RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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210 Geographies of Lively Capital (1)
Convenor(s) Maan Barua (University of Cambridge, UK)
Elizabeth Johnson (Durham University, UK)
Chair(s) Maan Barua (University of Cambridge, UK)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Glamorgan Building - Seminar Room 0.86
Session abstract This session is concerned with how nonhuman life circulates as a constitutive element of the economy. For over two decades, geographic scholarship has worked to bring nonhuman life and non-living materials in from the margins of thought. A simultaneous explosion of commercial research and investment in the life sciences suggests a parallel within the global economy, as ‘life itself’ has become a locus of capitalist accumulation. This has arguably resulted in the onset of a new political economic era in which economic relations increasingly intensify and proliferate biological capacities to create, innovate, and produce. Witnessed in a number of spheres – from harnessing living potentials as a speculative source of surplus value (Cooper 2011), to the capture and reconfiguration of nonhuman bodies as ‘lively capital’ (Haraway 2008) – these economic trends have had troubling effects on the self-evidence of economic categories and political economic organization.

Whilst there has been a long-standing geographical interest in charting the ecological and corporeal consequences of capitalism (cf. Smith 2010, Guthman 2011), their emphasis is often on dissecting the logics of capital rather than the innovative potentials of nature (Braun 2015). Only recently geographers have begun to rethink the scope and ambit of political ecology/economy, drawing upon both structural approaches and posthumanist thought to question staple political and economic categories (Johnson2017), including labour (Barua 2017), commodities (Collard and Dempsey 2013), resource extraction (Labban 2014), and capital (Shukin 2009). What this work seeks to argue is that nature is not simply a recalcitrant or uncooperative force unsettling the logics of capital, but as a constitutive element forging the economic from the outset. Capital is indeed ‘lively’: both harnessing or troubled by the agentic potentials of the nonhuman, and drawing those potentials into its fold in ever-expanding rounds of enclosure and accumulation (Rajan 2012; Goldstein & Johnson 2015).

To this end, we are interested in papers that bring together recent work in geography and cognate disciplines to articulate the dynamics of ‘lively capital’ in ways that redefine our understandings of space, place, ecology, and even landscape. We are especially interested in picking apart (1) how the forces and materiality of nature makes a difference to capitalist logics; (2) the specific mode, rendition and production of value-generating life; (3) how these lively economies reinforce and rework categorical relations between human and nonhuman life.
Linked Sessions Geographies of Lively Capital (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Buffaloes and toxic waste: non-human value production in the wastelands of Campania
Laszlo Cseke (Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy)
In 1787 Johann Wolfgang Goethe travelled across Campania region, along the “rough and muddy roads toward some beautifully formed mountains”, and he noted that “we crossed brooks and flooded places and came upon buffalo that looked like hippopotami”. This noble landscape with its roaming buffaloes has gradually disappeared during the 20th century. Although the hinterland of Naples has become extremely polluted over the last three decades due to illegal toxic waste dumping and burning, it still remains one of the main producers of the internationally renowned buffalo mozzarella, a product of both humans and non-human lives. The coexistence of the poisoned land and polluted human and non-human bodies, and at the same time, the popularity of the local buffalo mozzarella, the ‘white gold’ of Campania is striking.

Although the issue of pollution in animal products is part of both popular and academic discourses, the non-human producers, buffaloes, whose lives generate value, are often absent or silenced in those debates. This paper asks what kind of regulations, technologies and informal practices aim to separate those two worlds, on one hand, the severely polluted wastelands, on the other hand, the buffaloes and the mozzarella factories that ship their products to affluent consumers overseas. I argue that although the specific techniques and regulations make it possible to produce mozzarella in the region (and at the same time, the silent dumping of industrial waste), they fail to provide protection to animal and marginalized human lives, and reinforce categorical separations such as human/non-human and waste/value.
Circulations of Caviar: The Geopolitical Ecology of Sturgeon and their ‘Black Gold.’
Hannah Dickinson (University of Sheffield, UK)
The circulation of commodities is an on going focus of work in Geography that seeks to ‘Follow the Thing’ (Cook, 2004; Cook & Harrison, 2007; Lepawsky & Mather, 2011; Hulme, 2017) and ‘de-fetishize’ commodities by tracing and revealing the hidden ‘social lives’ embedded at each stage of the commodities’ circulatory journeys’: from production to final consumption and/or disposal. This body of work paved the way for geographical explications of how commodities circulate, move, and interact with humans in an increasingly globalized world. Yet ‘Follow-the-Thing’ scholars have typically paid scant attention to how the commodities with which they engage, are enrolled as both subjects, and importantly, co-constitutive actors of Geopolitics. Moreover, whilst Geopolitical scholarship has extensively engaged with questions of human circulation (Hyndman, 1997, 2000, 2012; Mountz, 2010; Squire, 2010), and the ‘more-than-human’ in terms of circulating capital (Harvey, 1985), such scholarship has exhibited a relative lack of attention to the Geopolitics associated with, and forged by, the circulation of ‘lively capital’ and ‘lively commodities.’ This paper, based upon preliminary PhD fieldwork and analysis, seeks to bridge the identified gaps and contribute to the burgeoning literature on ‘Geopolitical Ecology’ (Bigger & Neimark, 2017).

Specifically, the paper will take as its focus, the circulations of a luxury natural commodity – caviar, that is traded both legally and illegally on a global scale. The paper will outline how the scarcity of sturgeon and the very material properties of their caviar, are constitutive of unique economic, ecological and geopolitical formations; thereby recognising and drawing attention to the overlooked ‘agentic capacities’ of sturgeon.

The Role of Nonhumans in Primitive Accumulation: Metabolism, Labor, and the Limits of Capitalism in Colonial Central India
Daniel Read (University of Georgia, USA)
In this paper, I use archival research to examine the role of nonhumans in defining the shifting limits of primitive accumulation in colonial central India. Whereas Neil Smith’s (2008) theory of ‘seesaw’ effects presents a formal account of the uneven spatial distribution of capital accumulation, it largely ignores how the materiality of ‘raw materials,’ or nonhumans more broadly, relates to these effects in specific cases (Guthman 2011). Bringing together Marx’s notion of metabolism (Foster 2000) with more-than-human understandings of nonhuman labor (Barua 2017), I focus on the relationship between shifting cultivation and the plant-soil feedbacks (Ehrenfeld et al. 2005) of teak trees (Tectona grandis). I argue that these relationships helped define the ‘inside and outside’ of capitalism (Hall 2012) as it spread through colonial forestry across the highlands of central India, separating direct producers from the means of production and holding the latter as private property. In doing so, I build on Guthman’s (2011) exploration of how nonhuman labor relates to bodies and capital accumulation by arguing that primitive accumulation not only produces metabolic rifts, but is in fact shaped by the metabolism of mutually constitutive nonhuman laborings.