On Fragments and Hotspots: Containment and Care in the Extraction of Mount Nimba
29 February 2024, 5:00 pm–6:30 pm
Emmanuelle Roth and Gregg Mitman follow the recent geo turn in the humanities and ask what new social worlds and power relations appear when we extend constituent players beyond the living to include, for example, the earth’s rock strata or the discarded remains of human activities.
This event is free.
SHS Health, Mind and Society
Daryll Forde Seminar RoomTaviton Street 14-16 (Anthropology)LondonWC1H 0BW
This is a joint event hosted by SHS Health, Mind and Society and UCL Anthropocene
The hotspot. In an age of anxiety about climate change, species extinction, and disease outbreaks, the hotspot is an iconic image in tales of the Anthropocene. Its genealogies are many and span biogeography, conservation science, disease ecology, and their economies of knowledge production. In a snippet of Zaire Ebola virus taken from a Nimba long-fingered bat that lived in an abandoned mining adit in a fragment of the Guinean Forests of West Africa, the scales and histories of the hotspot converge.
Situated on the Liberia-Guinea-Côte d'Ivoire border, the Mount Nimba region, with its precious iron ore formations, species-rich rainforests, and novel viruses, gives us a glimpse into what human, nonhuman, and inanimate beings can be to each other. The fractured formations and tectonic plates of friction that comprise Nimba’s geological and life histories invite us to rethink categories of the social beyond those described by multispecies ethnography. Hotspots–of extractive investment, of biodiversity, of emerging infectious diseases–each thrive on particular bedrock and attract certain gatherings of science, politics, and capital. Changing strategies of containment and care have shaped relations between and among the living and nonliving actors in this extractive zone where the interests of mining, conservation, pandemic preparedness, local livelihoods, and ecotourism converge, collaborate, and collide.
In this talk, we follow the recent geo turn in the humanities and ask what new social worlds and power relations appear when we extend constituent players beyond the living to include, for example, the earth’s rock strata or the discarded remains of human activities. In this fragment of the Upper Guinean Forests of West Africa, unexpected alliances among rocks, plants, animals, viruses and people appear as past relations are severed, new bonds are forged, and uneasy compromises are found in the disarray and order that cycles of capitalist extraction unleash and seek to impose.
Emmanuelle Roth is an anthropologist and a postdoctoral research fellow in the project “Fragments of the Forest: Hot Zones, Disease Ecologies, and the Changing Landscape of Environment and Health in West Africa,” funded by the European Research Council (2021–2026) and located at the Rachel Carson Center. She works at the crossroads between medical anthropology, science and technology studies, and environmental history, and investigates discourses about epidemic origins, interactions between humans and nonhumans, and historical configurations of insecurity in West Africa.
Gregg Mitman is the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is also a Guest Research Professor at LMU’s Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, where he leads a European Research Council Advanced Grant, Fragments of the Forest: Hot Zones, Disease Ecologies, and the Changing Landscape of Environment and Health in West Africa. A historian of science, medicine, and the environment, Mitman has spent the last decade on a multimedia project—films, a book, and public history website—exploring the history and legacy of the Firestone Plantations Company in Liberia. His most recent book, Empire of Rubber: Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia, was published by The New Press in 2021.