Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Ruba Salih ─ Nature, Displacement and the Anthropocene in Palestine: A View From the Already Extinct

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Monday, November 1, 2021

12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

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About the Lecture

Recent Anthropocene commentaries have argued that as humans have become decisively entangled in natural systems, they became a geological species-agent aware of its own place in the deep history of planetary time. The recognition of the brevity and paucity of human history, coupled with the risk of collective extinction humans face, poses distinctive questions around justice and sovereignty for human and non-human forms of life. On the one hand, it has been argued that the Anthropocene should carry the seeds for a pre-political, ethical consciousness. The latter is essential to pave the way for a progressive construction of a common world, beyond particularistic justice claims. On the other hand, the appreciation of human-nature entanglements has brought to the fore ontological questions about non human-lives’ voice in the political order. In this paper, I approach the debate from the vantage point of the already extinct: Palestinian refugees and their ecologies. The case of Palestine shows that large-scale reordering of nature and the expulsion of indigenous populations are constitutive aspects of settler-colonial formations. Power and intra-human divisions are at the core of how ontological distinctions between “Nature” and the “Human” come into being in the first place. Nature is far from being a universally shared notion. In Palestine, a ‘settler nature’ was imposed and the very boundaries between Life and Nonlife were redrawn, ‘fossilizing’ the indigenous through violent erasure and displacement. Ethnographic material collected among Palestinian refugees shows, however, that the destruction of the indigenous natural and social habitats is unstable as it runs against the unruly and unpredictable work of nature itself, producing novel political claims and visions. In conclusion, it is only by attending to this profoundly unequal access to Life (human and non-human) that a possibility emerges of recognizing the common, global vulnerability the species faces.

Center for Middle East Studies
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About the Speaker

Fall 2021 Visiting Fellow in Palestinian Studies at Brown University, Ruba Sali, is a professor at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Her research interests and writing cover transnational migration and diasporas across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Islam and gender, the Palestine question, and refugees. She has been a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge and at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. 

She is the author of Gender in Transnationalism: Home, Longing and Belonging Among Moroccan Migrant Women, and of Musulmane Rivelate: Donne, Islam Modernita’ (winner of the Premio Pozzale 2011). Currently, she is working on a book on the aesthetics of waiting and the politics of return among Palestinian refugees, which is to be published by Cambridge University Press. Among her publications are two co-edited special issues with Sophie Richter-Devroe: "Palestine and Self-determination Beyond National Frames: Emerging Politics, Cultures, and Claimsin the South Atlantic Quarterly (2018) and "Cultures of Resistance in Palestine and Beyond: On the Politics of Arts, Aesthetic and Affect" in the Arab Studies Journal (2014). Her most recent articles include: "Displacing the Anthropocene: Colonisation, Extinction and the Unruliness of Nature in Palestine" with Olaf Corry in Environment and Planning E. Nature and Space (2021), and "From Standing Rock to Palestine We are United: diaspora politics, decolonisation and the intersectionality of struggles" with Elena Zambelli and Lynn Welchman in Ethnic and Racial Studies (2020).