Department of Anthropology

Guest Speaker: Elizabeth Cullen Dunn

Vascular Geopolitics: Tunnels, Chokepoints and Warfare in the South Caucasus

Fri, September 20, 2019 | RLP 1.302B

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

Guest Speaker: Elizabeth Cullen Dunn

Elizabeth Cullen Dunn’s work focuses on forced migration. For more than a decade, she has worked with refugees and internally displaced people. In her latest book, No Path Home: Humanitarian Camps and the Grief of Displacement, looks critically at the refugee camp as a space of both bureaucratic regulation and existential crisis. Using an ontological approach, she shows that displaced people become stuck in camps not only because of war, but because of the logic of humanitarianism, which traps people in states of uncertainty, extreme pressure, and eventually abandonment. No Path Home is based on more than 16 months of ethnographic work in the Republic of Georgia, where Dunn lived and worked in a camp for victims of ethnic cleansing.

Dunn also works in food studies. From 2001-2008, her work focused particularly on global food safety regulations, and the new spaces they created. Working in Colorado’s beef industry, Poland’s pork industry and fruit and vegetable processing in the Republic of Georgia, Dunn investigated how regulations put forth by USDA, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Union turned places from kill floors and lairages to the back end of a cow into new sites of scientific investigation and bureaucratic regulation. Her new work returns to her roots in labor studies, and looks at the ways American meatpacking has become dependent on refugee labor.

Abstract: In this paper, I argue that there is a new kind of geopolitics emerging, one that depends much more on control of circulation than on the control of territory. This vascular geopolitics makes control over chokepoints, or sites of geophysical narrowing, essential. But how do struggles over chokepoints take place? How do non-state actors push back on state control of circulation? Using the example of the Roki Tunnel, the only year-round passageway between Russia and the Republic of Georgia, I show how states, separatists, smugglers and displaced people seek to move the chokepoint in space and transform it in kind in order to gain control over the circulation of goods, money and people. In doing so, they fight to attach Georgia to either the Russian sphere of influence or NATO---a struggle that has global implications.

Sponsored by: Depts of Anthropology & Geography; Rapoport Center; Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance; CREES; Humanities Institute; LBJ School of Public Affairs

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