On settler subject formation: Gabriel A. Piser, Appalachian Anthropocene: Conflict and Subject Formation in a Sacrifice Zone, PhD Dissertation, Ohio State University, 2016


Abstract: My dissertation, “Appalachian Anthropocene: Conflict and Subject Formation in a Sacrifice Zone” diagrams the dominant forces of historical subject formation to see how they shape contemporary responses to extraction-based development and environmental crises. My first chapter examines the new challenges posed by the Anthropocene and neoliberalism in Appalachia, and outlines the general analytical framework of material, conceptual, and affective systems used throughout the dissertation. In Chapter Two I show the violent rearrangement of these three systems as integral to dominant forms of subjectivity and resistance. I then present an overview of these forms of subjectivity before assembling a theory of oppositional subjectivity drawing from Marxism, decolonial, continental, and black philosophy, and queer theory.

Chapter Three traces the boundary-making practices of settler colonialism as they shaped the settler-subject in Appalachia. I examine how dominant forces of subjectification emerged under colonialism, the harmful effects that persist, and their impact on contemporary responses to the land-use conflicts surrounding resource extraction and to environmental disasters like the 2014 Charleston Water Crisis. I conclude this chapter by arguing for a renewed attention to residues of settler colonialism in collective political responses to the context of the neoliberal Anthropocene.

Chapter Four examines the unifying forces of white supremacy, nationalism, and capitalism as they shaped the citizen-subject over the two centuries following the War of Independence. In this chapter I examine the geopolitical production of the national territory of the United States and socio-political production of the national subject of the American Citizen. I then present oppositional responses to dominant American subjectivity in the writing of the militant Appalachian preacher and poet Don West. I show how he helps us to understand these discourses and more importantly, helps us to become subjects differently.

In my conclusion I reflect on the era of Anthropocene neoliberalism and the new problems and opportunities it poses. Since the end of World War II, more than sixty years of rapid political, technological, social, and ecological changes have dramatically reshaped the context facing environmental scholars and Appalachian activists. Among other trends, the region faces the decline of the region’s primary industrial sectors, population loss to coastal and urban regions, new resource extraction opportunities, accelerating inequality and absentee landownership, and changing racial and ethnic demographics. I show how these unique economic, environmental, and socio-political challenges provide rich opportunities for further scholarship on regional development, environmental justice, and related social movements.

%d bloggers like this: