Race, Space, And Nature

Institution(s): Northeastern

Discipline(s): History

Faculty Member(s): Nicholas Brown

Keyword(s): Democracy, Diversity, Social Justice

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Drawing from environmental history, cultural geography, political ecology, and critical ethnic studies, this interdisciplinary graduate seminar explores the deep entanglements of race, space, and nature. Through a series of readings and discussions we will consider how historically specific concepts of race and nature “work together” (Moore et al.) to wield power and naturalize social hierarchies. We will also examine the geographical manifestations and material consequences of these evolving concepts. This seminar consists of two related parts. The first half of the semester will focus on race and space, particularly how processes of racial formation are entwined with the production of space, and also how the “visceral experience” of racism (Coates) is lived through space. George Lipsitz describes this nexus as “the spatialization of race and the racialization of space.” Readings include: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds, Rashad Shabazz, Spatializing Blackness, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag. The second half of the semester will focus on race and nature. We will consider how ideas about nature function vis- à-vis ongoing processes of racial formation and settler colonialism, and also how these ideas serve as the ontological foundation for claims about human difference. Essentialist ideas that invoke an external and universal nature depoliticize and dehistoricize what is in fact highly contested terrain. Environmental historian Donald Worster’s observation that the “Is of nature” often translates to the “Ought of man,” highlights the moral dimensions of nature as a concept. Focusing on the politics of nature, this seminar will identify the fields of power upon which this translation occurs in order to better appreciate how ideas about nature intersect with and amplify social differences, and also how the “Is of nature” marks certain bodies and places as polluted and others as pure. Readings include: Jake Kosek’s Understories, Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces, Mark Spence’s Dispossessing the Wilderness, and Lauret Savoy’s Trace.