The Sacrifice Zone as Discourse

Authors: Alec Brownlow*, DePaul University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Energy
Keywords: security, sacrifice, sacrifice zone, patriotism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Granite B, Hyatt Regency, Third Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the origins and utility of sacrificial rhetoric within contemporary, post 9/11 environmental politics, especially as deployed through the concept of the ‘sacrifice zone’. From its first appearance in the 1970s to describe and label coal-mining landscapes in the American west during that decade’s ‘energy crisis’ – as a necessary sacrifice for the ‘national interest’, I suggest that the subsequent growth of sacrificial rhetoric within political-environmental discourse has taken on new and diverse forms and meaning as new and emergent political crises have given rise to a host of new security narratives: climate security, environmental security, energy security, border security, etc. I emphasize, however, that it is in the post 9/11 context that sacrificial rhetoric has assumed pointed discursive salience, reflecting and attached to cultural narratives of patriotism, duty, and citizenship; where the ‘call to’ and ‘duty of’ sacrifice has been – and, to an extent, remains – of particular appeal in rural, extractive communities that are too often stigmatized, or othered, within dominant cultural narratives of belonging and citizenship. The paper suggests the expansion of ‘sacrificial’ rhetoric to locations and scales well beyond the U.S., and will also introduce the more recent adoption and cooptation of sacrificial rhetoric by the environmental justice community, where ‘sacrifice’ and living in the ‘sacrifice zone’ have been discursively reconstituted in an (albeit similar, if contraposed) framework of racial marginalization, citizenship, and injustice

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