Imperial Debris

On Ruins and Ruination

Imperial Debris

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 29 illustrations Published: May 2013

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > World History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Imperial Debris redirects critical focus from ruins as evidence of the past to "ruination" as the processes through which imperial power occupies the present. Ann Laura Stoler's introduction is a manifesto, a compelling call for postcolonial studies to expand its analytical scope to address the toxic but less perceptible corrosions and violent accruals of colonial aftermaths, as well as their durable traces on the material environment and people's bodies and minds. In their provocative, tightly focused responses to Stoler, the contributors explore subjects as seemingly diverse as villages submerged during the building of a massive dam in southern India, Palestinian children taught to envision and document ancestral homes razed by the Israeli military, and survival on the toxic edges of oil refineries and amid the remains of apartheid in Durban, South Africa. They consider the significance of Cold War imagery of a United States decimated by nuclear blast, perceptions of a swath of Argentina's Gran Chaco as a barbarous void, and the enduring resonance, in contemporary sexual violence, of atrocities in King Leopold's Congo. Reflecting on the physical destruction of Sri Lanka, on Detroit as a colonial metropole in relation to sites of ruination in the Amazon, and on interactions near a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Brazilian state of Bahia, the contributors attend to present-day harms in the occluded, unexpected sites and situations where earlier imperial formations persist.

. Ariella Azoulay, John F. Collins, Sharad Chari, E. Valentine Daniel, Gastón Gordillo, Greg Grandin, Nancy Rose Hunt, Joseph Masco, Vyjayanthi Venuturupalli Rao, Ann Laura Stoler


“The contributors analyze enduring ‘rot’ and ‘debris’ in a variety of global settings . . . . Highly recommended. University collections, all levels.” — P. C. Naylor, Choice

“This rich volume provides valuable material for reflection by readers concerned with the effects of colonialism, with the ruination not only of buildings but of social relations and social groups. . . . It includes several rich interventions from which historians and others can benefit greatly.”  — Rashid Khalidi, American Historical Review

“This is a book of weight and consequence. . . .  Stoler has curated as much as edited a volume that, writing against a certain silencing of the present, examines ruination as an ongoing process in the aftermath of empire.” — Richard Pithouse, Canadian Journal of History

"Critical, theoretically sophisticated, and full of fascinating scholarship. . . .  This is a weighty and important volume . . . which will leave its trace in American Studies, postcolonial studies, heritage studies, and the ecological humanities." — Gesa Mackenthun, Amerikastudien

"Imperial Debris questions some of our deepest assumptions about violence and its residues. This astute, wide-ranging, and ambitious volume refocuses our attention on the incremental processes of ruination that are typically overlooked in favor of official ruins. The result is a major intervention in postcolonial and visual studies." — Rob Nixon, author of Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor

"Barely controlled rage is never far offstage as we are drawn into the continuing drama of empire's ruins—scarred landscapes, polluted places, shattered peoples, and the rot that remains. From sadistic torture and ruination of bodies and souls in the (Belgian) Congo to the lives of Sri Lankan 'coolie' estate workers analyzed in epic poetry, from the state’s attempt to patrimonialize impoverished citizens in contemporary Bahia to Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes and spirits in Gaza, this book forces a new, critical gaze on the ways that colonialism lives on in the present." — Richard Price, author of The Convict and the Colonel, Travels with Tooy, and Rainforest Warriors


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ann Laura Stoler is the Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at the New School for Social Research. She is the author of Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense and Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. Her books Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things and Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History are both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Introduction. "The Rot Remains": From Ruins to Ruination / Ann Laura Stoler 1

Part I. Decompositions of Matter and Mind

1. An Acoustic Register: Rape and Repetition in Congo / Nancy Rose Hunt 39

2. The Coolie: An Unfinished Epic / E. Valentine Daniel 67

3. Empire's Ruin: Detroit to the Amazon / Greg Grandin 115

Part II. Living in Ruins: Degradations and Regenerations

4. Detritus in Durban: Polluted Environs and the Biopolitics of Refusal / Sharad Chari 131

5. Ruins, Redemption, and Brazil's Imperial Exception / John Collins 162

6. When a Demolished House Becomes a Public Square / Ariella Azoulay 194

Part III. Anticipating the Imperial Future

7. The Void: Invisible Ruins on the Edges of Empire / Gastón Gordillo 227

8. Engineering the Future as Nuclear Ruin / Joseph Masco 252

9. The Future in Ruins / Vyjayanthi Rao 287

Bibliography 323

Contributors 355

Index 357
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5361-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5348-5
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