Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Jeff Maskovsky

Committee Members

Jacqueline Nassy Brown

Melissa Checker

Nik Heynen

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Geography | Place and Environment | Science and Technology Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Keywords

Mississippi River Delta, African Americans, Science and Technology, Climate Change, Environmental Restoration, Inequality

Abstract

Based on eighteen months of ethnographic and historical research in southeast coastal Louisiana (USA), this dissertation explores the racial histories, engineering and scientific practices, and geophysical processes that have shaped land loss and coastal restoration in the lower Mississippi River Delta. Rather than treating land loss simply as a natural process or matter of environmental restoration, this ethnography examines its cultural, material, and political dimensions, especially for communities of color that have already experienced long histories of loss — of property, livelihood, and political rights. A focus on the geophysical transformations of the river - dictating land growth, sinking, and movement - shows that past and contemporary unequal and uneven racial geographies are not merely forms of environmental racism shaped by colorblind coastal planning practices. Rather, they form at the nexus of colorblind coastal science, long histories of racial discrimination, and natural forces to produce and reproduce racial inequalities. This dissertation argues that the lower delta landscape is both a laboratory for experiments in environmental engineering for scientists and political autonomy for communities of color. And, more broadly, that natural geologic processes are key actors in the production of racial inequities, particularly as ideas of nature and natural processes are captured and sustained by restoration efforts. Evidence is drawn from ethnographic research interrogating what land loss and protection are and might be, and examining uncertainties about the likelihood of nature-based restoration and planning techniques exacerbating economic and geographic vulnerabilities for communities of color.

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