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Wasteland: The Deep History of Defining Desert Wastes

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Abstract:

“Development” in deserts and arid lands has for centuries employed environmental narratives of “native improvidence” to justify a variety of changes in rural areas using legal instruments and targeted policies that most often benefit elites, capitalists and other powerful actors. Forests, agricultural, grazing, and “empty” lands, and water around the world have been appropriated claiming desertification by indigenous populations that necessitates protection, repair or improvement.

Using the analytical and theoretical tools of historical political ecology, this paper argues that such declensionist narratives that blame “the natives” or “the peasants” for desertification have a very deep history. It suggests that centuries’ old Anglo-European imaginaries of deserts as ruined former forests have had a profound effect on understandings of deserts and has skewed ideas of appropriate uses for arid lands. The evolution of desiccation theory which began in the 17th century, the progression of capitalism and economic liberalism in the 18th and 19th centuries with concomitant notions of “improvement” and enclosures of “waste” land were crucial to the development of this problematic notion of desert regions.

During the age of European imperialism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, these complex but interrelated ideas triangulated to inform Anglo-European definitions of “desert wastes” that were used with great success in expropriating large amounts of land and resources from poor, indigenous populations. Institutionalized in arid lands ecology in the early 20th century, these notions of deserts and desertification further developed by the WWII era to define some deserts as beyond hope of redemption, “valuable” only as nuclear and military testing grounds and later as storage for nuclear waste. The creation of such sacrifice zones has all too often included humans in addition to the environment, in a process that could be called “wastelanding,” which has important implications for social and environmental justice.
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Name: ASEH Conference – San Francisco
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http://aseh.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p679542_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Davis, Diana. "Wasteland: The Deep History of Defining Desert Wastes" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Conference – San Francisco, Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, California, <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p679542_index.html>

APA Citation:

Davis, D. "Wasteland: The Deep History of Defining Desert Wastes" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Conference – San Francisco, Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, California <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p679542_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: “Development” in deserts and arid lands has for centuries employed environmental narratives of “native improvidence” to justify a variety of changes in rural areas using legal instruments and targeted policies that most often benefit elites, capitalists and other powerful actors. Forests, agricultural, grazing, and “empty” lands, and water around the world have been appropriated claiming desertification by indigenous populations that necessitates protection, repair or improvement.

Using the analytical and theoretical tools of historical political ecology, this paper argues that such declensionist narratives that blame “the natives” or “the peasants” for desertification have a very deep history. It suggests that centuries’ old Anglo-European imaginaries of deserts as ruined former forests have had a profound effect on understandings of deserts and has skewed ideas of appropriate uses for arid lands. The evolution of desiccation theory which began in the 17th century, the progression of capitalism and economic liberalism in the 18th and 19th centuries with concomitant notions of “improvement” and enclosures of “waste” land were crucial to the development of this problematic notion of desert regions.

During the age of European imperialism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, these complex but interrelated ideas triangulated to inform Anglo-European definitions of “desert wastes” that were used with great success in expropriating large amounts of land and resources from poor, indigenous populations. Institutionalized in arid lands ecology in the early 20th century, these notions of deserts and desertification further developed by the WWII era to define some deserts as beyond hope of redemption, “valuable” only as nuclear and military testing grounds and later as storage for nuclear waste. The creation of such sacrifice zones has all too often included humans in addition to the environment, in a process that could be called “wastelanding,” which has important implications for social and environmental justice.


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