Extraction Syllabus: A CENHS Fellows Interdisciplinary Project

Posted by on Feb 7, 2020
Extraction Syllabus: A CENHS Fellows Interdisciplinary Project

Last year, leading up to the 2019 Cultures of Energy symposium, the CENHS pre-doctoral fellows (Paul Burch, Joe Carson, Mel Ford, Sherry Ya-Yun Kao, Gebby Keny, Kevin MacDonnell, Katie Ulrich, and Clint Wilson) started a collective project of crafting an interdisciplinary syllabus around the theme of EXTRACTION. We invited Dr. Sara Wylie, Department of Sociology/Anthropology and Health Science at Northeastern University, to help us and co-create what is reproduced below.

This syllabus is only preliminary and still growing. We sought to explore what an interdisciplinary focus might add to thinking about and teaching extraction. As it remains open access and ongoing, we welcome suggestions and additions to our list; please email kmu@rice.edu with complete citations to be added and which theme(s) they should be added to (or a new theme, if applicable).

Also check out the CENHS Energy Humanities Syllabus Archive for other relevant syllabi.


OED Definition: “1. A. The action or process of drawing (something) out of a receptacle; the pulling or taking out (of anything) by mechanical means; †withdrawal or removal (of a person); an instance of this.”

Inspired by the 2018 CENHS Cultures of Energy Symposium at Rice University, the CENHS graduate fellows grew interested in reproducing the symposiums’ interdisciplinary conversations in a platform that emphasized the coalitional core of environmental humanities scholarship. Environmental and energy Humanities is expansive, and it demonstrates the growing demand for an intersectional analysis of ‘the environment’ in politically precarious times. Scholars of environmental and energy humanities ask not only how to bridge distant disciplines with one another (such as the biological sciences and literary analysis), but how to use these interdisciplinary coalitions to better inform a praxis that centers epistemologies critical of the complex social and political contexts that define ‘the environment.’ Interested in the keyword ‘extraction,’ its various definitions and applications, the graduate student fellows constructed the foundations of an open-source and rolling interdisciplinary syllabus for teaching extraction within an environmental humanities perspective. The fellows were excited to have anthropologist Dr. Sara Wylie (Northeastern University) help discuss and form what an undergraduate class on ‘extraction’ might look like and offer. What follows is the preliminary results of these efforts.

This syllabus is by no means complete as ‘extraction’ can be extended to many sites, objects, texts, and definitions. It is structured to open up interdisciplinary questioning, to ask how extraction is powered by the politics of race, gender, and place, and how students and scholars can pay attention to the modes in which extractive practices relocate perceptions of ‘site’ and ‘body’. Intended to be structured similarly to a typical class syllabus, the graduate fellows have included assignments and weekly thematics as suggestions of how to break down studies of ‘extraction’ and its entanglements over a semester. Clearly, many readings cross multiple themes, and we have tried to list them in all relevant places when this is the case.

Assignments and Activities

These assignments and activities are meant to serve as examples or inspirations for interdisciplinary and class-based projects that enhance participation across disciplines

Extraction Compendium: Students will be asked to work in groups of two or more to compile a compendium of at least four discrete but overlapping explanations for how “labor” (physical; human; machine; non-human) is related to extraction. The compendium should be conceived of as a mixed media project, in that students will be encouraged to accompany their explanations with images, maps, google earth images, quotes (fiction and nonfiction), video footage, music, etc. Students should be inventive in their modes of presentation and will be given a large amount of freedom.

Extraction Site Writing Project: Students will be asked to write a 4-6 page paper in which they choose a site of extraction and explore the relationship between the “product” turned out by that site and the role of labor involved that process. In doing so, students will be asked to explore the different valences and definitions of extraction discussed in class and how their chosen site helps them to navigate the relationship between labor and extraction(s). Information on chosen sites can be derived from a variety of sources including documentaries, ethnographic studies, interviews, and students’ own fieldwork.

Life Cycle Analysis: Students will choose one “toxic” substance that has affected the lives of human or nonhuman actors. They will investigate the substance’s origins, evolutions, transportation, and potential futures in a 5-minute, in-class presentation. See Joe Dumit’s (2014) “Writing the Implosion” for inspiration.

The Poetry of Resistance: Intended to go along with reading Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead, students will create a collage poem based on newspaper clippings, court documents, personal interviews, or other media coverage concerning one so-called “toxic event.”

Personal Encounter: Following the model set forth in Mel Chen’s Animacies, students will write a 3 to 5-page paper about the history and impact of a “toxic” substance in modern life. This essay has three components: 1. History of the substance; 2. Emergence of the substance through toxic events; 3. Students’ encounter with that substance in some way (their experience as a viewer, as a friend or family member, as a student, or as someone who has come in contact with “toxicity,” widely construed).

Reflexive Methods and Research Practices: Students will write a 500-word reflection about a research project, analyzing the ways it might be extractive and/or is taking measures to not be extractive, and drawing on the class readings in their analysis. They should include at least three specific examples/details about the nature or methods of the research project. This research project can be one they’re involved in or one they found online, and can be an academic research project, a biomedical one (including a clinical trial), or a non-profit/NGO research project.

TV commercial: Students will create a short (50-90 sec) video to advocate environmental justice. The commercial will explain the significance of the issue and persuade audience with convincing arguments. There will be a series of smaller assignments over the semester to build up to this final project.

Connecting with News: Students will find three news article or short literature pieces on an environmental issue where the central message expresses one ethical theory or concept. They will underline the part where they believe it expresses an ethical theory or concept and explain what justifies this connection. The goal of this assignment is to ask students to connect abstract theory to concrete daily life environmental issues and tests if they can do the connection correctly. Students also practice giving persuasive justification.

Philosophical Analysis of News: Students will find a news report that presents/explores an environmental issue. The most recent news the better. What they need to do: (1) Use their own words to represent what the underlying issue is. (2) Connect different concerns in the news piece to the ethical theories discussed in class. In other words, analyze and present the underlying philosophical arguments that underlie different perspectives presented in the piece. For example, what is EPA’s underlying philosophical/ethical arguments? What is the underlying philosophical/ethical arguments from, say, the factory owner or landlord? What is an environmentalist’s underlying philosophical/ethical arguments? If there are no clear arguments they can reconstruct from the news piece, they should try to make up an argument themselves. For example, what might a concerned citizen say about the issue? How is this concerned citizen’s argument go? The goal is for students to identify the philosophically rigorous arguments that emerge in daily life news articles and evaluate both the strength and weakness of arguments.

A 5-7-page paper: Students will write a paper on an environmental ethics issue that builds upon class materials. The instructor will provide a prompt in the form of several questions. Students will choose one question to write the paper. The instructor will run a series of 4 paper workshops to help students come up with a clear, well-organized paper with persuasive arguments. The goal is to have students persuasively argue for one’s own position on a controversial issue without losing sight of the best of opposing arguments.

Extractive informatics practices activity: Research project to investigate extractive informatics practices that both support physical extraction as well as data extraction.

The physical spaces of extraction: Analyzing the physical layout of spaces of extraction such as man camps, off shore oil rigs; can use google earth imaging, archival materials, etc.

Corporate structure activity: Analyzing the corporate structures and investment structures supporting extraction.

Remediation exercise: Analyzing the process of remediation or lack thereof in particular pollution sites.

Place-based data performance: see examples at http://datalanterns.com/ and https://publiclab.org/notes/Sara/05-23-2014/making-pedagogy-reflections-on-northeastern-university-thermal-fishing-bob-workshops, and https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0306312718823282?journalCode=sssb.


When, what, and how is extraction?

What is extraction? Colloquially, the term simply denotes the withdrawal of resources, labor, people, and/or information. One can extract coal from a West Virginia mine or data from a Silicon Valley server. But are all these processes coequal? How do they relate beyond their shared signifier? And where did our attachment to practices of extraction come from? This section is intended to explore the histories and meanings of extraction, seeking to unpack the complex connotations and deeply embedded social, material, linguistic, and historical contexts at the roots of this powerful concept. Before we can explore how extraction operates, we must learn where extraction comes from and what extraction means. We will discover that the age of extraction is indistinguishable from the modern era. Capitalism and colonialism, interlinked processes that stand out as the dominant institutions of modernity, are constituted by a foundational commitment to extraction, while the ongoing planetary climate crisis is equally indebted to the outputs of commercial extractivism. What should become clear in this section is that extraction is not merely a practice, but a heuristic. Extraction is, perhaps, the logical paradigm of the modern world. The readings in this unit will begin by exploring the distinct, though often overlapping meanings of extraction, with an aim to unveil primary attitudes and ideas underpinning the concept, before moving on to engage with histories of extraction as they relate to the rise of colonial and capitalist regimes.

Benjamin, Ruha. 2019. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. New York: Polity Press. Ch 3: Coded Exposure.

Calvão, Filipe. 2019. “Crypto-Miners: Digital Labor and the Power of Blockchain Technology.” Economic Anthropology 6 (1): 123–134.

“Cultural Studies of Extraction” Special Issue of Cultural Studies 31(2-3), 2017.

“Dancing the World into Being: A Conversation with Idle No More’s Leanne Simpson by Naomi Klein — YES! Magazine.” n.d. Accessed April 4, 2019. https://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/dancing-the-world-into-being-a-conversation-with-idle-no-more-leanne-simpson.

Data extraction/mining: https://www.screeningsurveillance.com/

Gómez-Barris, Macarena. 2017. “Below the Surface” and  “Submerged Perspectives” in The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives. Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books.

Hall, Randal L. 2012. Mountains on the Market: Industry, the Environment, and the South. Edition Unstated edition. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky.

Howe, Cymene and Dominic Boyer. 2015. “Aeolian Politics.” Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory 16(1): 1-20.

Mitchell, Timothy. 2009. “Carbon Democracy.” Economy and Society 38(3): 399-432.

“Processing Settler Toxicities: Part I – Footnotes.” n.d. Accessed April 4, 2019. https://footnotesblog.com/2018/06/16/processing-settler-toxicities-part-i/.

Reading, Anna and Tanya Notley. 2015. “The Materiality of Globital Memory: Bringing the Cloud to Earth.” Continuum 29(4): 511-21.

Rodney, Walter. 1972. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle L’Ouverture.

Scott, Heidi V. 2008. “Colonialism, Landscape and the Subterranean.” Geography Compass 2 (6): 1853–69.

Scott, James. 1999. Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Sweet, Timothy. 2002. American Georgics. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

Szeman, Imre. 2017. “On the Politics of Extraction.” Cultural Studies 31 (2–3): 440–47.

Tsing, Anna. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Technologies of Extraction

Ballestero, Andrea. 2019. “Touching with Light, or, How Texture Recasts the Sensing of Underground Water.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 44(5): 762-85.

Birch, Kean and Kirby Calvert. 2015. “Rethinking ‘Drop-in’ Biofuels: On the Political Materialities of Bioenergy.” Science & Technology Studies 28(1): 52-72.

Bowker, Geoffrey. 1994. Science on the Run: Information Management and Industrial Geophysics at Schlumberger, 1920-1940. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Günel, Gökçe. 2012. “A Dark Art: Field Notes on Carbon Capture and Storage Policy Negotiations at COP17.” Ephemera 12(1/2): 33-41.

Farman, Jason. 2010. “Mapping the Digital Empire: Google Earth and the Process of Postmodern Cartography.” New Media & Society 12(6): 869-888.

Harley, J. B. 1988. “Maps, Knowledge, and Power.” In The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the Symbolic Representation, Design and Use of Past Environments. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pp 277–312.

Harley, J. B. 1992. “Deconstructing the Map.” In Writing Worlds: Discourse, Text and Metaphor in the Representation of Landscape, edited by Trevor J. Barnes and James S. Duncan, 231–47. London: Routledge.

Helmreich, Stefan. 2011. “From Spaceship Earth to Google Oceans: Planetary Icons, Indexes, and Infrastructures.” Social Research 78(4): 1211-1242.

Kwan, Mei-Po. 2002. “Feminist visualization: Re-envisioning GIS as a method in feminist geographic research.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92(4): 645-661.

LeCavalier, Jesse. 2016. The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Litfin, Karen T. 1997. “The gendered eye in the sky: A feminist perspective on earth observation satellites.” Frontiers 18 (2):26.

Murphy, Michelle. 2017. The Economization of Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Nolen, Stephanie. 2018. “The Road.” The Globe and Mail, January 26. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/amazon-rainforest-deforestation-crisis/article37722932/

Pavlovskaya, Marianna, and Kevin St Martin. 2007. “Feminism and geographic information systems: From a missing object to a mapping subject.” Geography Compass 1(3): 583-606.

Petryna, Adriana. 2009. When Experiments Travel: Clinical Trials and the Global Search for Human Subjects. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Vora, Kalindi. 2015. Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Wylie, Sara Ann. 2018. “Industrial Relations and an Introduction to STS in Practice.” In Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds. Durham: Duke University Press Books.

Labor and Extraction

The concept of labor provides a key conceptual locus for thinking through issues of extraction. Within the focal point on the laboring body it is possible to trace tensions, imbrications, and juxtapositions which must be included in any discussion of ecology and extraction. The laboring body constitutes one of the primary means by which the extraction of resources is effected (the wielders of tools, the operators of machinery) whilst at the same time serving as a site of extraction itself, where somatic energy is employed in the services of capital. To acknowledge both the laboring body, and the labor of the body then, as constituting different valences of extraction, is to invite a potentially destabilizing and deterritorializing complexity into any consideration of extraction. Whilst the exploitation and ecological harm exacted by the removal of carbon resources is often mirrored by the treatment of those performing that extraction, and the conditions they endure, it is also necessary to take into account the various forms of attachment that govern the relationship between laborers and their extractive work. How are said laborers positioned in society in terms of class, race, and geography, and do these positionings dictate their relationship to the acts and sites of extraction? Approaching labor as a nexus for extractive logic and processes provides a vital avenue for posing and pursuing such questions, allowing both for local specificity and transnational breadth. In order to facilitate such conversations, the readings in this unit are selected, in the first instance, with a view to providing a theoretical grounding in understanding bodies as resources. Building off of this base, however, many of the readings in this unit also help to position students at various sites of extraction, allowing for a consideration of the various interlocking factors that govern historical and contemporary views of extractive labor and the extraction of labor.        

Adler-Bell, Sam. 2018. “The Datafication of Employment: How Surveillance and Capitalism are Shaping Workers’ Futures Without Their Knowledge,” from The Century Foundation.  

Appel, Hannah. 2012. “Offshore Work: Oil, Modularity, and the How of Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea.” American Ethnologist 39(4): 692-709.

Davidov, Veronica. 2013. “Mining versus Oil Extraction: Divergent and Differentiated Environmental Subjectivities in “Post‐Neoliberal” Ecuador.” Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 18(3): 485-504.

DuVernay, Ava. 13th. 2016. Film.

Ferguson, James. 2008. “Seeing Like an Oil Company: Space, Security, and Global Capital in Neoliberal Africa.” American Anthropologist 107(3): 337-382.

Hansell, Tom. 2018. After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales. 1st edition. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Harlan County, USA, 1976. Film.

Hayden, Cori. 2003. “From Market to Market: Bioprospecting’s Idioms of Inclusion.” American Ethnologist 30(3): 359-371.

King, Tiffany Lethabo. 2016. “The Labor of (Re) Reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible (Ly).” Antipode 48 (4): 1022–1039.

Klein, Naomi. 2000. “Chapter Nine: The Discarded Factory,” from No Logo. Harper Collins, London. P.p. 195–231.  

Lee, Donald C. 1980. “On the Marxian View of the Relationship between Man and Nature.” Environmental Ethics 2 (1): 3–16.

Marx, Karl. 1848. Excerpts from The Communist Manifesto. 1848.  

Mintz, Sydney. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin.

Nikiforuk, Andrew. 2012. “The Energy of Slaves” and “Slaves to Energy,” in The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Greystone Books Ltd, Vancouver. Pp. 1–29.

Pinkus, Karen. 2018. “Afterword: They Would Have Ended by Burning Their Own Globe” in Hensley, Nathan K., Philip Steer, Karen Pinkus, Nathan K. Hensley, Philip Steer, and Lynn Voskuil. 2018. Ecological Form: System and Aesthetics in the Age of Empire. Fordham University Press.

Rosenblat, Alex, Tamara Kneese, and Danah Boyd. 2014. “Workplace Surveillance.” Data & Society Research Institute: 1–19.

Santiago, Myrna I. 2006. The Ecology of Oil: Environment, Labor and the Mexican Revolution 1900–1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stewart, Kathleen. 1996. A Space on the Side of the Road: Cultural Poetics in an” Other” America. Princeton University Press Princeton, NJ.

Race and Identity

The issues of race and racism are inextricably linked to a variety of components of extraction, from labor to location to ideology. Historically, race labor (i.e. slavery) played a significant role in the extractive processes of mining in South America during Spanish conquest, and the monocrop plantation complex (sugar, tobacco, cotton) heavily relied on slavery throughout the entire Western Hemisphere. Following Emancipation in the United States South, through convict labor and share cropping practices, race was still a mitigating factor for determining labor and land distribution. Through the critical lens of race, we might also think about the Global South and the intersection of race, labor and extraction in Africa and India.  Indigenous populations lost land when there were things of value in need of extraction, and the current reservations are almost always located/situated close to dangerous forms of extractions or the toxic refuse resulting from extractive forms of development. While this might be more under the heading of toxicity, scholars of race have paid significant attention to the proximity of communities of color and hazards dumping practices (See Robert Bullard’s Dumping in Dixie (1990), among others. Our first foray into thinking about race in relation to extraction in the environment is to access the way race factors into labor formations and the material processes of extraction and their aftermath. We will strive to understand the social and ideological construction of race as a means to propagate capitalism and the plantation complex, as well as the strategic essentially employed by scholars of critical race. This group of readings specifically focuses on the North American plantation complex and slavery in the nation’s beginnings and then turns to the problem of coal. Coal has become an interesting symbol for the white working class and might provide a moment to tease the relation between class and race in our current moment.

Allewaert, Monique. 2013. Ariel’s Ecology: Plantations, Personhood, and Colonialism in the American Tropics. University of Minnesota Press.

Armstead, Robert, and S. L. Gardner. 2002. Black Days, Black Dust: The Memories of an African American Coal Miner. University of Tennessee Press.

Benjamin, Ruha. 2019. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. New York: Polity Press. Ch 3: Coded Exposure.

Chen, Mel Y. 2012. “Lead’s Racial Matters,” from Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Duke University Press.

Hansell, Tom. 2018. After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales. 1st edition. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network: https://usindigenousdata.org/

Johnson, Bob. 2016. “Energy Slaves: Carbon Technologies, Climate Change, and the Stratified History of the Fossil Economy.” American Quarterly 68 (4): 955–979.

Johnson, Walter. 2013. River of Dark Dreams. Harvard University Press.

King, Tiffany Lethabo. 2019. The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Mbembe, Achille. 2003. “Necropolitcs.” Public Culture 15(1): 11-40.Morgan, Edmund S. 2003. American Slavery, American Freedom. WW Norton & Company.

Powell, Dana E. 2017. Landscapes of Power: Politics of Energy in the Navajo Nation. Duke University Press.

Preston, Jen. 2017. “Racial Extractivism and White Settler Colonialism: An Examination of the Canadian Tar Sands Mega-Projects.” Cultural Studies 31(2-3): 353-375.

Sawyer, Suzana. 2004. Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neolliberalism in Ecuador. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Scholastique Mukasonga.2018. “Cattle Praise Song,” from The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/12/cattle-praise-song

Scott, Rebecca. 2010. Removing Mountains: Extracting Nature and Identity in the Appalachian Coalfields. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Spice, Anne. 2018. “Processing Settler Toxicities: Part I.” Footnotes (online). Accessed April 4, 2019. https://footnotesblog.com/2018/06/16/processing-settler-toxicities-part-i/.

Tuck, Eve. 2009. “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” Harvard Educational Review 79(3): 409-427.

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books.

Whayne, Jeannie. “Cotton’s Metropolis: Memphis and Plantation Development in the TransMississippi West,” in Comparing Apples, Oranges, and Cotton: Environmental Histories of the Global Plantation. University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Social Justice

This section is dedicated to thinking about community resistance and the search for justice in, after, and before extractive practices. Where and how are reparations considered or managed? This section also explores issues arise from distributive justice. Justice involves fair distribution. Philosophical distributive justice in the domain of environmental ethics focuses on what people owe to each other with respect to the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. Such distribution can occur among communities within and between societies. It can also occur between different generations. Many environmental burdens are the byproducts of the production, use, and disposal of consumer goods–such as food, energy, transportation, clothing and electronics. For this reason, the topic of social justice also connects to the ethics of consumption.

Allen, Barbara. 2003. Uneasy Alchemy: Citizens and Experts in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor Disputes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

AWAKE, A Dream from Standing Rock (2017), dir. Josh Fox, Myron Dewey, James Spione

Estes, Nick. 2019. “Seige” in Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. Verso Books.

Henry, Matthew. 2019. “Extractive Fictions and Postextraction Futurisms: Energy and Environmental Justice in Appalachia.” Environmental Humanities 11(2): 402-26.

Kashi, Ed. 2010. Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta. Power House Books.

Moore, Margaret. 2012. “Natural Resources, Territorial Right, and Global Distributive Justice.” Political Theory 40 (1): 84–107.

Nixon, Rob. 2011. “Pipe Dreams: Ken Saro-Wiwa, Environmental Justice, and Micro-Minority Rights.” In Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, 1:103–28. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Pellow, David Naguib. 2017. What is Critical Environmental Justice? Polity.

Riley, Boots. 2018. Sorry to Bother You. Film.

Sagoff, Mark. 1997. “Do We Consume Too Much?” Atlantic Monthly 279 (6): 80-96

Schlosberg, David. 2009. Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature. Oxford University Press.

Shue, Henry. 1999. “Global Environment and International Inequality,” International Affairs 75 (3): 531-545.

Voyles, Traci Brynne. 2015. “Introduction: Sacrificial Land” and “Empty Except for Indians: early Impressions of Navajo Rangeland” in Wastelanding: Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country. U of Minnesota Press.

Welker, Marina. 2009. “Corporate Security Begins in the Community: Mining, the Corporate Social Responsibility Industry, and Environmental Advocacy in Indonesia.” Cultural Anthropology 24(1).

Gender, Feminisms, and Sexuality

The objectives of this section are to familiarize students with feminist scholarship that addresses extraction as a process that troubles normative ideologies and assumptions about gender, sexuality and feminist ideology. This section seeks to expand the term extraction by considering extraction as the material disembodiment of Earthly materials, as well as the intrusive and power-laden process that filters communication and exchange in the 21st century. For example, students will read about women’s resource gathering practices in the global South, the increase in domestic and sexual violence in areas of intense extraction such as fracking, and women’s corporeal politics in activism against extractive industries such as the Chipko movement. Students will also engage with the narratives concerning the sexualization of the environment, including the feminization of nature, and the masculine association with extraction and polluting sources of energy. Queer and Feminist scholarship on ecology will be read in order to diversify and challenge the status quo of environmental and sustainable rhetoric. However, extraction will also be read in the decentering and reorientation of concepts like “site” and “body” where they might exist in relation to how certain bodies are produced and extracted from, such as reproductive rights, population control, and reproductive justice.

Alaimo, Stacy. 2010. “Eros and X-Rays” in Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Indiana University Press.

Daggett, Cara. 2018. “Petro-Masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire.” Millennium 47 (1): 25–44.

Hartmann, Betsy. 2006. “Liberal Ends, Illiberal Means: National Security, ‘Environmental Conflict’, and the Making of the Cairo Consensus.” Indian Journal of Gender Studies 13: 195

Lamoreaux, Janelle. 2016. “What If the Environment Is a Person? Lineages of Epigenetic Science in a Toxic China.” Cultural Anthropology 31 (2): 188–214.

Mason, Carol. “Buckwild Mad Men: Masculinity and Necropolitics in Appalachia” in Billings, Dwight B., and Ann E. Kingsolver. 2017. Appalachia in Regional Context: Place Matters. University Press of Kentucky.

Murphy, Michelle. 2012. “Introduction: Feminism in/as Biopolitics” in Seizing the Means of Reproduction: Entanglements of Feminism, Health, and Technoscience. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books.

Murphy, Michelle. 2017. The Economization of Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sasser, Jade S. 2018. On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women’s Rights in the Era of Climate Change. NYU Press.

Seager, Joni. 2003. “Rachel Carson Died of Breast Cancer: The Coming of Age of Feminist Environmentalism.” Signs 28 (3): 945–72.

Vora, Kalindi. 2015. Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Warren, Karen J. 1990. “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism.” Environmental Ethics 12 (2): 125–146.

What is “Nature”: Worlds and Materialisms

Biology, chemistry, and physics, among other natural science disciplines, offer important insights into the material effects spurred by extractive practices of various kinds. From measures of toxicity to models of ecological breakdown and precarity, knowledge produced by these disciplines often constitutes the basic (and often unquestioned) material and ecological “facts” upon which subsequent investigations, such as those involving the consequences of material and ecological “facts” for human beings, follow. This section aims to trouble this structure of knowledge production in two key respects: 1) it seeks to understand and problematize the extent to which this model is premised upon a western understanding of the division between “natural” and “cultural” phenomena and 2) it seeks to open intellectual space within this structure of knowledge production for social scientists and humanities scholars to participate, or perhaps intervene, in the production of material and ecological “facts.” Central to this project is a concern with how capacities to realize ontological claims on the world are unevenly distributed in favor of white colonial imaginaries and how the power and politics of such imaginaries are located within and upheld by epistemic practices deemed capable of producing “truthful” accounts of the world. Inspired significantly by the work of indigenous scholars, as well as phenomenological traditions and new materialism literatures, this section seeks to decolonize and re-imagine the most basic units of knowledge through which extraction and its effects are conceived.

Cadena, Marisol de la. 2015. “Mariano’s Cosmopolitics: Between Lawyers and Ausangate” in Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice across Andean Worlds. Duke University Press.

Cronon, William. 1996. “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” Environmental History 1 (1): 7–28.

DeLoughrey, Elizabeth. 2017. “Submarine Futures of the Anthropocene.” Comparative Literature 69 (1): 32–44.

Graeter, Stephanie. 2017. “To Revive an Abundant Life: Catholic Science and Neoextravist Politics in Peru’s Mantaro Valley.” Cultural Anthropology 32(1).

Ingold, Tim. 2007. “Materials against Materiality.” Archaeological Dialogues 14 (1): 1–16.

Le Guin, Ursula K. 2015. The Word for World Is Forest. Hachette UK.

Morton, Timothy. 2007. “Introduction” in Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Harvard University Press.

Morton, Timothy. 2007. “Imagining Ecology without Nature” in Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Harvard University Press.

Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2016. “Can Rocks Die? Life and Death inside the Carbon Imagnary” Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Duke University Press.

Rolston, Jessica. 2013. “The Politics of Pits and the Materiality of Mine Labor: Making Natural Resources in the American West.” American Anthropologist 115(4): 582–594.

Shotwell, Alexis. 2016. “Introduction” in Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times. U of Minnesota Press.

Tsing, Anna. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Toxicity and Pollution

One of the productive tensions about toxicity—and why it is such a fertile ground for thinking about environmental crisis—is its ambiguity, by which we mean its ability to both create and destroy life forms (for example, pernitric acid—produced via processes of nitrogen fixation—enables what many regard as necessary fertilizers, which have come to feed the world’s growing population, while also being used an accelerant for chemical weapon distribution since the First World War). Students will benefit from confronting the ambiguity of toxicity (and pollution), seeing how one can discuss both the important ethical and political dimensions of its harmful emergence in modernity and comprehend how human survival in the Anthropocene requires shifting and redefining what we mean by the word “toxicity” and “extraction.” Of course, one must also acknowledge the way in which toxic elements and distributions disproportionately affect those living in what Steve Lerner has called “sacrifice zones”—regions of political, social, and environmental precarity. Complementing toxicity’s ambivalence with theories that can better account for the long-term and “slow violent” impact of chemicals in unprotected environments will become central in this unit. These theories include, but are not limited to, new materialisms, environmental justice, critical race theory, intersectional feminist approaches, and critical media studies. Following this selfsame logic, we will discuss “pollution” as a means of indexing toxicity’s many meanings in public discourse, drawing on the course’s previous conversations about the aforementioned critical theories. Toxicity and pollution intersect with nearly every other “unit” outlined in this syllabus, and, together, they help us see how the discourses of environmental catastrophe require robust and multiple theoretical frameworks.

Anderson, W. 1995. “Excremental colonialism: public health and the poetics of pollution.” Critical Inquiry 21(3): 640-69.

Balkan, Stacey. 2018. “A Memento Mori Tale: Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People and the Politics of Global Toxicity.” ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 25 (1): 115–133.

Buell, Lawrence. 2009. “Introduction” in Writing for an Endangered World. Harvard University Press.

Chen, Mel Y. 2012. “Lead’s Racial Matters,” from Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Duke University Press.

Douglas, M. 2002 [1966]. Purity and Danger. London: Routledge.

Dvera I. Saxton. 2015. “Strawberry Fields as Extreme Environments: The Ecobiopolitics of Farmworker Health.” Medical Anthropology 34(2): 166-183. DOI: 10.1080/01459740.2014.959167

Fortun, Kim. 2001. Advoacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders. Chicago: University of Chicaco Press.

Fortun, Kim. 2014. “From Latour to Late Industrialism.” HAU 4(1): 309-29.

Gabrys, Jennifer. 2009. “Sink: The Dirt of Systems.” Environment and Planning D Society and Space 27(4): 666-81.

Hadjilambrinos, Constantine. 2000. “An Egalitarian Response to Utilitarian Analysis of Long-Lived Pollution: The Case of High-Level Radioactive Waste.” Environmental Ethics 22 (1): 43–62.

Hawkins, G. 2018. Plastic and presentism: the time of disposability. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 5(1): 91-102.

Hecht, G. (2018) “Interscalar vehicles for an African Anthropocene: On waste, temporality, and violence.” Cultural Anthropology 33(1): 109-141.

Hird, Myra J. 2012. “Knowing Waste: Towards an Inhuman Epistemology.” Social Epistemology 26 (3-4): 453-469.

Hoover, Elizabeth. 2017. The River Is in Us. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Liboiron, M. (2016). “Redefining pollution and action: The matter of plastics.” Journal of Material Culture 21(1): 87-110.

Mbembe, Achille. 2003. “Necropolitcs.” Public Culture 15(1): 11-40.

Murphy, Michelle. 2017. “Alterlife and Decolonial Chemical Relations.” Cultural Anthropology 32(4): 494-503.

Neale, Tim. 2019. “Poly- and Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS).” https://culanth.org/fieldsights/poly-and-perfluorinated-alkyl-substances-pfas

Nixon, Rob. 2013. Slow Violence: Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Oreskes, Naomi and Erik Conway. 2011. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Rukeyser, Muriel, and Catherine Venable Moore. 2018. Selected poems from The Book of the Dead. 1st edition. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Russel, Edmund. 2001. War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring. Cambridge University Press.

Schuster, Joshua. 2015. “Introduction” in The Ecology of Modernism: American Environments and Avant-Garde Poetics. University of Alabama Press.

Sassen, Saskia. 2014. “Dead Land, Dead Water” in Expulsions. Harvard University Press.

Travis, Anthony. 1993. The Rainbow Makers: The Origins of the Synthetic Dyestuffs Industry in Western Europe. Lehigh University Press.

Walker, Margaret. 1937. Selected poems from “For My People.” Poetry 51 (2): 81–83.

Wylie, Sara., Wilder, Elisabeth., Vera, Lourdes., Thomas, Deborah., & McLaughlin, Megan. 2017. “Materializing Exposure: Developing an Indexical Method to Visualize Health Hazards Related to Fossil Fuel Extraction.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3: 426-463. doi: https://doi.org/10.17351/ests2017.123


We extract natural resources for survival and prosperity. We are in relationships of dependency with the environment. How are we to reconcile the (potential) conflict between the desire for prosperity and the concern for protecting the environment? This unit addresses this issue from various perspectives that tie to different roles people play in this context—entrepreneurs, government agencies, environmentalists, and individual consumers. The learning objective is to familiarize students with various ethical concerns and the rationale in the context of extraction. Through a comprehensive understanding of different perspectives and concerns, the students are expected to come up with their own judgements about how we should navigate through the desire for prosperity and the concern for protecting the environment.   

Ahmed, Sara. 2017. “Conclusion 2: A Killjoy Manifesto.” In Living a Feminist Life, 251-268. Duke University Press.

Bear, Laura, Karen Ho, Anna Tsing, and Sylvia Yanagisako. 2015. “Gens: A feminist manifesto for the study of capitalism.” Cultural Anthropology 30.

Gambrel, Joshua Colt, and Philip Cafaro. 2010. “The Virtue of Simplicity.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 23 (1–2): 85.

Hamraie, Aimi, and Kelly Fritsch. 2019. “Crip technoscience manifesto.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 5 (1):1-34.

Haraway, Donna. 2003. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Prickly Paradigm Press.

Jamieson, Dale. “Ethics for the Anthropocene” in Szeman, Imre, and Dominic Boyer. 2017. Energy Humanities: An Anthology. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. 2015. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants. Milkweed Editions.

Lawford-Smith, Holly. 2015. “Unethical Consumption and Obligations to Signal.” Ethics & International Affairs 29 (3): 315–330.

Merchant, Carolyn. 1990. “Environmental Ethics and Political Conflict: A View from California.” Environmental Ethics 12 (1): 45–68.

Research Practices and Suspending Damage

With attention to extraction in terms of the environment, land, and different groups of people, it is also important to turn the focus onto ourselves as researchers and our historical research genealogies. Many scholarly disciplines’ research subjects and methodologies have historically centered around the extraction of information, labor, or bodies of and from marginalized groups–and remain so to this day. Anthropologists, for example, in the mid-twentieth century frequently carried out ethnographic research of colonized subjects, extracting oral histories and social network information, which was to be used by European colonizing governments for their more effective domination of the colonies. Contemporary anthropology still often exoticizes its research subjects, for example extracting information from marginalized groups for the sake of locating and representing the Other as a foil to the self. Archaeology has structured the physical extraction of human remains and artifacts from their original locations, as well as their relocation to museums on the other side of the world. These forms of extraction are not relegated to the past. In addition to these kinds of explicitly violent research practices, which are by no means fully eliminated, even well-intentioned researchers today can contribute to the extraction of subjects’ experiences, resources, time, and energy. As Eve Tuck argues, contemporary research that tries to ameliorate harm by researching the violence against marginalized people can in turn perpetuate the marginalization of these groups by circumscribing their subjectivity within frameworks of damage. Tuck calls for a move away from such damage-centered research and suggests alternative models such as desire-centered research, which does not preclude attention to violence but approaches it from the striving of world-making (as resistance to, in the meantime of, or otherwise than this violence–this is not predetermined) that is carried out by such subjects. This section on extraction in research practices, and potential forms of working against this, is important for situating how students may be thinking of the way they want to intervene in the world. Research extraction issues apply to more activist-oriented research as well, and also professional research such as biomedical studies.

Fa-ti Fan, Shun-Ling Chen, Chia-Liang Kao, Michelle Murphy, Matt Price, Liz Barry. 2019. “Citizens, Politics, and Civic Technology: A Conversation with g0v and EDGI.” East Asian Science, Technology and Society 13(2): 279-297.

Laura Perovich, Sara Wylie and Roseann Bongiovanni. 2018. “Pokémon Go, pH, and projectors: applying transformation design and participatory action research to an environmental justice collaboration in Chelsea, MA”. Cogent Arts & Humanities 5 (1), DOI: 10.1080/23311983.2018.1483874

Matz, J., Wylie, S., & Kriesky, J. 2017. “Participatory Air Monitoring in the Midst of Uncertainty: Residents’ Experiences with the Speck Sensor.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3: 464-498. doi: https://doi.org/10.17351/ests2017.127

McGranahan, Carole. “Theorizing Refusal: An Introduction.” Cultural Anthropology 31, no. 3 (2016): 319–325.

Public Lab: https://sarawylie.com/2018/01/15/public-lab/

Technoscience Research Unit: https://technoscienceunit.org/.

Tuck, Eve. 2009. Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities. Harvard Educational Review 79(3): 409-427.

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books.

Vera, L. A., Dillon, L., Wylie, S. A., Ohayon, J. L., Lemelin, A., Brown, P., Sellers, C., Walker, D., Data, E., Initiative, G. 2018. “Data Resistance: A Social Movement Organizational Autoethnography of the Environmental Data and Governance Initative.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 23(4): 511–529. https://doi.org/10.17813/1086-671X-24-4-511

Visualizing Chemical Valley: https://technoscienceunit.org/past-present-futures-visualizing-chemical-valley-pollution-and-colonialism-project-description/

Wylie, Sara Ann. 2018. Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds. Durham: Duke University Press.

Wylie, Sara, Kirk Jalbert, Shannon Dosemagen, and Matt Ratto. 2014. “Institutions for Civic Technoscience: How Critical Making is Transforming Environmental Research.” The Information Society 30(2): 116-126. DOI: 10.1080/01972243.2014.875783

Wylie, Sara, Shapiro, Nick, & Liboiron, Max. 2017. “Making and Doing Politics Through Grassroots Scientific Research on the Energy and Petrochemical Industries.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3: 393-425. doi: https://doi.org/10.17351/ests2017.134

Environmental Data Justice

Dillon, Lindsey, Rebecca Lave, Becky Mansfield, Sara Wylie, Nicholas Shapiro, Anita Say Chan, and Michelle Murphy. 2019. “Situating Data in a Trumpian Era: The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers.

EDGI: https://envirodatagov.org/

Lourdes A. Vera, Dawn Walker, Michelle Murphy, Becky Mansfield, Ladan Mohamed Siad, Jessica Ogden & EDGI. 2019. “When Data Justice and Environmental Justice Meet: Formulating a Response to Extractive Logic Through Environmental Data Justice.” Information, Communication & Society 22(7): 1012-1028.

Lourdes A. Vera, Lindsey Dillon, Sara Wylie, Jennifer Liss Ohayon, Aaron Lemelin, Phil Brown, Christopher Sellers, Dawn Walker, and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative. 2018. “Data Resistance: A Social Movement Organizational Autoethnography of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 23( 4): 511-529.

Vera, L. A., Dillon, L., Wylie, S. A., Ohayon, J. L., Lemelin, A., Brown, P., Sellers, C., Walker, D., Data, E., Initiative, G. 2018. “Data Resistance: A Social Movement Organizational Autoethnography of the Environmental Data and Governance Initative.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 23(4): 511–529. https://doi.org/10.17813/1086-671X-24-4-511

Walker, Dawn, Eric Nost, Aaron Lemelin, Rebecca Lave, and Lindsey Dillon. 2018. “Practicing Environmental Data Justice: From DataRescue to Data Together.” Geo: Geography and Environment 5(2): e00061.