Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Anthropocene
Secondary Theme: Materiality
The plantation has been a productive site for anthropological thinking around the relations between land, capital, and labor in the Americas, Asia, and Africa (e.g. Mintz 1985; Besky 2014; Mittman 2017). What does thinking through the past and present of plantations offer anthropological theory amid an anthropocene turn? While earlier scholarship on plantation societies often emphasized the economic transformations that attended the plantation production of such commodities as sugar, latex, and timber, recent work has posed the historical development and spread of plantations as a planetary event. Donna Haraway provocatively proposes the concept of the "plantationocene" to capture the centrality of the plantation in the making of our planetary crisis, and to draw attention to systematic relocations of plants, animals, microbes, and people for extraction (Haraway 2015). We take the proliferation of the suffix “-cene” (anthropocene, capitalocene, homogenocene, and in this case, plantationocene) as an opportunity to shift lenses of examination, making visible different spatial and temporal scales, and generating new ways of approaching the making and unmaking of plantation forms of extraction.
These panels bring diverse geographic, theoretical, and methodological perspectives to bear upon Haraway’s “plantationocene” provocation. Our papers consider both the materiality of the plantation, and the politics and practices that unmake it. We address plantation forms of organizing bodies, space, knowledge, land, plants, and labor both in the present and in historical perspective. We likewise grapple with the theoretical implications of thinking through and against the plantation. For example, Anna Tsing (2015, 37-43) associates the development of plantation agriculture with “scalability”, or the “ability to make projects expand without changing their framing assumptions.” Yet, she also suggests greater attention to eruptions of nonscalable ecologies and economic relations, or what she terms “anti-plantations.” Noting that the plantation has served as a crucial historical rupture and model for later developments in industrial agriculture and factories, we also draw attention to ways in which the plantation and anti-plantation are ongoing, incomplete, and reappearing elements of our age. Collectively, we take the “plantationocene” concept as an opportunity to reinvigorate plantation studies for anthropological theory by thinking with, advancing, reworking, and challenging the concept in relation to earlier forms of thinking the plantation.
Looking through a more-than-human lens, papers in Part I of “The Plantation and the Planet” focus on the materiality of the plantation in the Caribbean, South America, and East Asia. Through archaeological, archival, and ethnographic research, panelists reveal the material relations by which plants, animals, and people make and unmake the plantation across multiple scales. This set of papers also centers questions of historicity and embodiment in discussions around the Plantationocene. The papers ask: How is multiplicity scaled and constrained in efforts to refigure rubber plantations as polycultures in China? How do economic analyses of plantations fail to capture the dynamics of socio-ecological legacies in Antigua? How do new rivers, drifting chemicals, and super-weeds generate different kinds of feedback in Argentina? And, how have cattle played an unexpected role in unmaking the plantation and its legacies in Haiti?