World-Ecology and Hydrapolitics: Interlocking Oppressions in an age of Exhaustion
Climates of Crisis: Life, Power and Planetary Justice in the Capitalocene, Binghamton University, February 8th 2020
At a decisive moment in the argument of Capitalism and the Web of Life, Jason Moore offers two provocations. First, in a discussion of the question of whether the crises we are currently living through are developmental crises of historical capitalism, or, whether they are epochal crises, Moore observes “This book does not reconstruct the narrative [of the history of crises] because I do not think we know —yet!— how to reconstruct the narrative in a way that recognizes the double internality of capitalism-in-nature / nature-in-capitalism.” ( 120). No doubt what world-ecology places on the agenda here is the invention of a new genre of social scientific historiography. The problems of historical representation entailed in such a reconstruction are certainly grave enough. But they are only compounded by the fact that the distinction between developmental crises and epochal crises today is no mere empirical matter but eminently one of class politics. This is the second provocation. Moore reminds us that “it is much easier to celebrate the class struggle than to analyze it.” (287) Or to intervene in it, I would add, or organize for it. So an obvious question arises: What is the relationship of world-ecological analysis to praxis? In order to interrogate the representational dilemmas we then confront, I begin with Jacques Ranciere’s critique of social scientific historiography as inaugurated by the Annales school. This critique, published as The Names of History, is pertinent for several reasons. The historiographical Copernican revolution between the elitist histories of the deeds of Great Men and the new social science of mentalities and structures that Ranciere interrogates includes, of course, Braudel’s historiography of the longue durée. But Ranciere mobilizes his critique in the name of histories from below more generally. So this critique enables me to probe the question of how to think of historiography’s conscription by class politics. Lastly, in tracing the persistence of narrative across the divide separating elitist Great Man historical literature and critical historical social science, Ranciere’s critique opens one door onto the question of the meanings of events as it persists in world-ecology’s ambition to invent a historiography for the capitalocene. Ranciere challenges Braudel’s famous dictum, “events are dust”, on three grounds. First, he reminds us that the very concept of history, as “a regime of truth”, whether as elite literature or democratic social science, is “susceptible to only one type of architecture, always the same one —a series of events happens to such and such a subject.” Secondly, historical knowledge is tied, for Ranciere, irreducibly to the word, whether of specific historical actors or of historians themselves, despite any and all artefacts, statistical data and measurements that may be mobilized in constructing an argument. Thirdly, he notes that critical social history, in breaking with elitist historical literature, is able to nevertheless remain historical knowledge through three “contracts” between historians and their reading publics: The first is a scientific contract which authorizes the discovery of latent order behind appearances. The second is a narrative contract through which the latent order of historical discovery and explanation is still communicated and told as a story. The third is a political contract which “ties what is invisible in science and what is readable in narration to the contradictory constraints of the ages of masses —of the great regularities of common law and the great tumults of democracy, of revolutions and counterrevolutions, of the hidden secret of the multitudes and the narration of a common history readable and teachable to all.” (p. 9). Ranciere’s interrogation of the Copernican revolution inaugurated by Braudel and the Annalists then does not, in postmodern fashion, claim to unmask critical social history as actually really fiction. Rather, his point is to insist that the persistence of narrative in histories of social geography and the tether of historical knowledge to the communicable word imposes the problem of the form of events and their meaning for subjects even when both subjects and events are written off as dust. I will suggest below that Ranciere’s critique brings to light that critical social historiography has as its formal principle contradiction: not logical contradiction but rather eco-historical contradiction. But before I pursue this point further, it will be useful to note some other details as well as some limits of Ranciere’s critique. Ranciere analyzes the persistence of narrative in Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip the II specifically in order to make three points. The first is to distinguish this critical historiography from that founded upon a theoretical tradition Ranciere calls royal-empiricism which he traces down from Hobbes and Burke. In marginalizing the popular voices of the poor as a source of knowledge in its campaign against illegitimacy and sedition, royal-empiricism silences them altogether. Does not Braudel’s historical sociology approximate —if not draw outright from— this older historical genre? So how can Braudelian historical sociology be different, if it can? The persistence of narrative in Braudel’s historiography, Ranciere argues, does allow for another possibility since narrative always projects the structural position of characters who are agents in the telling of events. This is Ranciere’s second point. He traces the continuity of this model in the poetics of historical knowledge from Tacitus’ staging of the soldier Percennius’ voice in his account of the mutiny of the legions of Pannonia. Percennius’ voice is excluded from this account since Tacitus speaks for him but in doing so, Ranciere argues, includes subaltern voice and agency in the rules of the genre. Both the social scientific authority and the political force of Braudel’s discourse remains tied together by the ties of his discourse to narrative. But for our purposes here, Ranciere’s critique is limited in ways worth noting. Ranciere remains uninterested in the world-ecological project of breaking free of the binary logic that reifies nature and capitalism. Moreover, Ranciere, connects historical knowledge inextricably with the word; whether in speech, in the archives, or the in retelling. Why limit ourselves to speech and writing, though, when it is a question of the communicability of historical knowledge that is at stake here? As Harold A. Innis, another economic historian, asked, why not the whole intermedia ecology? Since film, video, photography, artefacts of all kinds, music, poetry, song, architecture are all sources and belong to the contingently limited archive of factual evidence and since historical knowledge becomes popular culture and public memory and political ideology through all these media? With these considerations in place, let us then take a closer look at the representational problems posed by the world-ecological project of inventing some dialectical escape hatch from the binarism of nature or capitalism. In taking things further than Braudel was able to do, everything turns, Moore tells us, on the metabolism of labour-power and the endurance of crises in the planetary web of life. Consequently, Capitalism and the Web of Life presents us with four channels of crisis formation that bring into play the role of under-production crises. For the sake of time, I won’t rehearse these four channels here but only note that it is precisely the transformations of any given crisis into yet other ones that demand theorization —especially if we want to grasp them not as a convergence of different crises but as “manifold forms of crisis emanating from a singular civilizational project: the law of value as a law of Cheap Nature (298)”. The representational problem at hand then has to do with the tangled relationships between the historical-socio-ecological contradictions that manifest themselves as these mutating crises. Historical-socio-ecological contradictions are not reducible to logical contradictions. Rather, they are lived, endure over time, are embodied as much as they are phantasmatic or prosthetic, are as affective as they are meaningful or visible and in these ways present representational challenges of the severest kinds. This is especially the case when one includes the subjective and cultural dimensions of these crises —everything from mental illness, anxiety, addiction and rage and their relationship to the political dimensions of crises: racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, and populism, etc. The paradigmatic cultural political question here has to do with the politics of representation: How is it that exhaustion and its accumulated violence becomes ideologically mystified as private and personal problems? Some crises are invented out of thin air and pumped up into full-blown moral panics while other crises are rendered invisible and privatized into radically insoluble personal problems. But such cultural politics of representation are also crucial dimensions of class politics, indeed, cultural politics are media through which class politics is fought. Here the political question of how crises are represented turns itself inside out and provokes a crisis of representation in another way as well. For the political question of how we name and identify the agencies now deepening the crises we are living through but even more so the agencies resisting the train wreck has proven to be a complicated matter to say the least. Given these circumstances, the lesson I want to pull from Ranciere’s critique is a suggestion that the best way to handle this crisis of representation is in narrative terms. To this end, building on Wallerstein, Quijano, Federici and others’ insights that we theorize class relations in terms of contradictions of the colonial ecology of labour-power, and Etienne Balibar’s argument that there are only ever classes for themselves, I propose that it might be helpful to think of class politics from below in terms of social contradictions between two characters, the subaltern and the multitude, which as allegorical narrative characters include and multiply the social-ecological contradiction between labour-power and capital through the telling of stories of interlocking oppressions. Crucial to this proposition is the broad relevance of Ranajit Guha’s concept of the “autonomous domain of subaltern politics”everywhere. For we are then able to intervene in the distance as well as in the debate between the environmental justice literature and the autonomous Marxist literature by observing that these two concepts of class politics from below, the subaltern and the multitude, in order for each to be adequate to their Ideas, imply each other without being reducible to each other. Both concepts refer to the collective agency of politics involving either the defence or regeneration of some commons. While the concept of the subaltern highlights differential hierarchy and relative subordination, the concept of the multitude emphasizes our contemporary and expansive problematic of the commons which now includes literally everything. Rethinking class politics from below in terms of the problematic of the commons, as hydrapolitics, then allows us to represent key aspects of the intermediation of living labour-power by the planetary ecology and by historical capitalism. As many have noted, all commons are contradictory. Silvia Federici’s argument that capitalism constructs women’s fertility as a commons perhaps points to a paradigmatic instance of the political alienation of socio-ecological cooperation that embeds commons in contradictions of power. But this is where differences matter. Commons to be some commons must also be determinate and specific. Every commons exists only insofar as it belongs to an intermedia ecology that differentiates it from every other commons by the social division of living labour, by boundaries of ecosystems, and by the historical topologies of dead labour and its specific urban or infrastructural techno-terraforms. All kinds of social, cultural, political differences such as those between languages, formal or informal sector employment, rural or urban life, identity, education, professionalization is therefore decisive. Unlike the class of proprietors, this universal class cannot sell off its particularities and achieve universality in and through the money form of capital. Each character, whether multitude or subaltern, thus names the non-identity of the other character with itself and it is this allegorically dialectical naming that differentiates, theoretically, the autonomy of a hydra-politics from below from the instrumental reach of Herculean biopower. I have been suggesting here that the representational crisis provoked by the challenge of “double internality” cannot be solved either purely epistemologically or methodologically. Rather, historical knowledge regarding the oikeios and its exhaustion needs to let itself get covered with the dust of events and connect with praxis. Today, the Herculean project of proprietors may be rife with antagonisms between “business as usual” and green capitalism but these factions are nevertheless allies in governing through varying degrees of local austerity. The terrain of political hegemony has therefore come to be structured, I argue, in terms of an imaginary opposition but a deeper social-symbolic connection through the commodity form of value between green passive revolution and fascism redux as the world-ecological crises of the capitalocene continue to deepen. In such a context, the difference between a hydrapolitics of social justice and fascism redux turns ever more crucially on the sympoietic regeneration of the web of life. World-ecology helps the domain of praxis understand why Herculean proprietorial power cannot regenerate the web of life sympoietically on a universal, planetary scale and why sympoietic regeneration of the web of life has to be central to socialist politics.
Molecular Media for Capital Sequestration: Interlocking Oppressions and Just Transitions
Energy and Environmental Justice, ICTA, Autonomous University of Barcelona, October 22nd, 2019
I live and work in the province of Alberta in Canada where as you know the Athabasca Tar Sands are located and where we have recently elected a conservative government captive to the oil industry’s interests that is committed to expand bitumen extraction. To this end, this government has recently established what they call a “war room” with a budget of $30 million to fight what they say are foreign interests meddling in the lives of Albertans. While the situation here is nowhere near as appalling as elsewhere in the world where frontline environmental activists are being murdered and disappeared and are facing other forms of state and paramilitary violence, the intimidation and harassment of both activists and elected officials has ramped up in Canada, especially after the price of oil collapsed in 2014. With our new government summarily dismissing my university’s board of governors this summer and replacing them with their loyal servants, a palpable chill has descended across my campus with regard to energy transition, climate action and other environmental politics as middling administrators try to keep their heads down. Given that the dominant green transition and climate action plans adopted by governments and civil society institutions, including the emerging politics of a Green New Deal in Canada, all continue to assume the path of change runs very narrowly through the existing political economy and rest their hope in the invention of new green commodities, I argue that our current conjuncture is best understood, politically, as a situation which presents us with a false choice between “green passive revolution” and “fascism redux” where it is not at all clear which of these is Plan A and which is Plan B for the continued rule of capital in deep crisis, as both options feed and draw upon each other. “Passive revolution”, you will recall, is Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) name for crisis management strategies which promise radical transformation but leave class power relations intact. In this paper, I will try to explain why and how I have found this way of theorizing our conjuncture helpful for my research in both Canada and South Asia. While I expect this way of thinking about dominant political imaginaries might be relevant elsewhere, I am very eager to hear from you whether or not this might be so. I will also try to draw some conclusions about what intermedia theory, as assembled from this research, might be able to contribute to the possible, yet still hoped for, alliance between degrowth theory and the praxes of the environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous. (Akbulut et al. 2019)
In Canada, then, green passive revolution does not work through the “cult of wilderness” or the “gospel of eco-efficiency” directly. (Anguelovski and Alier 2014) Rather, the ideological discourses of climate denialism and of “ethical oil” mediates the green position enabling both the cult of wilderness and eco-modernism to appear as radical and urgent and so represses the environmentalism of the poor beyond the limits of the political imaginary completely. Since this operation bears upon how we might understand why the literature on environmental justice and the environmentalism of the poor has a crucially important role to play in the growing scholarship on the theme of energy justice, let me unpack this point with a specific example.
A few weeks ago, the director of the Canadian chapter of Amnesty International published an open letter expressing concern that the Alberta government’s “war room” puts human rights at risk. Our Premier then published a response in newspapers across Canada which re-launched the discourse of ethical oil with surgical precision:
When you look around the world and see the rise of authoritarian governments, civil war, human trafficking, genocide, and other gross violations of human rights, it must be a tall order to find something, anything to denounce here in our gelid but placid Dominion.
You see your colleagues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia standing up to a government that “severely restrict[s] the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly” and “extrajudicially executed” and dismembered a prominent journalist (those are all quotes from the AI country profile).
You see your counterparts in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela facing a regime under which “hundreds of people were arbitrarily detained” amid “reports of torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence against demonstrators” . . .
You see your confrères in Russia fighting “further restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” . . .
You get the drift, so I will cut to the chase:
There was a reason I singled Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela for comparison. They – along with Iran – would be major beneficiaries of a moratorium on Canadian oil production. No one will cheer your letter harder than Vladimir Putin, the Houses of Saud and Al Thani, the caudillo Nicolás Maduro, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. OPEC’s oleo-gopolists will be chuckling from their gilded palaces at your naïveté. . .
. . . When I joined Amnesty International, it was because you fought for prisoners of conscience in dictatorial regimes. Today, you are fighting on the side of foreign billionaires trying to shut down an industry on which hundreds of thousands of hard-working men and women depend.
Edmonton Journal, September 14th, 2019
The Premier does not miss the opportunity to observe that Alberta’s oil industry has been an “engine of social progress for people of all education levels from across the country, including women, new Canadians, and Indigenous peoples” and that Alberta will be at the leading edge of tackling the global challenge of climate change by “developing and exporting new technology and our cleaner natural resources, especially natural gas, to displace the coal-fired electricity in the world’s largest and dirtiest emitters” and so accomplish far more in addressing climate change than any moratorium could ever hope to achieve.
In doing so, moreover, this government has announced the establishment of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation with access to $1billion in working capital secured by the government that “dozens of First Nations inside and outside Alberta” the Premier claims, “are eager to access.” Indeed such strategies of cooptation and assimilation continue to split indigenous communities and feed processes of class formation within them as there are now at least four consortia of First Nations bidding for a major stake in the expected privatization of the Trans Mountain pipeline. But this rhetoric casts these tactics as the moral imperative of Truth and Reconciliation. Even though indigenous communities and their social movement organizations continue to resist colonial oppression, environmental racism and development dispossession, this is mere puppetry according to the Premier, as we are all now apparently postcolonial. In this green passive revolution, we are thus given a just transition led through the continued extraction of just oil.
The appeal to justice, indeed this populist appeal to social justice in this rhetoric—and nothing cuts as sharply in Canada as the reminder that the “existential threat” we are facing is “backed by American billionaires”— makes clear that justice is always a matter of politics. Not only must justice be done, and also be seen to be done, but for justice to be at all, justice must be demanded just as this rhetoric demands it. This irreducibly political aspect of justice — especially consequential and deontological justice— is for me the reason why research responding theoretically to the political praxis of the environmentalism of the poor, research oriented by the political praxis of environmental justice movements remains ever so critical to the emergent paradigm of energy justice research. There is, of course, no harm in scholars searching for more clear and distinct concepts of justice. (Sovacool and Dworkin 2015) But scholarly prescriptions that do not bear witness to energy injustices and thereby repress what Ranajit Guha (1982) theorized as the “autonomous domain of subaltern politics” are already coopted by the project of green passive revolution and fascism redux. Guha’s original formulation of this historiographical concept insisted on the historical actuality of a domain of subaltern politics independent of the elite politics of the Raj and of anti-colonial nationalist resistance. With regard to our understanding of colonialism in the subcontinent, Guha was arguing against the historiographical erasure of a ‘politics of the people’; such subaltern politics ‘neither originated from elite politics, nor did its existence depend on the latter’ and so it constituted an autonomous domain of political agency and insurrection that Guha was concerned with writing into the historical record.
My current research in a project called Feminist Energy Futures: Powershift and Environmental Justice with my colleague Dr. Sheena Wilson takes this structural repression of autonomous domains of subaltern politics as our point of departure. One of our main goals is to create a feminist communication platform and process —what I call “molecular media”— that both documents and enables the resonance of feminist-allied renewable energy democracy and energy justice activism informed by what Sheena Wilson calls “deep energy literacy.” (2018)
Even though we have just barely begun to do the analysis, the interviews we have done so far with activists, program officers with the City of Edmonton’s climate change directorate, and renewable energy technology engineers at the University of Alberta suggest that they can be all over the map with the regard to a green political imaginary structured in terms of the cult of wilderness, eco-modernism and the environmentalism of the poor. Consider, for example:
Andrea Linsky, Senior Environmental Project Manager, City of Edmonton
Jonathan Banks, Director of Geothermal Energy Research, University of Alberta
But these are not mere ideological tensions. Content or frame analysis, thematic and even rhetorical readings only get us so far. When you consider them in their conjunctural context, as our research aims to do, such ideological slippages and tensions are symptoms of social and political contradictions. As Dengler and Seebacker note, contradictions of representation are “permanent and insurmountable”. (2019: 251) As this has been the crucial point of departure for intermedia theory (and its endeavour to invent something like a post-Western Marxist dialectic even if it will inevitably fail in this endeavour as one might expect of any kind of Utopian reasoning) I want to outline why this might also be important for any alliance between degrowth theory and environmental justice praxis.
Let us first consider a brief excerpt from our interview with an elder from the Cree community of Bigstone in northern Alberta.
Albert Yellowknee, elder, Bigstone Cree Nation
The point I want to make about Albert Yellowknee’s story, about the values that it articulates, the relationships to other living beings it both presumes and implies, and the relationship between the past and the future that it communicates is that all this is rendered ontologically impossible by the accumulated violence of interlocking oppressions artfully manipulated by the conjunctural power formation underpinning green passive revolution-fascism redux. Many prominent ethnographic approaches would frame Yellowknee’s story as the construction of a world that is ontologically different from, say, that of the Premier of Alberta. The signal importance of the research being carried out in the environmental justice tradition and in solidarity with the environmentalism of the poor then is its capacity to witness, theoretically, ethnographically, documentarily and hermeneutically the accumulated violence of interlocking oppressions that mediate these worlds. In this particular instance, after all, the new Government of Alberta has not only its $30 million war room but also another $10 million Indigenous Litigation Fund at the ready to ensure that Albert Yellowknee’s story, his life and above all, his resistance to development dispossession is simply extinguished from history, that it leaves no traces and residues in our national culture. Fanon (2001) understood colonial racism to be at its core this kind of accumulated violence which develops such a realm of non-being as an intrinsic dimension of capitalist wealth and its civilization.
On this point, there has been an impressive convergence among the intellectual traditions of the subalternized whether this is feminism, particularly, social reproduction and subsistence perspective feminism, the Black radical tradition, queer theory, indigenous resurgence theory and even Marx’s (1971) critique of the commodity form of value which understand oppression as historical violence, yes, but more specifically as the negation of existence, as extermination, assimilation, normalization, civilization, development. But this then poses an acute problem for any political project of radical transformation since no collective identities transcend reproductive socio-ecological metabolism.
My research in Feminist Energy Futures, my ideas regarding intermedia theory, molecular media and the redeployment of the concept of an autonomous domain of subaltern politics from the subcontinent to Canada, all draw upon lessons I learned from research I did in 2006 with Dalit-bahujan feminist environmental justice and agro-biodiversity activists in Medak District, near Hyderabad, India, who invited me to learn about their struggles against biopiracy, new enclosures, landlessness, mono-cropping, debt immiseration and servitude and interlocking oppressions through the building of a network of agro-ecological producer, credit and media cooperatives. I now briefly outline some of these lessons in order to explain how intermedia theory might contribute to the possible and hoped for “alliance” between degrowth theory and environmental justice praxes. The commoning praxes of these women of Medak are very much an instance of the environmentalism of the poor insofar as they struggle against a multifaceted agrarian crisis in India intensified by new enclosures, contract farming, landlessness and structural rural unemployment. Through their cooperatives, they seek to establish a range of autonomies from dependencies on generating cash revenues for access to agricultural inputs and on global finance for access to micro-credit as well as on capitalist proprietorial knowledge and expertise leading to processes of agricultural deskilling. Caste oppression, sexism and upper class contempt for the poor informs all these dependencies with a casual, normalized everyday violence, especially as public institutions that might have mitigated market dependencies too often work as instruments of class domination and exploitation. Dalit-bahujan women in Medak began to organize themselves in the early 1980s into affinity groups or voluntary associations for organizing microcredit funds in order to rent fallows. In partnership with a group of social scientists and community development activists, they founded the Deccan Development Society (DDS http://ddsindia.com/www/default.asp) in 1983 to create environmentally sustainable rural employment by bringing stony and degraded fallows into cultivation.
The women’s sangham or networks of agricultural cooperatives are now active in about seventy-five villages, and over five thousand women and their families belong to them. They have brought under organic and biodiverse cultivation over ten thousand acres of degraded land, and produce over six million kilograms of local millets, sorghum, and pulses annually. Their agriculture is labour intensive not capital intensive and they do not use petroleum as a fuel for farm machinery nor petroleum based fertilizers. This transition to renewable energy (mostly biofuels, animal and human physical work) and to local indigenous crops allows them to delink and shift from commodity production to subsistence production. Along with daycares and a school, the sangham networks also manage several forest commons of over a thousand acres, which they have regenerated near their villages, and in thirty villages they maintain medicinal commons where over sixty different species of plants are conserved. Another key autonomy struggle against biopiracy and seed monopoly has led to their invention of an agro-biodiversity register and the establishment of community gene funds in sixty villages where more than eighty species of cultivars have been retrieved from extinction and conserved as collective common property. As the DDS, the sangham network belongs to several environmental and national, regional, and international anti-globalization coalitions and solidarity networks, such as the Organic Farming Association of India, the Southern Alliance Against Genetic Engineering, the South Asian Network For Food, Ecology and Culture (SANFEC), South Against Genetic Engineering (SAGE), and Biodiversity Action for Sustainable Agriculture (BASA-Asia). This political agency is then largely grounded in a post-carbon socio-ecological praxis.
As part of their seed sovereignty and feminist Dalit-bahujan autonomy politics, the sangham women have also built an agricultural biodiversity research centre, a radio station, and an alternative media video cooperative, which they use to disseminate their research and manage their cooperatives. Their alternative media cooperative, the Community Media Trust, makes videos crucial to the management of their cooperatives. Along with educational videos on organic and biodiverse cultivation and food processing techniques, and POV documentaries on debt, domestic violence, and other social problems, their videos also record the minutes and accounts of their cooperatives’ transactions for a non-literate membership. My research sought to understand the subaltern creativity involved in the women’s struggles for their own means of representation and over the meaning of their lives, and how their media practices enable them to build a subaltern counter-environment of cooperatives and participate in a global network of farmers and environmentalist social movements across the barrier of their non-literacy, despite the contradictions that locate them and connect them to a global political economy (Mookerjea 2011). Let me note a few of the most obvious and intractable social contradictions their praxis embodies and endures. Their efforts to break away from market and state mediated dependencies through their commoning praxis, however successful in accumulating common wealth, have left the women dependent on funding from international NGOs willing to partner with the DDS, and the rent they pay for the fallows connects the common wealth produced by their cooperatives to the accumulation processes of capital. The sangham women’s quest for autonomy, moreover, has unfolded in the context of a violent project of land-grabbing by the Indian state, especially after the Special Economic Zones Act of 2005, as much for speculative profiteering as industrial development (Reddy and Reddy 2007, Ramachandraiah 2016). This land-grabbing in turn has thrown fuel on long-standing armed insurrections by subaltern communities experiencing development dispossession, such as the Telengana, Naxalite, and Maoist movements. Such resistance provokes not only brutal military and paramilitary repression but also the ‘soft power’ of participatory and inclusive growth and development crisis management strategies in the name of poverty reduction and food security (Da Costa and McMichael 2007, Chandra 2015). As Kalyan Sanyal (2007, p. 191) argues, the Indian state has, since the 1980s, turned from pursuing policies of development, redistribution, and the creation of entitlements to the ‘management of poverty’ in a ‘space outside and alongside capital’ in tandem with the World Bank’s ideological shift to growth and poverty alleviation. Moreover, if these women have been able to avoid the precarity of Hyderabad’s informal sector and remain in their ‘traditional’ villages and empowered households, many young people from the region still cannot resist the pull of ‘Cyberbad’s’ big city lights. Still, their participation in the global environmental justice and seed sovereignty movement despite the barriers of their nonliteracy, their struggle against caste and class oppression, their feminism are all substantially made possible by their feminist mode of socio-ecological reproduction and the common wealth this produces.
What lessons should we draw from such contradictions for energy justice and democracy politics in Canada and how might intermedia theory contribute to the search for an alliance between degrowth theory and environmental justice praxis more generally? The environmental justice literature frequently cautions us against romanticizing subaltern resistance. It deserves to be emphasized that conflict and violence between subalternized communities is also a given in India as elsewhere. But insofar as their praxes of defending and regenerating commons enables the Dalitbahujan women of Medak to stand at so many barricades, Ranajit Guha’s concept of the autonomous domain of subaltern politics remains relevant to this praxis, I argue. The combined might of the state and capital reaches for their lives precisely because of this autonomous agency and creativity. I want to now suggest that without positing the concept of an autonomous domain of subaltern politics as a southern theoretical (Connell 2007) counter-universal of a sociology of absences, (Santos 2001) the hoped for alliance between degrowth theory and the praxis of the environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous will continue to elude us, for this concept, I also argue, holds the key to the riddle of class politics the theory of degrowth presupposes. (Leonardi 2019) This autonomous domain of subaltern politics is what makes the concepts of the “multitude” (Hardt and Negri, 2004) and of the “subaltern”, as ways of thinking about class politics from below, non-identical with themselves, as both call for the other without either being reducible to the other. (Mookerjea 2013, 2018)
The significance of such subaltern-multitude social contradictions embodied by the sangham women’s commoning praxes in Medak for the theory of degrowth can be summarily formulated in this way: The transformations degrowth seeks, at least with regard to its anti-capitalist and feminist currents, presupposes something like a feminist eco-socialist political revolution if the necessary radical transformations are not to provoke fascism redux as green passive revolution and its proliferating crises are currently doing. But such a political revolution, in turn, presupposes something like a social revolution through prefigurative commoning, through the building of a social economy which, as we saw in Medak, also presupposes something like a feminist, eco-socialist political revolution to reorganize the social division of labour in just and egalitarian ways. It is worth noting that shutting down the tar sands is not something that governments in Alberta or Canada can do by themselves without creating large scale dislocation which would only throw more fuel on the flames of fascism redux. In both cases, some radical transformation of the global financial architecture and the global political economy is needed if these transitions are not to set people at each other’s throats. This impossible Gordian knot, however, is not merely and only an occasion for despair. Along with that, it is also a provocation for an Utopian research praxis. For this sheer wall of unscalable, impenetrable impossibility we here confront is precisely also that of the autonomous domain of subaltern politics constituted by the commoning praxis of the women of Medak. Nothing articulates the impossibility of this autonomy more emphatically than the aesthetic-political manifesto of their media cooperative. Their video The Sangham Shot lays out the necessary mediation of any politics of commoning if it is to negotiate rather than be defeated by the social contradictions it must endure as a problem of form. The videos these women make, we learn, are organized around the formal principle of an eye-level shot, which they call ‘the sangham shot’, since in the sangham, the women tell us, ‘we are all equals’. They distinguish this shot from two others: ‘the patel shot’ (or landlord shot), where the camera looks from up high down at the women working the soil; and what they call ‘the slave shot’, which is the reverse, taken from below looking up. Thus, the videos replace typical ‘talking head’ explanations with the sangham shot’s eye-level, mid-range, face-to-face frame of someone making a statement or declaration about a particular problem or issue.
They always give us a specific person from a specific village speaking about this field, that well, those crops, or these problems. For example, in a video that has become important for the global seed sovereignty movement, Making of an Agricultural Biodiversity Register, this syntax plays a particularly crucial role in documenting extensive community involvement in making an agro-biodiversity register. Both individual involvement and community cooperation are foregrounded, as are women’s leadership and expertise in the process. (Mookerjea 2010a, b)
In an effort to advocate for the making of such biodiversity registers as a seed sovereignty and autonomy strategy, the video explains how the village of Khasimpur made its register and presents it as an example for other subaltern farming communities in the district and around the world to learn from. Crucial to the possibility that their praxis might proliferate and crystallize regenerative commoning anywhere and everywhere else in the world is the Sangham Shot’s assertion: in the sangham, ‘we are all equals’. This is my point of departure with molecular media. Our research in Feminist Energy Futures thus searches for ways to turn our spectacular intermedia ecology against itself through popular culture into research-creation (Loveless 2017, 2019; Mookerjea 2019) probes into commoning and degrowth where deep energy literacy, the “equality of intelligences” (Ranciere 2004) and energy and climate justice activism meet.
Akbulut, B. et al. 2019. Who promotes sustainability? Five theses on the relationships between the T degrowth and the environmental justice movements. Ecological Economics 165 (2019) 106418.
Anguelovski, Isabelle and J. Martinez Alier. 2014. The ‘Environmentalism of the Poor’ revisited: Territory and place in disconnected glocal struggles. Ecological Economics 102 (2014) 167–176.
Chandra, K., 2015. The new Indian state: the relocation of patronage in the post-liberalisation economy. Economic and political weekly, 50 (41), 46–58.
Connell, R., 2007. Southern theory: social science and the global dynamics of knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.
Da Costa, D. and McMichael, P., 2007. The poverty of the global order. Globalizations, 4 (4), 588–602.
Dengler, C. and L.M. Seebacker, 2019. What About the Global South? Towards a Feminist Decolonial Degrowth Approach. Ecological Economics 157 (2019) 246–252.
Edmonton Journal, September 14th, 2019. https://edmontonjournal.com/news/canada/read-the-full-text-jason-kenney-responds-to-amnesty-internationals-criticism-of-his-fight-back-strategy/wcm/3d4cd534-8211-49f9-ae9f-48b5f611a7ee [last accessed September 23rd, 2019]
Fanon, F., 2001. The wretched of the earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. Penguin Classics.
Gramsci, A., 1971. The prison notebooks. Trans. Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell
Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Guha, R., 1982. On some aspects of the historiography of colonial India. In: R. Guha ed. Subaltern studies I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1–8.
Guha, R. and Martínez-Alier, J., 1997. Varieties of environmentalism: essays north and
south. London: Earthscan.
Hardt, M. and A. Negri. 2004. Multitude. Penguin Books.
Leonardi, E. 2019. Bringing Class Analysis Back in: Assessing the Transformation of the Value- T Nature Nexus to Strengthen the Connection Between Degrowth and Environmental Justice. Ecological Economics 156 (2019) 83–90.
Loveless, N., 2017. How to make art at the end of the world (a manifesto for research-creation). Durham: Duke University Press.
Loveless, N., ed., 2019. Knowing and knots: methodologies and ecologies of research-creation. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press.
Marx, K., 1977. Capital. Vol. 1. trans. Ben Fowkes. London: Vintage Books.
Mookerjea, S., 2010a. The sangham strategy: lessons for a cooperative mode of pro- duction. Affinities: A Journal of radical theory, culture, and action, 1 (3), 110–132. Special Issue on the New Cooperativism. Mookerjea, S., 2010b. Autonomy and video mediation: Dalitbahujan women’s utopian knowledge production. In: D. Kapoor and E. Shizha, ed. Indigenous knowledges and learning: perspectives on development, education, and culture. Jordan: Palgrave Macmillan, 165–178.
Mookerjea, S., 2011. Cosmopolitanism’s other Utopia: the humanities, cultural studies and the time bias of communication. Contours: The Journal of the Institute for huma- nities. Vancouver: Simon Fraser University. pp. 32–41. Spring/Summer. http://www. sfu.ca/humanities-institute/?p=581
Mookerjea, S., 2013. Epilogue: through the utopian forest of time. Special issue on Tar Sands development in northern Alberta. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 38 (2), 233–254.
Mookerjea, S., 2017. Petrocultures in passive revolution, or, the autonomous domain of treaty poetics. In: Sheena Wilson, et al., ed. Petrocultures: oil, energy and culture. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 325–354.
Mookerjea, S., 2018. Accumulated violence, or, the wars of exploitation: notes towards a post-western Marxism. Mediations, 32 (1), 95–114. www.mediationsjournal.org/ articles/post-western-marxism.
Mookerjea, S., 2019. Intermedia research-creation and hydrapolitics: counter-environ- ments of the commons. In: N. Loveless, eds. Knowing and knots: methodologies and ecologies in research-creation. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 66–80.
Ramachandraiah, A., 2016. Making of Amaravati: a landscape of speculation and intimidation. Economic and political weekly, 60 (17), 68–75.
Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: Distribution of the Sensible, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004). Reddy, V.R. and Reddy, B.S., 2007. Land alienation and local communities: case studies in Hyderabad-Secunderabad, Economic and political weekly. August 4, pp. 3233–3240.
Santos, B., 2001. Nuestra America: reinventing a subaltern paradigm of recognition and redistribution. Theory, culture & society, 18 (2–3), 185–217.
Sanyal, K., 2007. Rethinking capitalist development: primitive accumulation, governmentality and post-colonial capitalism. Routledge: New Delhi.
The Sangham shot, n.d., Community media trust. Pastapur: Deccan Development
Benjamin, B.K. and M. H. Dworkin, 2015. Energy justice: Conceptual insights and practical applications. Applied Energy. 142 (2015) 435–444
Wilson, S., 2018. Energy imaginaries: feminist and decolonial futures. Mediations, 31,