Earth-Writing: Institute for South Asia Studies Faculty Workshop

In our time of unprecedented instrumentalization and transformation of earthly and worldly processes, from the scale of the body to the planet, the Earth-Writing Symposium returns to the question of ‘geography’ as the praxis of ‘Earth-writing.’ Attention to the ‘graphia’ in ‘geography’ points us to a variety of forms of writing or inscription with, through or alongside material, earthly or oceanic processes. This one-day symposium convenes an interdisciplinary conversation about these forms of writing in relation to earthly processes, pedagogies, labors and sentiments. Five invited speakers, major scholars in their own right, bring very different sensibilities to Earth-writing: Sumathi Ramaswamy draws on her historical work on colonial and postcolonial geographical imagination and pedagogy in India and beyond; Kath Weston draws on ethnographic writing with intimacies and animacies that emerge in what she calls our “high-tech, ecologically damaged world;” Amita Baviskar draws on her expertise in political ecology and on her work with gardeners in the Presidential gardens in Delhi; Geeta Patel draws on her intimate ecologies of risk and financialization in South Asia and the Indian Ocean world; and Lenore Manderson draws insights from her interdisciplinary art/ humanities/ science curations, ‘Earth, itself.’ A group of early-career Berkeley geographers and anthropologists present from their experiments in Earth-writing. Collectively, this symposium explores how geography as writing remains vital to the possibility of aesthetically novel and rhetorically persuasive critique in our time of walling, border frenzy, segregationist zeal, and socio-environmental crisis.


9:00–9:15 – Sharad Chari: Introduction

Sumathi RamaswamyArtful Walking

Geeta Patel An insignificant captain’s tale: Geopolitics, fiscal posers and colonial governance

Seth DenizenWhere is the earth in the herbarium?
Alex WerthOn Loop: Racial Reverberations at Oakland’s Lake Merritt
Jeff MartinWorldbuilding and storytelling: between ethnography and speculative fictions
Ned DostalerTowards a poetics of sandy thought

12:30–1:15 – Lunch for participants

Amita BaviskarLabouring to Make a Landscape of Power

Kath WestonTerra Infirma: When the Ground Shifts Beneath You

Andrea MarstonBodies of flesh and ore: Deep earth-writing in highland Bolivia
Peter Ekman:Transcripts of an Urban Earth: Walking the Sense of the Past
Alexander Arroyo“To Test an Island”: Laboratories of Empire in the Aleutian Archipelago

Lenore MandersonEarth, Itself: Experiments with writing a warming world

5:15–6:00 – Reception

Invited Speakers
Amita Baviskar is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi. An interdisciplinary sociologist, anthropologist and geographer, Baviskar is a key figure in agrarian and environmental studies, environmental politics, urban environments, and middle class cultural politics as seen from India. She has held appointments at Yale, Stanford and Berkeley (Ciriacy-Wantrup Fellow, 2002-4), and in addition to multiple monographs and edited books, her recent work includes First Garden of the Republic: Nature on the President’s Estate.

Lenore Manderson is a Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology in the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; she is also Visiting Distinguished Professor at the Institute for Environment and Society and Visiting Professor of Anthropology, Brown University; honorary professor at Khon Kaen University, Thailand; and adjunct professor at Monash University. Manderson has made major contributions to anthropology, social history, and public health, and to studies of gender and sexuality, infectious and chronic disease, disability and inequality. Most recently, Manderson curated a set of international art/science collaborations at Brown University and at the University of the Witwatersrand called ‘Earth, itself.’

Geeta Patel is Professor, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia. Apart from her foundational work on nationalism, gender, sexuality, and grief in twentieth-century Urdu poetic movements; she has made contributions to postcolonial, diaspora and subaltern literary history and theory; and has written and translated Sanskrit, Urdu, Hindi, Braj and Awadhi writing; and her recent work brings these currents in relation to histories of science, finance, labor movement and queer life.

Sumathi Ramaswamy is James B. Duke Professor of History and International Comparative Studies at Duke University. A cultural historian of South Asia and the British Empire, Ramaswamy has made important contributions on historical and geographical imaginations of gender, nation and postcolonial loss; visual studies in a colonial and postcolonial frame; and geographical pedagogy in an imperial world. Her key books include The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India (Duke 2010), Empires of Vision (co-edited with Martin Jay, Duke 2014), the digital networked archive of South Asian popular visual culture, Tasveerghar, The Lost Land of Lemuria (California, 2004) and Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe (University of Chicago Press, 2017.)

Kath Weston is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia and former recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship (2011). A key thinker on kinship, gender and sexality, with research in North America, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Weston has been working more recently on the anthropology and political ecology of human-animal and human-environment issues. Her recent book is Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a Hi-Tech, Ecologically Damaged World. Weston is also engaged fundamntally with the art of writing, and is a member of the National Writers Union.

Berkeley Speakers
Alexander Arroyo is a doctoral candidate in Geography at UC Berkeley, working on the technics and politics of American empire in the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Exploring a genealogy of “experimental environments” in the Aleutian archipelago, he will present work on the relation between oceanic modes of inscription and colonial conscription of bodies to overwrite–– or overcode–– fluid milieux in a speculative, geopolitical image.

Seth Denizen is a researcher and design practitioner trained in landscape architecture and evolutionary biology. He is currently completing a PhD in geography at the University of California Berkeley, where his doctoral research investigates the vertical geopolitics of urban soil in Mexico City.

Ned Dostaler, is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. He is currently in the process of developing a project that ethnographically follows the materiality of sand as it mediates life, labor, and capital in a fishing community in coastal Chennai.

Dr. Peter Ekman, is Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. His interests unite histories of urban knowledge, studies of ordinary landscapes, theories of materiality and material culture, concerns with temporality and historiography, and reflections on ruins and ruination, mostly in the U.S. and across the long twentieth century. He is at work on two book manuscripts, one addressed to questions of suburban form and formlessness on the non-elite edges of the Bay Region, the other a hemispheric intellectual history of postwar planning and urbanism routed through one interdisciplinary center housed in Cambridge, Mass.

Andrea Marston is a PhD candidate in the geography department. Her work explores the cultural politics of the subsoil in Bolivia through ethnographic and historical work with geo-scientists and small-scale miners.

Jeff Martin is a PhD candidate in Geography currently writing up dissertation research on wolf-livestock conflict and coexistence efforts in Central Idaho. Their background is in political ecology and economic geography, but they are also deeply interested in more-than-human engagements, speculative fiction, and questions of world-building.

Alex Werth is a writer and DJ whose work cross-fades between the geographies of sound and the sound of geographies. As a doctoral candidate in the Geography Department at UC Berkeley, his research looks at the routine governance of music and dancescapes in Oakland, CA as arenas for the making of racialized dispositions and dispossessions.

Workshop Organizer
Sharad Chari is an Associate Professor in the Geography Department at Berkeley, and is affiliated to the Project on the Oceanic Humanities in the Global South at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER), Johannesburg. He has worked on agrarian and urban capitalism in South India, represented in Fraternal Capital, and on the remains of racial capitalism and struggle in the Indian Ocean city of Durban, in a manuscript called Apartheid Remains. His current work is at the intersection of post-national histories and geographies of capital, Black and subaltern radical traditions, and oceanic studies.

Event made possible with the support of the Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies

Sponsored by the Institute for South Asia Studies, the Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Department of Geography,  the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, and the Alan Dundes Distinguished Chair in Folklore.