#7CheapThings: Raj Patel on World Ecology and More

Nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives: these are the seven things that have made our world and will shape its future. In making these things cheap, modern commerce has transformed, governed, and devastated Earth. In A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore present a new approach to analyzing today’s planetary emergencies. Read on below to learn more about world ecology and the importance of #7CheapThings in our current political climate.

What is world ecology?

Like all academic terms of art, it’s not quite what it appears. World-ecology isn’t the ecology of planet Earth – that’d just be ‘ecology’. World-ecology is an intellectual update of world-systems theory, which in its day was a new way to think about what unit of analysis to use to explain and understand social change. Rather than take individual states as molecules in a system interacting with one another, world-systems theory looked to the processes that produced those states, at how Britain wouldn’t be Britain except through its interactions with the rest of the planet. World-ecology goes one better. Rather than looking at humans and nature separately, world-ecology looks at how our understanding of human and nature have been produced together.

What is the capitalocene vs. anthropocene?

Understanding the answer to question 1 makes it easier to answer this question. World-ecology makes it harder to believe that there’s some timeless and unchanging set of things that constitute being human in the world. For the term ‘anthropocene’ to make sense, you have to believe that the current transformations of the planet, recorded in the earth as extinctions and radioactivity and plastic, are the inevitable outcomes of anthropos, of humans. The counterargument is that while humans have indeed been responsible for extinctions in the past 20,000 years, we also still have human civilizations – particularly indigenous ones – that are very good at living within the web of life without leaving a trail of destruction. The real uptick in planetary transformation has much less to do with being human and much more to do with capitalism. So rather than call it the anthropocene, it’s more accurate to call it the capitalocene.

How do we make sense of your book’s message during the current political climate?

We’re writing this book to help connect dots between different movements for change, to show how ideas of patriarchy and supremacy have always been intersectional. We’re already very excited about the international reception we’ve received for these ideas, and what we’re hoping is that they can help inform the theorizing and organizing for change that’s happening around the world, helping movements to connect with one another in ways that can make them stronger.

Read more posts in our #7CheapThings blog series here.

Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Earth Day and the Anthropocene

This post concludes our Earth Week blog series. Thank you for reading!

by Jason M. Kelly, editor of Rivers of the Anthropocene

On November 4, 2016, the Paris Climate Agreement went into effect. Signed and ratified by the vast majority of members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the agreement wasn’t perfect. But, it was an important step forward in mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Four days later, the United States elected a president who had previously claimed that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

In the months that have followed, the new president and his administration have begun implementing a wholesale attack on climate science and environmental regulations. The new administration’s policies point to the close connections between society — politics, culture, and economy — and environmental systems. Rejecting scientific warnings, it has doubled down on its support of fossil fuel consumption and economic opportunism at the expense of the environment. Its justifications and appeals to the public — economic necessity, individual freedom, and nationalism — are framed through ideologies that have historical roots going back centuries. The actions that their policies enable will have environmental consequences that last far beyond the lifetimes of those currently serving in office.

The interrelations between society, culture, economy, politics, and environments have deep histories. In fact, to imagine sociocultural and geobiophysical systems as distinct entities would be a mistake; they are entangled. Historically, environmental contexts have played key roles in shaping sociocultural systems. And, humans have had greater or lesser impacts on their regional ecologies over tens of thousands of years through clear cutting, slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting and fishing, and flood control and irrigation systems.

Over the past several hundred years, the relationship between humans and their environments has intensified as human populations have grown. Consumption of resources, magnified by the energy unleashed by burning fossil fuels, has resulted in fundamental transformations of earth systems (e.g. carbon cycle, water cycle, nitrogen cycle). And, political contingencies, cultural beliefs, and economic desires have reinforced behaviors that continue to destabilize the planet’s systems.

Because humans have become such a powerful environmental force, a growing number of scientists have suggested that we have entered a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene. Humanity’s impact on the planet can be measured in sediments and ice cores. Its actions have entered the geological record.

Understanding the Anthropocene requires more than just researching the environmental effects of human actions however. As important is understanding the role that human systems play in shaping behaviors — for example, the ways that capitalism and imperialism have encouraged certain practices of resource extraction and modes of thinking. Doing so allows us to address more than just the consequences of human action. It helps us understand the root causes as well.

At its core then, research on the Anthropocene is focused on exploring the historical entanglements between sociocultural and geobiophysical systems. This necessitates multidisciplinarity — of scientists, social scientists, humanists, artists, policy makers, and community organizers working together to tackle environmental challenges in all of their complexities. This work includes descriptive and analytical approaches, but also public engagement meant to influence policy and public attitudes. In the current political context, this type of work is one important tool in mitigating the worst effects of climate change denial and attacks on environmental protections.

Jason M. Kelly is Director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute and Associate Professor of History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

A Right-Now Battle for the Future of America’s Public Lands

This post is part of our Earth Week blog series. Check back every day between now and Friday for new blog posts. 

by Stephen Nash, author of Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change

America’s national park system is the most familiar component of our vast estate of federal public lands: forests and grasslands, wildlife refuges, millions of acres of rangelands. These landscapes all add up to more than a fourth of the U.S. national dirt. Earth Week 2017 finds the survival of their natural systems increasingly vulnerable, politically and biologically.

The plan long promoted by conservation biologists and environmentalists, and seriously contemplated by the federal government in the recent past, was to move toward connecting these lands to help ensure their protection from industrial exploitation and development pressures, and to enable species to adapt and migrate in the face of quickly arriving climate change.

But a powerful, well-funded political movement is pushing in the other direction: to atomize federal public lands, hand them over to the states, and privatize them. My book Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change details this conflict, its origins, and its political and ideological supporters, from ranchers to billionaires. The Trump administration has been both equivocal and non-vocal on this issue so far — hard to prophesy how this map will look on Earth Week 2018, and beyond.

With Grand Canyon National Park as the foreground example, we can also see the biological threats to the future of public lands: recurring waves of imported invasive species that disrupt ecosystems, a lengthening list of endangered species whose populations steadily diminish and, especially, climate change. These factors are already transforming public lands, including Grand Canyon.

Fortunately, natural scientists and their allies spend whole careers on research and field work to mitigate these losses and plan for a radically different climatic future. Their work, too, is embattled. Many of them will celebrate Earth Day around the U.S. this weekend by taking part in a March for Science. For public lands and for science both, we’ll see what direction the coming year takes…

Stephen Nash is the author of award-winning books on science and the environment, and his reporting has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BioScience, Archaeology, and The New Republic. He is Visiting Senior Research Scholar at the University of Richmond

Trump, Religion, and Popular Culture

by Bruce David Forbes and Jeffrey H. Mahan, editors of Religion and Popular Culture in America, Third Edition

The campaign, election, and presidency of Donald Trump have received extensive analysis, especially political and demographic. When religion is considered, the dominant commentary has been about the substantial support supplied by white Christian evangelical voters. Yet there is also a more indirect, less obvious religious influence that might help explain Trump’s popularity. In Religion and Popular Culture in America, various authors explore four different relationships between religion and popular culture. One section on Popular Culture As Religion suggests that aspects of popular culture play roles often associated with traditional formal organized religions, providing meaning and values supported by rituals, symbol systems, and more.

The latest, third edition of our volume includes two new essays in this category about celebrity worship and about consumerism as religion, both of which seem particularly relevant in understanding the Trump phenomenon. In his essay, “Celebrity Worship as Parareligion,” ethnographer and practical theologian Pete Ward suggests that “celebrity represents a reformulation in fragmented form of the sacred.” In “A Religion of Shopping and Consumption,” Religious studies scholar Sarah McFarland Taylor examines assertions that the shopping mall has become a sacred space in a religion of consumption, that consumption itself comes to be seen as a center of meaning and value in the U.S. today. We might go further and wonder if portions of American evangelicalism have so integrated these cultural religions of celebrity and consumption that one of America’s most evident celebrity consumers seems simultaneously evangelical.

The point of this is not simply that consumerism and fascination with celebrities are pervasive in our society; even more, they are so deeply rooted and so strong that they might be seen as religious. Both of these aspects of American society provide partial, underlying factors in understanding the rise of Donald Trump, who was a public figure but ascended to more widespread recognition and celebrity as host of The Apprentice, and whose very public displays of wealth are an aspiration for many. One of the most basic principles of popular culture analysis is that popular culture both shapes us and reflects us, as a kind of feedback loop. Thus, they pertain not only to Donald Trump but to us all.

Bruce David Forbes is Professor of Religious Studies at Morningside College. He is the author of Christmas: A Candid History and America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories.

Jeffrey H. Mahan holds the Ralph E. and Norma E. Peck Chair in Religion and Public Communication at the Iliff School of Theology. His books include Religion, Media, and Culture: An Introduction, Shared Wisdom, and American Television Genres.

Learn more about Religion and Popular Culture in America, view the table of contents, or request your exam copy


A Free Press Is Our Greatest Ally

by Lucas A. Powe Jr., author of The Fourth Estate and the Constitution: Freedom of the Press in America

Two hundred fifty years ago William Blackstone wrote “the liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state” and that observation holds true today. A vigorous free press is an essential component of any functioning democracy. Yet President Donald Trump has called much of the national press “the enemy of the American people.” That’s the language Joseph Stalin used for his purges. If what is reported is not to his liking, Trump proclaims it “fake news.” These latest statements come after he stated, while campaigning, that libel laws should be loosened so that public figures like himself could sue the press with an expectation of winning large verdicts. Yet the Framers put protection of the press in the Constitution for a reason. They knew that power is addictive and that checks on it are necessary.

Trump, like presidents before him, bridles about what he deems unfair coverage and the problems that unauthorized leakers cause any administration. His predecessor Barack Obama set an unenviable standard by initiating more prosecutions for leaks than all post-World War II administrations combined. Yet leakers serve a valuable function of getting information into circulation and debate. They must remain anonymous because otherwise they would face retaliation and the public would be the worse off for it.

A free press periodically reminds us of its necessity. Without the courage of the Washington Post, Richard Nixon’s efforts to subvert the Constitution might never have come to light. And the dangers of a docile press were all too evident in the build-up to the Iraq War where Bush Administration statements were taken at face value rather than subjected to the scrutiny that a decision to go to war should demand. Thus John F. Kennedy was able to prevent publication of leaks about the Bay of Pigs operation only to realize that if the New York Times had printed what it knew, the ill-planned and ill-fated invasion would never have occurred.

The job of presidents is to attempt to leave the country in better shape than they found it. Every presidency has an end, but the key democratic institutions remain in place and should be strengthened. That always includes a free and unafraid press because, as the Supreme Court has stated, we have a “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” Rather than being an enemy of the people, a free press is our greatest ally. As I wrote in The Fourth Estate and the Constitution: “the press is an autonomous functioning watchdog on government, publicizing abuses, and, one hopes, arousing the citizenry.”

Lucas A. Powe, Jr., holds the Anne Green Regents Chair at The University of Texas, where he teaches at the School of Law and the Department of Government. A leading historian of the Supreme Court, Professor Powe clerked for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas before joining the Texas faculty in 1971. His latest book is The Supreme Court and The American Elite, 1789-2008 (2009). Previously , reflecting a split career as a historian and a First Amendment scholar, especially of the electronic media, his three award-winning books were American Broadcasting and the First Amendment (California 1987), The Fourth Estate and the Constitution (California 1991), and The Warren Court and American Politics (Harvard 2000). Powe was also a principal commentator on the 2007 four-part PBS series “The Supreme Court.” He has also been a visiting professor at Berkeley, Connecticut, and Georgetown.

After ‘Cronkite Moment,’ Johnson doubled down on Viet policy

by W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism

9780520291294One of the most cherished stories in American journalism is also a tenacious media-driven myth — a tall tale claiming great achievement for the media.

This cherished story/media myth is commonly known as the “Cronkite Moment” of 1968, when CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite supposedly exposed the bankruptcy of the Vietnam War. Forty-nine years ago next week, Cronkite declared in an editorial comment at the end of a special TV report that the U.S. military was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam and that negotiations might offer a way out.

As I discuss in Getting It Wrong, an expanded second edition of which was published not long ago, the “Cronkite Moment” had few of the effects that are often, and extravagantly, attached to it.

Notable among those effects was that President Lyndon B. Johnson watched the program and, upon hearing Cronkite’s dire assessment, understood his war policy was a shambles. It was like an epiphany for the president.

But we know that’s not true: Johnson did not see the Cronkite program when it aired on February 27, 1968. He was in Austin, Texas, at that time, at a birthday party for a long-time political ally, Governor John Connally. It is not clear whether, or when, Johnson saw the program on videotape at some later date.

In any case, Cronkite said nothing about the war that hadn’t been said by leading journalists many times before. By February 1968, “stalemate” was a decidedly unoriginal way to characterize the Vietnam War.

The second edition of Getting It Wrong, which includes three new chapters and new material elsewhere, presents further evidence underscoring that the “Cronkite Moment” is a media myth.

This material elaborates on Johnson’s conduct in the immediate aftermath of Cronkite’s special report — the days and weeks when Cronkite’s assessment should have exerted greatest impact.

But instead of recognizing that Cronkite had shown him the light, Johnson doubled down. He mounted an aggressive defense of his war policy, demonstrating by his forcefulness that he had not taken the anchorman’s message to heart.

Three days after Cronkite’s program aired, Johnson vowed that America would “not cut and run” from Vietnam. “We’re not going to be Quislings,” the president said. “And we’re not going to be appeasers.”

Johnson spoke with similar energy in mid-March 1968, telling a meeting of business leaders in Washington, D.C.:

“We must meet our commitments in the world and in Vietnam. We shall and we are going to win. … I don’t want a man in here to go back home thinking otherwise — we are going to win.”

Two days after that, the president traveled to Minneapolis to speak at the National Farmers Union convention. He took the occasion to urge “a total national effort to win the war” in Vietnam, and slapped the lectern for emphasis. “We love nothing more than peace,” Johnson declared, “but we hate nothing worse than surrender and cowardice.”

He disparaged war critics as ready and inclined to “tuck our tail and violate our commitments.”

A day later, Johnson insisted in a talk at the State Department: “We have set our course” in Vietnam. “And we will prevail.”

Thus at a time when Cronkite’s views should been most keenly felt, the president remained tenaciously hawkish.

The shift in the president’s approach came not in the immediate aftermath of the “Cronkite Moment” (which was not referred to as such until many years later). It took place in meetings with an informal group of senior counselors who collectively were known as the “Wise Men.”

They included foreign policy notables such as Dean Acheson, a former secretary of state; McGeorge Bundy, a former national security adviser, and George Ball, a former under secretary of state.

The “Wise Men” had met in November 1967 and expressed near-unanimous support for Johnson’s Vietnam policy. They met again in late March 1968, and most of them expressed opposition to America’s escalating the war in Vietnam, as Johnson was then contemplating. “The theme that ran around the table was, ‘You’ve got to lower your sights,’” George Ball later recalled.

The president “was shaken by this kind of advice from people in whose judgment he necessarily had some confidence, because they’d had a lot of experience,” Ball noted.

The counsel of the Wise Men probably was the tipping point for Johnson on Vietnam. On March 31, 1968, he announced the United States would stop almost all bombing missions over North Vietnam — and that he would not seek reelection to the presidency.

wjc_pnp_large_crop2W. Joseph Campbell is a professor at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C. He is the author of six books, including Getting It Wrong and 1995: The Year The Future Began.

World Anthropology Day: The Field Under the Current Administration

Happy World Anthropology Day! Today is a day to celebrate the field and join a global recognition of all things anthropological. It is also a day to look forward and think about the future of the field, especially under our current political administration. Below, several UC Press authors share their thoughts on what the state of the field may be over the next four years.

T.M. Luhurmann and Jocelyn Marrow, authors of Our Most Troubling Madness: Case Studies in Schizophrenia across Cultures

“I think this new president is highly unpredictable, and it is not at all clear what will happen within the world, not to mention our field. On the upside, the chaos has made some of us feel that scholarship, careful methods, and good evidence matter now acutely.”

Jon Bialecki, author of A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement

“Other than the obvious and unfortunate changes to disciplinary funding resources that Trump’s expected budget cuts will bring, I think that this will bring back some of the classic Foucaultian concerns with power and the political that have been partially eclipsed by discussions of topics such as ontology, ethics, and post humanism. The challenge will be for anthropologists to bring the array of possibilities pend up by these more recent discussions to those earlier concerns with power and politics, and to do so in a way that will allow us to connect with a wider audience.”

Naomi Leite, author of Unorthodox Kin: Portuguese Marranos and the Global Search for Belonging

“For decades cultural anthropologists have emphasized the situated, partial nature of all knowledge, including our own, and avoided making claims to truth. The more we hear of “alternative facts” and open dismissal of academic expertise, however, the more I think we will see anthropology move in the opposite direction, toward reclaiming an authoritative voice in the public sphere—or so one can hope.”

Sarah Besky, author of The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India

“As anthropologists, we aren’t in the business of predicting the future, so I can’t say what the impact of this administration will be.  What we can do is help our students and each other gain a better sense of where we are now, and how we got here, by critically examining the intersection of racism, inequality, and corporate power.”

Juan Thomas Ordonez, author of Jornalero: Being a Day Laborer in the USA

“The new administration poses challenges to our discipline in a world where truth, lies and perceptions are conflated and used in the name of a non-existent but well “imagined” homogenous nation; a thing so absurd we had put it more or less aside in our fields of inquiry. We must meet such challenges on different fronts, from the critical stances that have made us what we are, to a more engaged anthropology that is accessible to everyone. Now is the time to speak up in unison, and to do so “bigly.””

Deborah Boehm, author of Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation

“In these turbulent times, anthropologists are reminded of the immediate—even urgent—need for public scholarship. On World Anthropology Day, I am grateful to be part of a field that includes the tools to carry out this kind of engaged research. Ethnographers are especially well positioned to witness, analyze, and respond to injustice, and to call on policymakers and the public to bring about change.”

Protest Art and the Art Market

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.

by Titia Hulst, author of A History of the Western Art Market: A Sourcebook of Writings on Artists, Dealers, and Markets

Recent protests of two major contemporary artists in reaction to the election of President Trump made headline news. The decision by Christo, the artist known for his spectacular large-scale interventions in urban and rural settings, to cancel his latest project was hailed as the “Art World’s Biggest Protest Yet” by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times on January 25, 2017. Christo’s gesture of cancellation came on the heels of Richard Prince’s decision to disavow his portrait of Ivanka Trump, which was reported in the same paper on January 12. Kennedy’s presumption that Christo’s cancellation of his project was the more meaningful of the two appeared to be informed by the value that the artists had assigned to the works that were withdrawn ($15,000,000 vs. $36,000).

A History of the Western Art Market (Available September 2017)

Prince had used Trump’s favorite communication tool—Twitter—to announce that his work, a large-scale canvas of a selfie Ivanka Trump had posted on Instagram, was no longer an authentic work by Richard Prince. “This is not my work. I did not make it. I deny. I denounce. This fake art,” he tweeted. The following day Prince clarified that his gesture was “Not a prank. It was sold to IvankaTrump & I was paid 36k on 11/14/2014. The money has been returned. SheNowOwnsAfake.”  In an interview with the Times he added “I decided that the Trumps are not art.” Benjamin Sutton, writing for Hyperallergic, was quick to point out that Prince’s gesture could ultimately backfire, noting that “it’s unclear whether his public disowning of the work will negatively affect its worth and status as an authentic Richard Prince, or, on the contrary, it will add to its resale value.”

Prince’s gesture goes to the heart of the question of what makes a work a work of art. The legendary dealer Leo Castelli, who had been instrumental in the transformation of the market for American art post-World War II, would have argued that an artist’s work does not exist as a work of art unless it has entered the market. He believed, in other words, that the market decides what constitutes a work of art and endows it with value – not the artist.

The problem Prince faced—the continuing existence of the Ivanka portrait—at first glance appeared to have been avoided by Christo. Implicit in the artist’s understated announcement “I no longer wish to wait on the outcome” of his Colorado project is the notion that his work would never be realized because Trump was elected. But the market has the power to compromise this gesture as well. Christo and his long-time partner Jeanne-Claude were financing the project partly through the sale of series of small works depicting the visual effects that they anticipated for the landscape intervention. One of these works, the collage Over the River. Project for the Payette River, Idaho from 1994, is currently for sale on the secondary market. Whether this and other related works will accrue additional value as a result of Christo’s gesture remains to be seen. I would not rule it out.

Titia Hulst is a modern and contemporary art historian. She holds a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts and an MBA from New York University. In addition, she teaches art history at Purchase College in New York.

Germ Wars

by Melanie Armstrong, author of Germ Wars: The Politics of Microbes and America’s Landscape of Fear

9780520292772I teach in an Environmental Management program. When I give my elevator pitch biography, brows often furrow as listeners try to reconcile my research on bioterrorism preparedness with my academic position. In explanation, I challenge them to consider why it is that among the many studies of how people have managed and manipulated “the environment,” we have largely ignored microbial nature.

Human societies have spent vast amounts of time, effort, and money trying to control microbes. The modernized world, with its sewer systems and soap dispensers, looks this way because of our work to manage microbes. Moreover, while government spending on climate change research or species conservation often meets with political strife, few question large-scale allocations for disease control. It is socially ratified environmental management.

Continue reading “Germ Wars”

Debunking Media Myths, Those Prominent Cases of Fake News

by W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism


The mainstream media’s recent angst and hand-wringing about a surge of “fake news” has tended to ignore that the media themselves have often been purveyors of bogus tales and dubious interpretations.

“Fake news” has plenty of antecedents in mainstream media — several cases of which are documented in my book, Getting It Wrong, a new, expanded edition of which was published recently.

The book examines and debunks media-driven myths, which are well-known stories about and/or by the news media that are widely believed and often retold but which, under scrutiny, dissolve as false or wildly exaggerated. Think of them as prominent cases of “fake news” that have masqueraded as a fact for years. Decades, even.

Continue reading “Debunking Media Myths, Those Prominent Cases of Fake News”