circulates transnationally, yet is not global in the sense of being “universal.” Indeed, I describe how the terms “rights” and “nature” become translated and contextualized in specific places and projects of governance. Rather than seeing “rights of nature” as a global movement then, I argue that we should see it as a “boundary object” (Leigh Star 2010), a shared term linking together different communities of interpretation and practice. This way, we can understand both the mobile, “global” moments of “rights of nature,” while still attending to the ways in which the concept is deployed and transformed in particular contexts. Indeed, this flexibility and multi-dimensional aspect of rights of nature discourse makes it a fascinating object of study for geographers, challenging us to rethink longstanding meanings of geographical boundaries and scales. Thinking the rights of nature “in translation” requires us to rethink the “local” and the “global” and to reimagine their various divergences and connections.

About the author: Eden Kinkaid is a doctoral student in Geography at the University of Arizona. Eden conducts field-based research in north India on issues of agriculture and environmental governance. More information about Eden’s work and other publications is available here.

Kinkaid, E. (2019). “Rights of nature” in translation: Assemblage geographies, boundary objects, and translocal social movements. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (0)0: 1-16.

Williams, T. (17 Feb. 2019). Legal rights for Lake Erie? Voters in Ohio city will decide.” The New York Times. Retrieved online 19 March 2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/17/us/lake-erie-legal-rights.html.

Global social movements contest the militarisation of East Asia

By Sasha Davis, Keene State College, USA

The news out of East Asia is currently filled with stories of political rivalry, nationalist antagonisms and military stand-offs. Regional tensions run high as China extends claims in the seas around Asia, Japan considers a more assertive military stance, the USA shifts more of their military forces to the Pacific, and North Korea threatens stability with nuclear tests, missile launches and blustery rhetoric. Geographers have long studied these kinds issues – in Asia and elsewhere – and have produced many insights on the ways governments regulate spaces, deploy military power, and manoeuvre for geopolitical advantage. These understandings of political geography are useful for analysing the current situation in Asia, but it is also important to recognise that governments are not the only actors trying to shape the region.

A recent article published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers examines a frequently overlooked group of political actors: social movements. Focusing on activists contesting the construction of new military bases on the island of Okinawa, the article examines how local protesters articulate with global social movements to affect local projects as well as the political landscape of the whole region. Activists in Okinawa are concerned about the potential damage a new base could bring to their community through the destruction of wildlife habitat, environmental contamination, danger from unexploded ordinance and live-fire training, increases in incidents of sexual violence by stationed troops, occupation of large tracts of lands, and continued colonial political relationships with Tokyo and Washington DC. In addition to these local concerns, however, these social movements are also attempting to affect the larger political scene in the Pacific by promoting an agenda of demilitarisation and forging links of solidarity with groups on other islands throughout the region.

Through an analysis of the direct action ‘occupation’ style protests in Okinawa – and the way these kinds of tactics are circulated among activists from places as far away as Puerto Rico, Guam, Korea and Hawaii – this research suggests that protests like the ones seen in Okinawa are not ‘isolated’ or ‘local’ at all. Instead, they are supported and coordinated in quite complex ways across space. Drawing on perspectives from philosophers like Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, as well as insights from the burgeoning research on social movements in geography, sociology, women’s studies and anthropology – this article contends that these social movements behave across space, and try to manifest power in place, in much the same ways as governments. Even though their aims, ethical positions, and organising structures may be quite different, transnational social movements – like governments – use tactics of operating in networks across space and setting up ‘archipelagos’ of places were their ethics can hold sway. The significance of this is that social movement occupations should not be viewed as ineffective ‘small’ protests. Instead, the article encourages us to look for the hidden connections and the links of mutual aid that binds these groups together as they aim to change international politics.

About the author: Sasha Davis is Assistant Professor of Geography at Keene State College. 

books_icon Davis, S. 2016 Apparatuses of occupation: translocal social movements, states and the archipelagic spatialities of power. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi:10.1111/tran.12152

60-world2 McCurry J 2016 Thousands protest at US bases on Okinawa after Japanese woman’s murder The Guardian Online19 June 2016

60-world2 McCurry J 2016 Japan defence ministry seeks record budget to counter Chinese threat The Guardian Online 31 August 2016

60-world2 Reuters 2016 in Tokyo Japan warns China of deteriorating relations over Senkaku Islands The Guardian online 9 August 2016

 

Radio Geopolitics

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Last month saw the release of the final episode of the podcasting sensation that is ‘Serial’. The true crime podcast, a spin off from long-running radio show ‘This American Life’, has experienced record-breaking download numbers, spawned a number of fan podcasts, and encouraged feverish debate on a lively subreddit devoted to the show. The same month also saw the horrific massacre of 141 students and teachers in their school in Peshawar, Pakistan. The man responsible for ordering the attack has been named by the press as Taliban commander Umar Mansoor, known locally as ‘Mullah Radio’. He gained this nickname from his popular pirate radio broadcasts in Swat Valley that apparently earned him legions of followers and convinced many to join and fight for the Taliban.

radio

Image Via Wikimedia Commons

Radio, then, remains a medium with the capacity to entertain, engage and enthrall audiences with simple yet captivating storytelling techniques. It also remains a potent tool for the dissemination of ideologies, manipulation and indoctrination; it is a tool that has been used to this end on countless occasions, in the course of numerous conflicts, by both state and non-state actors.

An article by Patrick Weir in the December edition of Geography Compass seeks to review geographical approaches to the conceptualisation of radio’s role in geopolitics, an area of study that has often overlooked this medium, tending to focus instead on visual culture and visual representations.

Weir suggests that ideas of assemblage, which emphasise non-human objects, infrastructures and forces, as well as the linkages between the material and the discursive, “can provide a new frame of understanding for the geopolitics of radio”. Weir argues that just as no meaningful distinctions can be made between the material and the cultural components of, for instance, treaty negotiations, which, he suggests, consist of “a shifting landscape of technical, diplomatic and bureaucratic objects, regulations and directives, and vehicles, bodies and buildings”, no worthwhile separation of radio into its material and non-material constituent parts can take place.

As an example of the geopolitical agency of radio, Weir points to what he calls the ‘radio war’ that took place within the Algerian war of independence during the late 1950s. He cites Franz Fanon’s description of liberationist radio station The Voice of Fighting Algeria in A Dying Colonialism:

The French authorities… began to realize the importance of this progress of the people in the technique of news dissemination. After a few months of hesitancy legal measures appeared. The sale of radios was now prohibited, except on presentation of a voucher issued by the military security or police services… The highly trained French services… were quick to detect the wavelengths of the broadcasting stations. The programmes were then systematically jammed… The listener, enrolled in the battle of the waves, had to figure out the tactics of the enemy, and in an almost physical way circumvent the strategy of the adversary.

Weir cites this passage as, he claims, it ‘perfectly illustrates’ how radio’s assemblage “includes material components (batteries, transistors, aerials) interact with legalistic structures (taxes, vouchers) and ideological concepts (colonialism, sovereignty, peoples).”

As Martin Müller notes, engaging in this type of geopolitical analysis of organisations and institutions means “tracing the ways in which the non-human and the human become bound up with each other and constitute organizations as geopolitical actors”. With media and popular culture playing ever more important roles in the conduct and construction of geopolitics, the incorporation of notions of assemblage is likely to become something of a priority in geopolitical analysis.

 Patrick Weir, 2014, Radio GeopoliticsGeography Compass 8(12) 849-859.

 Martin Müller, 2012, Opening the black box of the organization: Socio-material practices of geopolitical orderingPolitical Geography 31(6) 379–388.

 Franz Fanon, 1967, A Dying Colonialism. Monthly Review Press: New York.

Content Alert: New Articles (13th April 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Body capital and the geography of aging
Maurizio Antoninetti and Mario Garrett
Article first published online: 4 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01089.x

Commentary

Combining sustainable agricultural production with economic and environmental benefits
Amir Kassam and Hugh Brammer
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00465.x

Original Articles

Spatialising the refugee camp
Adam Ramadan
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00509.x

The geographies of community-oriented unionism: scales, targets, sites and domains of union renewal in South Africa and beyond
David Jordhus-Lier
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00504.x

Corpses, dead body politics and agency in human geography: following the corpse of Dr Petru Groza
Craig Young and Duncan Light
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00502.x

Towards geographies of speech: proverbial utterances of home in contemporary Vietnam
Katherine Brickell
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00503.x

The biopolitics of animal being and welfare: dog control and care in the UK and India
Krithika Srinivasan
Article first published online: 4 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00501.x

‘An instruction in good citizenship’: scouting and the historical geographies of citizenship education
Sarah Mills
Article first published online: 4 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00500.x

Boundary Crossings

Geography, film and exploration: women and amateur filmmaking in the Himalayas
Katherine Brickell and Bradley L Garrett
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00505.x