Racialized and gendered toxicity and danger in Indonesia's plantation-lands

Authors: David Gilbert*, University of California, Berkeley
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Plantations, Racism, Toxicity, Indonesia
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The plantation is the definitive capitalist colonial construct of racial injustice. I take an ethnographic approach to exploring current-day plantation laborers' racialized experiences of toxicity and exploitation in one Sumatran plantation-zone. I find that the plantation landscape of late stage rural capitalism depends on a racialized hierarchy, where ways of living and dying in the toxic, dangerous landscape take different forms based on ethnicity and gender. To more fully comprehend this particular manifestation of ecological and social injustice, I take a multi-scalar approach, tracing the differentiated paths that agrichemical molecules and labor practices take to create the plantation's toxicity and danger. I find that agrichemical exposure and effects, and processes of surveillance and discipline, are highly racialized and gendered phenomenon, with ramifications for how modern agricultural commodity chains are understood. In the plantation lands, Malay and indigenous Indonesians mix with Indians, Chinese-Singaporeans, and white Australians and North Americans to present a modern agricultural commodity plantation society where exploitation and well-being are structured along racial divisions, demonstrating the connections of racist violence to the land and environment.

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