Archipelagoes of Aftermaths: Survivance, Imperialism, and Climate Change in New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and Hawai´i

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Critical and Cultural Studies
Environmental Studies
African Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Climate Change
New Orleans
Puerto Rico
U.S. Empire
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Jones, Gillian, Maris

Theorizing the United States as an assemblage of archipelagic geographies transcending oceans and national borders, I advance a multi-sited study traversing three locales to demonstrate how territories shown on imperial maps as geographically unlinked are nevertheless united by imperial-made disasters, intertwined aftermaths, and the strategies of marginalized communities to survive and resist. Archipelagos of Aftermaths: Survivance, Imperialism, and Climate Change in New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and Hawai´i investigates climate change vulnerability and adaptation praxis in Afro-Indigenous, coastal and island communities navigating the intersecting dangers of U.S. imperialism and hurricanes. A portmanteau of survival and resistance, Gerald Vizenor defines survivance as “an active sense of presence, the continuance of native stories, not a mere reaction” (2008). Mobilizing autoethnography, interviews, archives, and community-engaged ethnographic research, t​​his dissertation asks: What forms of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) have been developed and sustained by Afro-Indigenous people in coastal and island communities, governed by U.S. policy, to prepare for and survive climate-related disasters? I engage the wisdom of plantcestors to analyze the United States Empire from the ground up, both in relation to the modes of violence that precipitate movement, alienation, and extraction and with regards to the grounded strategies of humans most marginalized from imperial centers of power. I posit that my field sites interlock in the present-day political struggles Black and Indigenous peoples lead against disasters of empire. I argue survivance is rooted in interdependence, not individualism, in part because dispossession, displacement, and dehumanization also work through interdependence, which becomes clear by following and listening to plantcestors. I contend that interdependence extends beyond human engagement to include engagements between humans and plants, both within and beyond the coastal regions of the U.S. Empire; the only way to fully understand these engagements is by surrendering to the embodied forms of knowledge that are kept and transmitted with care, within and across communities. By investigating knowledge generated from legacies of political and ecological inequality, and the networks and nodes through which it is disseminated, this dissertation connects centuries-old dispossessions to contemporary ones, to address disproportionately distributed climate impacts within the United States Empire.

Thomas, Deborah, A.
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