Yi-Fu Tuan Lecture Archive

Yi-Fu Tuan in a classroom

All lectures are presented fully online via Zoom every Friday at 3:30 PM. The link to join the meeting is https://uwmadison.zoom.us/j/99623736476 except when otherwise indicated. Brown bag sessions start at noon on the days there are speakers. Alumni, friends and the public are always invited to attend.


Spring 2018 Lectures

February 2 - Chloride, Concrete, and the State of Our Lakes
Hilary Dugan
UW - Madison, Center for Limnology

Road salt is often thought of as an ‘environmentally safe’ chemical. However, at high concentrations, chloride can alter aquatic ecosystems by stressing freshwater species, and deteriorate drinking water sources. For 70+ years, we have applied road salt (sodium chloride) to paved surfaces, without any regard for the environmental consequences. This talk will focus on long-term chloride trends and the state our lakes across the Midwest and Northeast United States with regard to chloride contamination, and what is currently being done locally to curtail further environmental damage.

February 9 - Forging a New Understanding of the Late Pleistocene Peopling of the Americas
Mike Waters
Texas A&M University

Archaeological and genetic evidence accumulated over the last few decades show that the 80-year-old Clovis First model no longer explains the exploration and settlement of the Americas by humans at the end of the last Ice Age. Evidence from archaeological sites in North and South America are providing empirical evidence that people occupied the Americas by 15,000 years ago. Studies of modern and ancient genomes confirm this age estimate and tell us who these people were and where they came from. This archaeological and genetic evidence is rewriting our understanding of the First Americans. Supported by the University Lectures Committee

February 16 - Data Feminism: Collection, Analysis, Visualization & Power
Catherine D'Ignazio
Emerson College

What would a feminist approach to data analysis and visualization look like? Drawing on feminist approaches in Science & Technology Studies, Human-Computer Interaction, Digital Humanities and Critical Cartography, I will outline six preliminary principles, along with many examples, for what a feminist approach to data can look like that were co-designed with my colleague Lauren Klein. While the dominant paradigm of data and its visualization is the "view from nowhere", a feminist approach opens up possibilities for the "view from a specific place, by a situated body, for a particular community". We can think of data feminism as a way to address data literacy, inequality and inclusion issues as well as to expand our notion of what counts (and who counts).

February 23 - Elastic Sovereignty: A Global Geography of U.S. Terrorism Law
Lisa Bhungalia
Kent State University

The United States is currently in its sixteenth year of a declared state of emergency. It is within this context that a growing body of counterterrorism law has evolved, including most notably, a federal ban on material support for terrorism. Differing from most other US criminal codes, the material support statue does not require that a crime be committed, nor that there be any direct link to violence. It relies instead on a rather elusive definition for offense that encompasses a broad swath of relations, associations, and activities, including speech which, it can be argued, support or enhance the legitimacy of a US-designated “terrorist entity.” This talk examines the transnational dimensions of US material support law. Drawing on roughly two years of fieldwork in the Palestinian territories, it traces how the tethering of terrorism-financing law to American aid flows has proliferated the sites and means through which the US security regime is being exercised in sites where the United States retains no de jure claim to sovereignty or territory but where its presence is nevertheless viscerally felt. More broadly, it puts law into conversation with other “war on terror” topics such as drone warfare, military commissions, mass surveillance, and indefinite detention, which have received the lion’s share of attention in contemporary analyses of the global “war on terror.”

March 2 - Fire, Fuel, and Dust: Sources of Nutrients and Pollutants to Terrestrial Ecosystems
Alexandra Ponette-Gonzalez
University of North Texas

The atmosphere is a vast reservoir of countless living and non-living materials. These materials can travel as little as tens of meters to thousands of kilometers in the atmosphere before eventual deposition to ecosystems in precipitation or in dry form, with potential effects on ecosystem productivity, biogeochemical cycles, and climate at local to global scales. In this presentation, I will discuss how biomass burning, fossil fuel combustion, and drought alter emissions source strength and the significance of rainfall as a pathway for the delivery of smoke- and dust-derived nutrients and pollutants to diverse coastal, arid, and urban ecosystems.

March 9 - Untitled but not Informal: State Formation and the Global Land Rush in Laos
Mike Dwyer
University of Colorado - Boulder

Over the last decade, transnational farmland deals in the global South have become increasingly prevalent and controversial. Framed by scholars as a new global land rush, these deals have highlighted the link between the shifting geopolitics of development cooperation and intertwined problems of food security, climate change, and global trade. Yet because of their often secretive and speculative nature, transnational land deals have proven difficult to study up close and on the ground, and challenging to interpret in terms of the limited data that is available. This talk posits ongoing state formation in “land-rich” host countries as a key reason for this opacity, and examines this hypothesis through the case of Chinese agribusiness investment in northern Laos. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, my talk highlights the use of land formalization practices by local state authorities as part of larger efforts to pursue their own territorial agendas in a context of ongoing transnational connection. I argue that persistent central-level regulatory challenges vis-à-vis transnational land deals stem less from an absence of state authority, as is often implied, and more from its complexity and proliferation in, among other arenas, the field of land formalization.

March 16 - Property Is. . . . . .?
Ralph Cintron
University of Illinois - Chicago

This work began some time ago in ethnographic fieldwork concerning matters of gentrification on the northwest side of Chicago. Rather quickly I saw that underneath gentrification was a bigger issue, namely, the idea of property. In one sense property is a legal device that enables claims of ownership and possession over things such as land, houses, inventions, animals, and so on. Because liberal legal theory is becoming ever more globalized, private property has become a functional tool for generating economic development, and thus has obscured an understanding of property itself. Thus property has become ontologically uninteresting. A more robust examination of property should take us beyond distinctions between private property and public property and their relationship to the more ancient idea of the commons. This talk will walk through some of that, but eventually land on what I call the “disorganized commons,” which seems to be more than what the current literature on the commons can account for. Given that this talk will be drawn from a lengthy manuscript, I hope to have sufficient time to discuss two more broad points: (1) property and ownership claims depend on a self—or collective self—metaphorically extending itself toward a not self until it dissolves the distinction between the two. These notions are already in play in Lockean and Hegelian notions of property. (2) Indigenous conceptions of land (“we do not own the land, the land owns us”) must be addressed as part of any ontological inquiry into property and ownership.

April 6 - Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life
Am Johal
Simon Fraser University

Confounded by global warming and in search of an affirmative politics that links ecology with social change, Matt Hern and Am Johal set off on a series of road trips to the tar sands of northern Alberta — perhaps the world’s largest industrial site, dedicated to the dirty work of extracting oil from Alberta’s vast reserves. Traveling from culturally liberal, self-consciously “green” Vancouver, and aware that our well-meaning performances of recycling and climate-justice marching are accompanied by constant driving, flying, heating, and fossil-fuel consumption, Hern and Johal want to talk to people whose lives and fortunes depend on or are imperiled by extraction. They are seeking new definitions of ecology built on a renovated politics of land. Traveling with them is their friend Joe Sacco—infamous journalist and cartoonist, teller of complex stories from Gaza to Paris—who contributes illustrations and insights and a chapter-length comic about the contradictions of life in an oil town. Seamlessly combining travelogue, political analysis, and ecological theory, speaking both to local residents and to leading scholars, the authors propose a new understanding of ecology that links the domination of the other-than-human world to the domination of humans by humans. They argue that any definition of ecology has to start with decolonization and that confronting global warming requires a politics that speaks to a different way of being in the world — a reconstituted understanding of the sweetness of life. This talk will introduce the book and the creative process involved in launching it.

April 20 - Social Sensing for Natural Hazards
Qunying Huang
UW - Madison

Recently, we have unfortunately witnessed a series of deadly hurricane events (e.g., Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria and Nate). Such events claim many lives, cause billions of dollars of damage to properties, and severely impact the environment. When a natural hazard occurs, managers and responders need timely and accurate information on damages and resources to make effective response decisions and improve management strategies. This information is referred to as “Situational Awareness” (SA), i.e., an individually as well as socially cognitive state of understanding “the big picture” during critical situations. Fortunately, the popularity of social networks offer various real-time big data streams for establishing SA. For example, sharing information such as texts, images, and videos through social media platforms enables all citizens to become part of a large sensor network and a homegrown disaster response team. However, such massive and rapidly changing data streams present new grand challenges to mine actionable data and extract critical validated information for various disaster management activities. The objective of this talk therefore is to explore opportunities, challenges, solutions and the extent that social sensing data can assist in disaster management during a natural hazard.

April 27 - Slow Disaster: Subreal Infrastructures and the End of Time
Jackie Orr
Syracuse University

Through research, story, and image, this talk evokes the slow catastrophe of industrialized time-forms, accumulating in sites as dramatic as 22 million tons of toxic uranium tailings buried in the deserts of New Mexico, and as mundane as the future metallurgic waste of the MacBook Air on which I write these words. With an eye on the underground, and the occulted crossroads where human and nonhuman time scales intersect, how to pursue a socio-geo-logics animated by social history, and by memory traces held in non-human matters? What methods could possibly be adequate to such a pursuit? How to mark the ‘subreal infrastructures’ where, under life as we know it, supernatural forces generate temporal and psycho-geographic conditions in which we dwell? The talk is part of a larger project on slow disaster, digital cultures, and the cascading catastrophe of exhausted time and post/industrial fallout.

May 4 - Infrastructure Booms and Their Remnants: Towards a Politicized History (and Future) of Large Dams in Pakistan
Majed Akhter (Treacy Lecture)
King's College, London

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a major plank of the Chinese vision for Eurasian inter-connectivity and infrastructural development known as the Belt and Road Initiative. Within Pakistan, attitudes towards CPEC are highly polarized: either celebrated as a godsend for an economy in tatters, or condemned as a neo-imperialist intervention that will seize Pakistani assets for Chinese development. This talk eschews the dichotomy of celebration/condemnation, and instead attempts to analyze the politics of Chinese infrastructural investment in Pakistan in the broader context of technological and geopolitical shifts in the geography of globalization. I argue that the current wave of China-led investment in dams, roads, rails, and other large projects is built atop the physical and ideological ruins of previous attempts by global capital and expertise to "fix" their internal contradictions by physically re-making the Pakistani landscape. My particular focus is on the history and contested future of large dams in highland Pakistan and the disputed territory of Kashmir. Sources include archival documents from the UK, US, and Pakistan, as well as current-day state and intergovernmental reports, statistics, press releases, and other documents. By understanding the historical geography of capital from the perspective of infrastructure investment, the analysis offers a region-based “palimpsest” mode of historiography, as distinct from stagist, structural, repetitive, or genealogical approaches to the history of capital in the periphery. The paper aims to develop insights from Marxist state theory, postcolonial historiography, and technology studies to suggest a politicized and spatially sensitive approach to understanding how large infrastructures shape, and are shaped by, state space, the geography of capitalism, and political cultures of regionalism and nationalism.