In today’s world of off-shore tax havens,i quantitative easing,ii high frequency trading,iii and rampant global asset and real estate speculation it seems that a sort of gamified monetary space-race is going on and that it’s advancing with increasing speed. This monetary space-race game is one that is partially defined by both off-shoring and “on-shoring,” by both making assets disappear behind the legal shrouds provided by nation states that profit by providing secrecy to wealthy international clients and conglomerates, and by making virtual assets material in the form of, for example, international real-estate speculation.
But this immaterial/material financial binary is not adequate if we are to identify more comprehensively the space and spaces – the game dynamics – being put to work in service of global finance capital. For example, as but one expression of this monetary space-race, the recent tax haven scandals surrounding Panama’s Mossack Fonseca (which after two weeks of headlines is barely discussed anymore) is not so much about securing or profiting from locating capital in distant geographical spaces – tax-free islands, sandy beaches, and sun-drenched shell-company postal boxes, as it is about taking advantage of new and emerging forms of: 1) interstitial temporal spaces; 2) immaterial or undetectable digital spaces; and / or 3) invisible spaces that, as far as the public is aware, simply do not exist. That is, despite superficial appearances, the new monetary space-race is less about physically off-shoring capital and currency, than it is about staying ahead of the embittered and comparatively impoverished masses and the increasingly indebted governments ever more desperate for funds by hiding, or making invisible, digital money that’s been stored in “the cloud,” on the internet, or on an array of hard-drives. In other words, generating financial distance between wealth and the tax-hungry governments who would love access to it is not achieved through the separation offered by geographical space, but through the creation of new spaces, non-spaces, unknowable spaces that may or may not be physically located in a data-centre or business park next to you in Canada, London, New York,iv or Delaware.v
Like David and Goliath, there is a mismatch between the scale at which environmental impacts are assessed under Canadian legislation and the geographical scale of environmental, human rights and economic risks. The Provincial Government of British Columbia is promoting the development of liquified natural gas (LNG) shipping terminal at the mouth of the Skeena River estuary by Petronas. Based on both cultural attitudes to the environment and scientific research, the proposal and and offer of $1.5B compensation has been rejected by the Lax-Kw’alaams First Nation on whose territory the LNG terminal would be located. Effectively this would be a form of expropriation approved by the Provincial government and is reminiscent of 19th century scrip practices in Canada, by which indigenous individuals were offered rations and money to extinguish their aboriginal rights to land and traditional hunting and gathering. An article published in Science(7 Aug 2015) by Jonathan Moore and others (Moore et al 2015) notes that this estuary is the site of the second-largest salmon-production in Canada, largely by First Nation communities. ‘Although terminal proponents and government have recognized interests of First Nations from the estuary during environmental assessment, they have ignored interests of upriver First Nations who also harvest salmon’ (see Stantec Consulting Ltd. Pacific Northwest LNG Environmental Assessment Certificate Application (Burnaby BC 2014) cited in Moore et al 2015).
‘Identifying the proper spatial scale for environmental decision-making is a fundamental challenge for environmental policy and ethics. Whether it is migratory animals like salmon that transmit impacts, hydro-electric dams that deprive downstream farming communities of water (see Glenn et al 1995 in Biology 10.1175), or carbon emissions from industrialized countries that raise ocean levels and threaten low-lying islands (see Barnett et al 2003 in Climate Change 61, 321), decisions can impact distant ecosystems and people. Science can and should inform the scale at which environmental decision-makers weigh risks to the environment and human rights against potential economic benefits’ (Moore et al 2015)
Review: Active Audience: A New materialistic interpretation of a key concept in cultural studies, Huimin Jin. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag 2012. 179pp.
Why are Chinese scholars interested in active audience theories that hark back to the 1980s and 1990s? In an exchange in Active Audience, David Morley comments to author Huimin Jin, Prime Professor at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing:
“As I understand your argument, you are suggesting that we face a move from a ‘producer society’ to a ‘consumer society’, that the concept of the masses’ (as mobilized in the Frankfurt School’s work) is a characteristic of what you call a producer society and that popular culture is then, conversely, associated with the consumer society. From that premise, if I understand you rightly, you see ‘active audience theory’ as being to do with the extent to which, in this thing called the ‘consumer society’, people have more choices… I think that’s a problematic form of historical periodization and one which is characteristic of a certain type of sociological approach”
Imported in the wake of the reception of British Marxist Cultural Studies of the Birmingham School the core notion of the active audience emphasizes the independence of meaning from any authors intention as texts, images and film are received and reinterpreted in different contexts. Stuart Hall was a key figure in developing an “encoding/decoding model”. The idea comes out of the 1960s social psychology of Raymond Bauer who pitted the “obstinate audience” against simplistic sender-receiver models. On one hand, the active audience is an independent collective which does not respond in a mechanical manner to the explicit messages of mass media but always reflects, comments on and attempts to interpret messages. They “actively” decode messages and meanings. On the other hand, the resistance offered by the active audience has proved a poor buttress against imperial and commercial ambitions.
Jin follows David Morley’s model as a critique of the assumptions of the determinism of technologies and media and the passive, duped audiences often presented by Frankfurt School writers in their critiques of Nazi propaganda. What is most fascinating about the book is its shift away from communication theory to consider the everyday context which shapes the reception of information. In doing so, while carefully following Morley’s lead, the book is genuinely new in its use of Husserl’s phenomenology of the “lifeword” and a Heideggerian approach to being-in-the-world which emphasizes the ways people reflect on their world and make it meaningful for themselves. Jin draws on his broad experience in German intellectual history to move from the discursive, which is generally involves abstract representations, to root the discussion in the real. For me, this everyday reality, spans both the actual here-and-now “concrete” fabric of life and also its “virtual”, intangible elements such as trust, community and society that frame our understanding of communication. This turn to everyday world and away from the pure context of texts or, for example, a television broadcast, reflects Prof. Jin’s status as the preeminent interpreter of Confucius in China today.
The world of matter has been forcefully sculpted in the last several centuries by the twin projects of colonialism and capitalism. The very movement of human activity under modernity has rested on the formation of a standing reserve of nature, a category whose flexibility has variously expanded and contracted to include both humans and non-human others as targets for exploitation and extractive energy. Carbon industries, forestry, mining, agribusiness, construction, mega-farming and fishing participate in worlding the world as mere matter, asserting deep and unforgiving property rights in dispersed territories around the globe. Nevertheless, at each point in this cartography of extraction one finds committed points of resistance and un-ceded terrains, both material and symbolic. This symposium and exhibition asks how the fields of contemporary art and media studies, indigenous studies and resistance movements, critical environmental studies, new ethnography and science and technology studies might bring into focus the globalizing dynamics of extractive ecologies. It seeks to build substantive discursive grounds for resisting incursions into sovereign land, denials of the rights of nature, and the persistent dispossession of indigenous and First Nation peoples. It asks, What un-ceded terrains precede and interrupt the depths of imperial ecologies? What interventions ensure the defense of land, labour, survival and species diversity in the globalized present?
World of Matter is an international art and media project investigating primary materials (fossil, mineral, agrarian, maritime) and the complex ecologies of which they are a part. Participants: Mabe Bethonico, Ursula Biemann, Emily Eliza Scott, Uwe H. Martin & Frauke Huber, Paulo Tavares, Elaine Gan, Peter Mörtenböck & Helge Mooshammer, Lonnie van Brummelen & Siebren de Haan. Visit our multimedia web platform here.
February 20 – April 18, 2015 Organized by Krista Lynes and Michèle Thériault.
In a recent comment in Geoforum, Todd Walton and Wendy S. Shaw pick up on Zizek’s 2010 comment that we are beginning to grieve the loss of environments, the
“relationship between society and the (impending) ‘death of nature’ in the epoch referred to as the ‘Anthropocene’ that includes a specific engagement with the psychological. We ponder on societal death anxiety as a coping mechanism for what is widely perceived to be an era in which ecological catastrophe is imminent and suggest that geographical engagements need to draw more specifically on psychology and psychoanalysis to better understand responses to the Anthropocene, from the individual to the highest levels of governance.”
But this reverses the usual discussion that climate change is to the detriment ultimately of humans. Nature will continue as bios, life, even on a less biodiverse planet. I’m not sure I grieve the death of Nature, unless this is for the loss of a particular ‘settlement’ with an ecological context. Nor am I sure that grief is the best response: presumably future generations will be as canny and adaptable as in the past. Its a bit early to predict the end of the human relation to the environment. Only narcissism and concern for our own privilege seems to fit with grieving. Or, we can grieve the death of a loved one from pollution-induced asthma, of a frog, of a species perhaps, but how to ‘grieve’ for an environment or an ecosystem? ‘Melancholia’ seems a better term than anthropocene grief — perhaps we need a new repertoire of ideas to contemplate the implications of the anthropocene?
What are the theoretical and practical connections that exist between genocide and ecocide? Both terms indicate processes involved in the systematic and rational destruction of particular ways of being-in-the-world. While the physical destruction of bodies and ecologies is starkly visible (think of the piles of bodies at Auschwitz or aerial photos of the Tar Sands) these processes seek to penetrate and to annihilate the essence of life more generally – ontological destruction (Woolford 2009). The violence enacted upon different people and spaces has a lot to do with their relation to the sovereign power of the state – or in the case of ecocidal developments, their relation to multinational corporations that governments so often cater to and collaborate with. In Canada this is evidenced in the way that indigenous people have been displaced from the land, migrant workers are granted temporary status to fill labour demands, and corporations are given huge subsidies.
Genocide and ecocide are not aberrant social phenomena, nor are they carried out by inherently evil people; rather, they exemplify the destructive potential internal to modernity itself and illustrate the human capacity for psychological justification (Martin and Short 2014). Both genocidal action and ecological destruction are implicitly legitimated through public discourses of rational self-interest (jobs, national purity) and through the technological triumphalism that accompanies new capacities for extraction. The outcome of genocidal systems is not just death, but the production of ‘bare life’ – in which apparently ‘living’ bodies are turned into mere husks from which the divine spark of life has been extinguished (Agamben 1998). A similar ontological destruction is also evidenced in the evisceration of vast tracts of nature at a scale heretofore unprecedented in the history of human civilization – the production of ‘bare nature’ (Shields 2012). The connection between the ontological destruction of land and people is all too clear for many indigenous peoples for whom there is no distinction, linguistic or ontological, between people and the land, as both are connected to the same source of creation (Coulthard 2014).
As mass industrial developments like the Tar Sands continue, they require the creation of legal states of exception through zoning practices and legal-economic policies that render millions of acres of land violable bare nature. These projects are a continuation of historic dispossession and genocidal actions that have targeted indigenous peoples for cultural, spiritual and physical annihilation (Patzer 2014). The impact of these colossal developments also contribute to increasingly frequent climate catastrophes that regularly displace tens of thousands of people. As Canada does not recognize the ‘climate refugee’ as a valid legal category, neither does it assume no responsibility for its role in the production of bare life (Walia 2013). The ontological connection between bare life and bare nature characterizes the increasingly pervasive threshold spaces where cultural and natural objects, human and other-than- human subjects are all positioned in precarious relation to each other (Chakrabarty 2009).
Dr. Jobb Arnold is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Affect Project at the University of Manitoba (affectproject.ca).
Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life, Daniel Heller-Roazen (trans.).Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry, 35 (2009): 197-222.
Coulthard, Glen. “From ‘Wards of the State’ to Subjects of Recognition?” pp. 56-99, in Andrea Smith and Audra Simpson (eds.), Theorizing Native Studies. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Crook, Martin and Damien Short. “Marx, Lemkin and the genocide–ecocide nexus.” The International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 18, No. 3 ( 2014): 298-319.
Jeremy Patzer, “Residential School Harm and Colonial Dispossession: What’s the Connection?” pp. 166-189, in Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benvenuto, and Alexander Hinton (Eds.) Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Rob Shields. “Feral suburbs: Cultural topologies of social reproduction, Fort McMurray, Canada.” International Journal of Cultural Studies. Vol. 15, No. 3, (2012): 205-215.
Harsha Walia. Undoing border imperialism. Oakland: AK Press, 2013.
Woolford, Andrew. “Ontological Destruction: Genocide and Canadian Aboriginal Peoples.” Genocide Studies and Prevention Vol. 4, No. 1 (2009): 81–97.