A visit to Taungurung country

Later this year, I’ll be part of a team starting a new research project (more about this soon) on collaborations and engagements between Aboriginal peoples and the natural hazards sector in southern Australia. It’s an exciting venture, and while I cannot get started on it quite yet, the short-term upshot is that it has given me the opportunity to get out in country Victoria. This week, that meant visiting Strath Creek Falls (dry, in high summer) on Taungurung country, near Broadford. The area, part of Mt Disappointment State Forrest, was heavily affect by the 2009 Black Saturday fires, specifically the Kilmore East fire, which started that morning southwest of Strath Creek Falls, travelled southeast through the day, and then turned to the northeast in the afternoon. Looking towards falls (pic below), one would have seen the pall of the inferno over the hill, shuffling right to left, before it moved over the hill’s crest in the mid-evening.

We all know that forests on this continent grow back. The seed bank still comes to life in the wake of such extreme heat. Juvenile obligate seeders spring back, crowding for space, shaded by epicormic growths spreading out from the mature trees left standing. Nonetheless, I still find it staggering to see the abundance eight years later.

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Deakin Anthropology Seminar Series #1

By chairing the seminar series committee at the Institute for Culture & Society last year, I realised I enjoy this kind of organising. It’s exciting to help collaborate in assembling a conversation, or relay of conversations, over a whole year. This year I am co-convening the Deakin Anthropology Seminar Series with my colleague David Boarder Giles. We’ve got an exciting line-up (see it here) and some big plans about additional ways we can make the seminars and their speakers available. You can subscribe to our mailing list (!!) here. The first of the series is this coming week…

David Boarder Giles, ‘Towards an Anthropology of Abject Economies’

Date: Thursday 2nd March
Time: 4:30-6:30pm
Location: Deakin Waterfront AD1.122 (also: Burwood C2.05, VMP TBC)

Where do things go when they are lost, discarded, or forgotten? What social afterlives do they lead? And perhaps more importantly, whose lives are constituted among the detritus? Through an exploration of such questions, and the larger patterns that emerge from them, I sketch out new directions for an anthropology of value, one that looks beyond the horizons of capital towards the futures that lie in its ruins.

To that end, we will explore what might constitute an abject economy—an economy built precisely on the abjection and abandonment of people, places, and things. What pathways of devalorization and desuetude might be its conditions of possibility? What emergent forms of life endure, for example, in the interstices of capital? What non-market practices and regimes of value are possible within its folds?

Giles develops both a theoretical framework for future research, and an ethnographic description from his own work with dumpster-divers, squatters, and other scavengers in several “global” cities in North America. These scavengers cultivate, in a very real sense, minor economies, putting into circulation those surpluses—people, places, and things alike—discarded by the prevailing markets and publics of these cities. They present us with one model of an abject economy: non-market forms of surplus value and labor, simultaneously made possible and necessary by the vicissitudes of capital accumulation.

These economies are paradoxes, neither separable from, nor commensurable with the logic of market exchange. Such economies hold profound lessons for the anthropology of the twenty-first century—in which market-centric, “neoliberal” regimes of value seem to have eclipsed so many other forms of economy. In a moment when there seems to be no “outside” to capitalism, we may yet discover its margins, and there may we not only learn a great deal about the ontological grounds of capital itself, but also discover existing and emergent modes of valuing otherwise. Giving an account of these dynamics and paradoxes, I will argue, will be one of anthropology’s key challenges in the coming years.

Biography

David Boarder Giles is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. He writes about cultural economies of waste and homelessness, and the politics of urban food security and public space, particularly in “global” cities. He has done extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Seattle and other cities in the United States and Australasia with dumpster divers, urban agriculturalists, grassroots activists, homeless residents, and chapters of Food Not Bombs—a globalized movement of grassroots soup kitchens. You can read excerpts of his work at his blog.