Home Field

Communities in Crisis

A New Series from the Editors of Home/Field

“Welcome to the world of the polycrisis,” intones a historian in the pages of the Financial Times1. Pandemic, insurrection, rebellion, climate catastrophes, and financial instability are now the constitutive conditions of Western modernity’s inability to deliver, or even imagine, a good life. Maybe it’s the end of the liberal capitalist global order – the end of the “end of history.” Ethnographers within Marxist, feminist, and anticolonial genealogies, however, take issue with the idea that “polycrisis” is unique to this moment, whether because it exceptionalizes cycles of speculation and collapse, dismisses the subsumption of social life under capitalism, centers North Atlantic hegemons, or frames the violence of liberal capitalism as a world-historical achievement. Instead, critical work in anthropology has insisted on theorizing crisis in relation to communities – communities of meaning, of production, and of survival. 

 

For this special series titled “Communities in Crisis,” Home/Field asked contributors to consider crisis as a category in their own research, from mass mediated moral panics to the intimate spaces of mutual aid. What kinds of communities are invoked, formed, or obscured by claims of crisis? How is crisis leveraged as a tool of governance or social mobilization? How do ethnographers navigate, document, and contest various iterations of crisis? The result is a series of rich and provocative text and photo essays that engage the affective and temporal dimensions of crisis. Contributions address urgent topics such as the politics of care and hunger, far right education politics, environmental degradation and military bases, the role of mutual aid as a response to austerity politics, environmental racism, climate crisis technology development, and the moral panic over trans healthcare.

 

Introduction by: Matthew Chrisler, Sarah Molinari, and Sheehan Moore, Communities in Crisis Series Editors

Welcome to the Communities in Crisis Series! This page serves as a hub for CiC; you will be able to access all articles in the series as they are posted below.

Photo Essay: A Louisiana “Fenceline” Community

In Colfax, Louisiana, an interracial group of residents are exposed to harmful inhalants every hour, and many have begun to get sick. The toxins come from an open-air incineration facility on the outskirts of town. As residents protest and document their experiences of environmental violence, the town has continued to come to grips with the Colfax Massacre of 1873, an extreme instance of white supremacist violence which changed U.S. history and set the stage for the Jim Crow era.

This piece combines selected photographs by Tulane’s Critical Media and Visualization Lab and watercolor portraits of Colfax residents by New Orleans-based artist Hugo Martínez.

Opiate Addiction as Crisis: Chronic condition or call to action?

Death due to opiate overdose is a growing concern in the U.S. Together with mental health, wellbeing, and employment, opiate addiction is one of the topics often described as contributing to a national crisis (Mega 2020). However, in public discourse the concept of crisis is wielded to depict situations that seem without solutions.

Geographies of Crisis and Histories of Failure: Deindustrialization and Addiction in Rural America

Driving around northeastern New York on the roads known as ‘heroin highway,’ the landscape once shaped by growing industries is a familiar blur of dispossession. The towns and spaces in between along the winding line of weathered asphalt are defined by overlapping narratives of crisis: the chemical dehumanization and death– embodied in the synthetic opioid fentanyl – and the damaged environments, illegible economies, and suffering bodies of late industrialism. My early work with law enforcement agents, drug courts, and archives found these overlapping crises to be far from total: seemingly “ruined” people and places along the highway are entwined with the area’s postindustrial middle class, extensive green spaces, and thriving ecotourism.

 “Well, We’re Still Waiting…”: The Prolonged Crisis of Military Facility Closures

Decades after the Army closed the Savanna Army Depot in 2000, the lingering impact from its past use haunts this place in the soil and groundwater. Upon its closure, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Savanna Army Depot a Superfund site, given the enduring contamination from TNT, asbestos, unexploded ordnance, chemical pollutants, and the residues of other environmental hazards. The Department of Defense is responsible for funding the restoration of former military lands to communities in a usable state, but the cleanup has been glacial at many sites like the Savanna Army Depot. In the years—decades—since, residents of Savanna have experienced the facility’s closure and its subsequent neglect as a long crisis of abandonment.

Crisis and Community Care: Studying Hunger at Home as a First-Generation Student

I grew up in a food insecure household in Appalachian Eastern Kentucky, yet I can understand why hunger is believed to be far away. Our hunger was a stigmatized secret, pushed to the back of the pantry, just like the expired can of yams we hoarded just in case social services came by—or we reached a new threshold of desperation.

“Revofev/The road from Chicago to #decolonizezhigaagoong*”

This photo essay is a collaboration among Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney, Ana Croegaert, and Jacob Campbell, and reflects on the challenges faced by residents in long-disinvested neighborhoods in the deeply segregated city. Isiah leads us in the essay, reminding us that, although devastated by racialized urban planning systems and job loss, decades of criminalization, police-sanctioned torture, and lack of adequate mental health care, people in his communities create beauty, express love, endeavor to take care of one another (Contreras 2021). They reach out across neighborhoods and racial difference to build connections that, although fragile, are needed now, as ever.

Distribution Politics in Eric Adams’s New York

In this vignette, I am centering the gaze of our group, whose labor and ethics of distribution encapsulated the definition of mutual aid as the “collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually from the awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them” (Spade 2020, 7). I especially engage with mutual aid groups coming out of the Covid-19 crisis and the values that shape their work. These values lie in the acts of solidarity of supporting protests through the distribution of supplies. They also manifest through non-hierarchical acts of distribution, that is, the refusal of means testing, policing needs or paperwork. Finally, there is a politicization of abundance, mobilized by mutual aid organizations as a response to municipal policies of austerity in the wake of the pandemic.

The crisis in our community is white supremacy

Sarah Robert and Kate Haq examine the afterlives of crisis in Buffalo, their civic home and research field. In the aftermath of the white supremacist shooting of Black Buffalonians at the only grocery store in a Black neighborhood, they ask about another form of white supremacy: the inertia of white liberal ideologies and the enclosure of white supremacist violence within white liberal apathy. Considering their own participation in white civic subjectivities, the photos here document the authors’ beginning with a sense of understanding whiteness within antiracist contexts, and an attempt to move toward a more active stage of autonomously confronting and addressing white supremacy’s many ideological expressions.

Trans Care, Crisis, and Moral Panic

In this piece, Mikey Elster compares “the experiences of trans people and their relatives to the media coverage of trans healthcare to demonstrate the complicity of national media in stoking a moral panic that empowers reactionary political forces. This coverage amounts to promoting what Antonio Gramsci called ‘common sense’ by disseminating numerous anecdotal, non-systematic concerns, questions, and narrative frameworks that taken together imply a need for dramatic restrictions on healthcare.”

Reactionary Reforms

In this piece I consider how far right agitators use so-called “culture war” issues to build an insurgent politics, particularly around the institutions of the family and the public school. While popular renderings of the far right often frame “culture wars” as flashpoints of ideological contestation, I argue that far right political mobilization relies on culture wars to create a collective feeling of crisis around the social reproduction of the white heteronormative settler family.

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