Nuisance and other "truths" about nature in the ideological management of whiteness

Authors: Travis K Bost*, University of Toronto
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Planning Geography
Keywords: ideology, environmental planning, environmental justice, critical whiteness studies, New Orleans
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Rampart, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In challenging Environmental Justice work to become more critical in its analyses, Pulido (2017) charts a path forward for the discipline from narrowly focused study of material factors like pollution toward more systemic engagements with racial capitalism. Identifying the methodological points of this broader project—materiality, the social/cultural sphere, and socio-economic systems—she sets our sights on their linkages: showing how environmental inequality aligns with the social production of difference like "race," which is, in turn, grist for the production of differential value that is essential to racial capitalism. Materiality, difference, and differential value are thus all linked. With these points as orientation, I focus in this paper on the nature of these alignments and linkages: How exactly are material inequalities made to align with social difference? How exactly are those nature-informed differences aligned with value production? There is no obvious or necessary connection between an aspect of environment like flooding and a social process like racialization. How does their configuration come to "make sense," to seem "self-evident" even, and, in sum, to become socially permissible? I frame this discussion within a dialogue between Foucault's "manifestation of truth" and Althusser on ideology. I will argue that certain historically and geographically specific "truths" about nature serve to support ideologies of whiteness on which racial capitalism relies. I will illustrate this material-social-economic transformation in one such "nature truth" from my own empirical work on environmental planning in New Orleans: 'nuisance' and nuisance law in the control of urban green spaces.

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