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Rob Nixon
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    “Slow violence” from climate change, toxic drift, deforestation, oil spills, and the environmental aftermath of war takes place gradually and often invisibly. Rob Nixon focuses on the inattention we have paid to the lethality of many environmental crises, in contrast with the sensational, spectacle-driven messaging that impels public activism today.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06119-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science, Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XVI)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-44)

    When Lawrence Summers, then president of the World Bank, advocated that the bank develop a scheme to export rich nation garbage, toxic waste, and heavily polluting industries to Africa, he did so in the calm voice of global managerial reasoning.¹ Such a scheme, Summers elaborated, would help correct an inefficient global imbalance in toxicity. Underlying his plan is an overlooked but crucial subsidiary benefit that he outlined: offloading rich-nation toxins onto the world’s poorest continent would help ease the growing pressure from rich-nation environmentalists who were campaigning against garbage dumps and industrial effluent that they condemned as health threats and...

  5. 1 Slow Violence, Neoliberalism, and the Environmental Picaresque
    (pp. 45-67)

    A quarter century ago, Raymond Williams called for more novels that attend to “the close living substance” of the local while simultaneously tracing the “occluded relationships”—the vast transnational economic pressures, the labor and commodity dynamics—that invisibly shape the local.¹ To hazard such novels poses imaginative challenges of a kind that writers content to create what Williams termed “enclosed fictions” need never face, among them the challenge of rendering visible occluded, sprawling webs of interconnectedness. In our age of expanding and accelerating globalization, this particular imaginative difficulty has been cast primarily in spatial terms, as exemplified by John Berger’s...

  6. 2 Fast-forward Fossil: Petro-despotism and the Resource Curse
    (pp. 68-102)

    If the twentieth century has been declared, by turns, the American Century and the Century of Oil, it is by now manifest that the twenty-first century will be known as neither.¹ We are heading toward a multipolar global order that will depend for its survival on belated—and therefore evermore desperate—responses to uncertain petroleum reserves and mounting climate change. American hegemony has already peaked and (whatever the squabbles over the most likely date) peak oil will follow, ending the dreams of unfettered oil-powered growth that have become inseparable from petroleum’s incendiary geopolitics.

    In this interregnum between energy regimes, we...

  7. 3 Pipedreams: Ken Saro-Wiwa, Environmental Justice, and Micro-minority Rights
    (pp. 103-127)

    Ken Saro-Wiwa squints at us from the cover of his Nigerian detention diary, the posthumous A Month and a Day.¹ His moustache looks precise and trim; his eyes are alight; a gash scrawls across his temple. But it is his pipe that governs the picture. It is an intellectual’s accessory, a good pipe to suck and clench, to spew from and lecture with. Saro-Wiwa had expected tobacco to kill him: “I know that I am a mortuary candidate. But I intend to head for the mortuary with my pipe smoking.”² In the end, it was the other pipes that got...

  8. 4 Slow Violence, Gender, and the Environmentalism of the Poor
    (pp. 128-149)

    Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, cofounded by Wangari Maathai, serves as an animating instance of environmental activism among poor communities who have mobilized against slow violence, in this case, the gradual violence of deforestation and soil erosion. At the heart of the movement’s activism stand these urgent questions: What does it mean to be at risk? What does it mean to be secure? In an era when sustainability has become a buzzword, what are the preconditions for what I would call “sustainable security”? And in seeking to advance that elusive goal, how can Maathai as a writer-activist working in conjunction with...

  9. 5 Unimagined Communities: Megadams, Monumental Modernity, and Developmental Refugees
    (pp. 150-174)

    If the idea of the modern nation-state is sustained by producing imagined communities, it also involves actively producing unimagined communities. I refer here not to those communities that lie beyond the national boundaries but rather to those unimagined communities internal to the space of the nation-state, communities whose vigorously unimagined condition becomes indispensable to maintaining a highly selective discourse of national development. Narratives of national development are partial narratives that depend on energetically inculcated habits of imaginative limit, habits that hide from view communities that inconvenience or disturb the implied trajectory of unitary national ascent. Assaults on a nation’s environmental...

  10. 6 Stranger in the Eco-village: Race, Tourism, and Environmental Time
    (pp. 175-198)

    Anna Tsing, one of our most incisive thinkers about globalization and the environment, may be writing here about Indonesia, but her insights can be productively adapted to South Africa, where the segregations of humans from nonhumans have long been implicated in the violent segregations of humans from humans. South Africa’s traumatic history of colonial conquest, land theft, racial partition, and racist conservation places particular pressure on those conservation biologists, political ecologists, writers, and activists committed to reimagining, during the postapartheid era, their society’s inherited cultures of nature.¹

    This transformative task is rendered more urgent by South Africa’s rare environmental significance:...

  11. 7 Ecologies of the Aftermath: Precision Warfare and Slow Violence
    (pp. 199-232)

    What is a war casualty? The answer appears painfully obvious. It asserts itself less through argument than through visceral photographs: a torso shredded by a roadside bomb; a bloodied peasant spread-eagled in a ditch; a soldier, cigarette dangling nonchalantly, crashing his boot into a dead woman’s head. Yet such images account only for immediate, visually arresting fatalities. What about those casualties that don’t fit the photographic stereotypes, casualties that occur long after major combat has been concluded, casualties whose belatedness and dispersal make them resistant to dramatic packaging? The media, in thrall to speed and spectacle, lacks the attention span...

  12. 8 Environmentalism, Postcolonialism, and American Studies
    (pp. 233-262)

    What would it mean to bring environmentalism into a full, productive dialogue with postcolonialism? These two fields have emerged in recent decades as among the most dynamic areas in literary studies, yet their relationship has been, until very recently, dominated by reciprocal indifference or mistrust. Unlike many initiatives within literary studies (reader response theory, say, or deconstruction), environmental studies and postcolonial studies have both exhibited an often-activist dimension that connects their priorities to movements for social change. Yet for the most part, a broad silence has characterized environmentalists’ stance toward postcolonial literature and theory while postcolonial critics have typically been...

  13. Epilogue: Scenes from the Seabed: The Future of Dissent
    (pp. 263-280)

    The island of Atlantis, according to Plato, vanished into the ocean “in a single day and night of misfortune.”¹ The engulfment threatening the Maldive Islands is nothing as unambiguously instantaneous as that. The Maldives face an incremental threat from rising, warming oceans, a threat difficult to dramatize and even harder to arrest—a form of slow violence that is rapid in geological terms but (unlike a tsunami) not fast enough to constitute breaking news. In an effort to infuse dramatic urgency into this incremental crisis, the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, held an extraordinary underwater cabinet meeting in diving...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 283-338)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 339-342)
  16. Index
    (pp. 343-353)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 354-354)