Politics Beyond the Human / Transit, Injury, and Infrastructure

Epsen Rasmussen

Recent occurrences of natural disasters from earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis in the global south starkly make visible the uneven distribution of human precarity on a planetary scale. As the transnational transit of goods, information, and people continues to reshape our notions of global humanity and community, climate change imposes limits upon their very possibility. In what ways, then, might we think climate change with reference to political notions of precarity, and how might we frame it within broader histories of coloniality? In his 2012 essay, “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change,” Dipesh Chakrabarty suggests that the recognition “that humans are acting like a geophysical force” poses the necessity of thinking of “human agency over multiple and incommensurable scales at once.” Humans can be conceptualized not merely as (potential) rights-bearing agents and as precarious, displaced collectivities, but also as beings caught up in, and undone by, the “nonhuman-human agency” of the weather. Aura Bogado’s essay on Typhoon Haiyan suggests ways of understanding this “being caught up in the weather” that makes it appear as a mode of coloniality: Bogado insists that the global north owes a “climate debt” to the global south, given the last century of emissions that have emanated from imperial centers, and given the legacy of colonialism in rendering populations and infrastructures in the global south more vulnerable to nature’s calamities. What politics or problematics could begin to address such climate debt, and such conditions and histories of unevenly distributed vulnerability?

Readings:

Aura Bogado, “Typhoon Haiyan: The Global Poor Bear the Deadly Brunt of Climate Change,” The Nation (November 12, 2013).

Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change,” New Literary History, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Winter 2012), pp. 1-18.

Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, “Precarity as a Political Concept, or, Fordism as Exception,” Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 25 (2008), pp. 51-72.

In the series following-up from last Fall’s Forms of Survival and the Politics of Vulnerability, Politics Beyond the Human continues to address notions of survival and how survival can act as a license to force and at other times a basis for resistance. Politics Beyond the Human expands the scope of inquiry to include discussions of the nonhuman world. The workshop is developed and led by Michelle Ty (PhD candidate English, Designated Emphasis Critical Theory).