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Pipeline opposition and energy independence between Canada and China: World ecologies of race, nation, and oil in the American heartland

Authors: Kai Bosworth*, Virginia Commonwealth University
Topics: Political Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: pipelines, settler colonialism, empire, nationalism, xenophobia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 1:45 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Virtual Track 4
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Geographies of race and racism increasingly embed their analyses within histories of settler colonialism to better understand the linkages between North American coloniality and racial capitalism. However, such a move runs the risk of occluding the manner in which settler colonialism orients itself as an international racial and imperial order. Drawing on the work of Denise Ferriera da Silva and Iyko Day, I seek to resituate the settler project of white nationalism within and as a global process. Such a move is crucial to understanding how American nativism literally "grounds itself" in xenophobia as it simultaneously expropriates land and labor from Indigenous peoples. I make this argument by examining public performances of environmental populism in pipeline opposition movements in the Upper Midwest. Rural, white pipeline opponents felt it crucial to present "the people" in relation to a foreign outside power, which cohered a sense of a wounded rural/national community of belonging. To opponents, the pipeline corporation TransCanada and the Canadian government represented the corrupt power of foreign oil, while the export of oil to east Asia seemed to betray supposed nationalist concerns with “energy independence.” Pipeline opponents linked the invasion of foreign oil corporations not to settler colonialism, but to the defense of the American revolution. They described eminent domain as evidence of a slippage into Russian, Vietnamese, or Chinese authoritarian communism. Examining such affective circulations within and as global projects, I argue, helps scholars and activists better diagnose ongoing linkages between coloniality, rurality, race, and environmentalism.

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