Wheaton Alumni Magazine: Sustainability: Lessons from Latin America

My latest in Wheaton's Alumni Magazine, the Faculty Voice column:

When I tell people that I’m an anthropologist, an image of Indiana Jones, fedora-clad and bullwhip in hand, is often the first picture that comes to mind. Though I’ve never raided a lost ark or escaped a snake pit, I have seen the stunning Iguazú waterfalls depicted in the fourth film of the series. And I’ve heard stories that rival Hollywood drama from locals adept at debating energy politics.

As a cultural anthropologist, I research how people live in the world today. The core lesson I’ve learned is the importance of seeing through someone else’s eyes, not merely because we value diversity, but because it’s there we find wisdom.

I study renewable energy in Latin America, a topic I find more engrossing now than when I began my research in 2007. Yet, had I not heeded the input of an ordinary Paraguayan, I would have missed that path.

Confession: the first time I visited Itaipú Dam (the Brazilian-Paraguayan hydroelectric plant that I research), I was underwhelmed. Even though it’s the largest dam in the entire world (capable of powering 33 percent of California’s annual energy usage), Iguazú, the Argentine-Brazilian cataracts where water pounds rock so powerfully that the mist rises like smoke, eclipsed my present view of Itaipú’s concrete wall and placid reservoir.  

Then, one Paraguayan to my right murmured, “Paraguay used to have waterfalls like Iguazú.” He took my look of surprise as an invitation to continue. “But they were destroyed for that,” he added with a meaningful nod at Itaipú Dam....

For the rest of the piece, see the interactive version of the Wheaton Alumni Magazine.

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From 1492 to Wounded Knee: A journey of learning & bearing witness

Day 8: Lakota medicine wheel in Art Alley, Rapid City
Day 4: "Off road" in Pine Ridge

Along with a colleague and six undergraduates, I took a journey of listening and learning over the past two weeks in a Native American studies course hosted at the Wheaton Science Station in the Black Hills, SD. Rather than approaching this as a class with two professors and six students, we were eight learners.
Day 1: Learning to raise a teepee from OLC Lakota Culture scholar

Day 1: The teepee
And, even more importantly, the "classroom" was as large as South Dakota and the "textbooks" were the dozens of people we heard from as they described their lives and the experience of the Plains' native communities' past and present.

In the midst of lamenting the horrors of Wounded Knee and White Clay--an 1890 vengeance massacre by the 7th Cavalry (Custer's former unit) and a pernicious Nebraska outpost whose sole purpose is to sell alcohol to Pine Ridge reservation, respectively--we also witnessed gleaming stories of hope.
Day 3: Bison herd in the Black Hills, back from 1900 worldwide population of 1,000
Wounded Knee was originally called a "battle" until a recent acknowledgement that the killing of 300 unarmed men, women, and children constitutes something quite different--the large red sign at the site tells the history and physically embodies the change. Note how the word "Massacre" has been nailed more recently on top, to cover the misnomer "Battle" underneath.

Day 6: The Tragedy of Wounded Knee
Day 5: Rainbows _before_ the storm on Pine Ridge
Day 10: Bear Butte vistas and prayer flags
The adversities make the triumphs all the more poignant: Oglala Lakota College, which is rebuilding the Lakota nation through education, and the creative economic development engine Lakota Funds. Over the past four decades, more than half of the teachers in Pine Ridge schools and of the nurses at the Indian Health Service have passed through OLC's hallways. At the time of the college's founding, the majority of educators and health professionals on the reservation were non-Natives. OLC indelibly changed that.

There were also moments of just pure delight: to wit, digging up timpsula (prairie turnips) and eating them raw right then and there.

Day 4: Digging for timpsula (prarie turnip) 

Day 10: Summitting Bear Butte, a sacred place of reflection and beauty.

Day 8: Visiting the ever-changing, fragile yet powerful Art Alley in Rapid City

Day 10: Bear Butte

Day 8: Art Alley

Day 10: At Bear Butte, yes: all of the bison was used

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In Print: "Arab Eyes, Arab Voices" -- a review in Books & Culture

Three years after the Arab Spring gripped the Middle East and North Africa as well as social media world-wide, how do we begin to make sense of the complicated stories that are still unfolding?

"Arab Eyes, Arab Voices," a review of Shibley Telhami's The World Through Arab Eyes has just been published in the March-April issue of Books & Culture.

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It gets worse: the situation of Haitians in the Dominican Republic

Tensions on the island of Hispaniola are on the rise and the situation of Haitian citizens (and their descendents) living in the Dominican Republic is becoming Kristallnacht-ish dire. In September this year, the highest court in the land decided to revoke the citizenship of Dominican-born descendents of Haitian migrants. Up until 2010, the DR practiced jus soli--what the United States currently practices--granting citizenship to anyone born in national territory. What this means is that some 200,000 Dominican citizens have had their status revoked.

On this past Tuesday, in front of a crowd with cellphone cameras raised, a Haitian man was alleged lynched in broad daylight (supposedly for attempted robbery). The image made CNN news (warning: graphic). The recent unsolved murder of an elderly Dominican couple who lived near the Haiti-DR border was fuel to the fire and 200 Haitians were sent back "home" over the weekend, fearing mob violence.

Haitians are scapegoated in the Dominican Republic, accused of witchcraft (read:moral turpitude) and bringing crime, reminiscent of how some in the United States characterize Latinos including Dominicans.

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AAA Presentation: All That Is Water: Engineering Energy Sovereignties and Electricity Nationalities

I'm delighted to be part of this excellent panel at the AAA conference this Wednesday in Chicago: Technopolitical Futures: Transformations in State and Expertise (12-4pm)

I'm giving my paper, All That Is Water: Engineering Energy Sovereignties and Electricity Nationalities, at 2:15 on Wednesday November 20 (room TBA).

My abstract: The engineers responsible for Itaipú Binational Dam were tasked with more than just churning water into electricity or spinning nature into national development. They had to find a way to give electricity, generated by the same water of the same river at the same dam, two discrete national identities as a way to defend the sovereignty of the dam's owners, Brazil and Paraguay. Designed as a juridically distinct space of exception, Itaipú has become a “state within a state,” simultaneously subordinate and exterior to the Brazilian and Paraguayan states, rescaling sovereignties and territorialities to both the regional and the subatomic. As the state rematerializes in energy policies and practices, technicians have been transformed into technocrats such that, in Itaipú, engineering is not merely a scientific endeavor but a kind of politics as a vocation. This paper explores how electrical engineers superintend political processes and, through material and symbolic entailments, bestow nationality upon the nigh immaterial—electricity—to construct energy sovereignties and a territoriality that emanates from the circulation of charge. This invisible circulation animates conceptualizations of property and value which form the basis of a wider ethic of renewable energy newly emergent in South America. Through an ethnography of the discursive and physical interventions initiated by engineers in the world's largest dam, I show how “nature” and “nation” are altered by hydroelectric statecraft, the political economic and symbolic structures that emanate from the harnessing of hydroelectric energy and gesture towards a non-fossil-fuel future where contentions over transborder water resources abound.

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Committed to Art: Homenaje a Bolivia (Honoring Bolivia) at the Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz

Detail from the last painting of the Virgin and the Trinity.

The Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz is a stunning collection of visual art from the past five centuries. Bolivia's vast mineral wealth in colonial and early republic days is attested to in the religious and secular patronage of Renaissance, Baroque, and Impressionist (!) Bolivian art that is housed in a villa at the center of the city.

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In The Atlantic: "Why the West Loves Sci-Fi and Fantasy"

My piece which explores why the United States is so fond of Science Fiction and Fantasy stories has just been published in The Atlantic. This comes out of a) my own deep love of both those genres and b) many invigorating conversations with my students.

Tolkien + Star Wars + Weber = my favorite things to talk about!

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