Affective Media Responses to the 2018 California Wildfires

Authors: Deanna Duffy*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: California, fires, labor, landscape, media
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Wildfires have been central to the production of California’s landscape. With each passing year, the wildfires in California worsen and the seasons get longer, bringing up the need to question the systems in place responding to and managing these fires. I take a feminist political geography approach to analyze how social inequalities are illuminated through discourse surrounding the fires. These inequalities were displayed in the visual and rhetorical narratives addressing the Fall 2018 wildfires as images of farm workers in fields under a cloud of smoke circulated alongside with the stories of women prisoners from labor camps fighting on the frontlines. I investigate questions on how fire is entangled in California’s history of agriculture and prisons. I situate these representations against the context of the development and changes to California’s water ecologies, agricultural and landscape management, and utilization of prison labor. Through this discourse analysis of media representation I argue that the California wildfires reveal and reproduce social inequalities through gendered and racialized labor regimes, resource allocation, and landscape management. This analysis aims to explore the interlocking systems producing incendiary conditions in order to reveal the affective responses to the California wildfires and consider the possibility for more just environmental and social futures.

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