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David M. Hughes

Professor of Anthropology | Rutgers University
How Solar Became “Alternative”: Slavery and the Making of Energy Flows

I began my career by investigating processes whereby land became an object of colonial and racial conflict and identity in Southern Africa.  These struggles pitted natives against colonial settlers, and claims of having originated on the land against claims of having improved it.  Conquerors and the conquered fought over nature and over its definition.  This frontier formation lingers on, but political and environmental shifts are rapidly superseding it.  I am now asking: How should one relate to landscapes and environments after colonialism and under climate change?  In the “anthropocene” of artificial nature and widespread risk, what new environmental movements and sensibilities are taking shape?  And – to the small extent that my writing influences events – what ideals should lead us from or through the looming catastrophe?  Based on research in Trinidad and Tobago, I am writing a book manuscript entitled “Ordinary oil: energy, climate change, and the silence of complicity.”  Ultimately, I hope to articulate new forms of justice deeply compromised by the imperative to survive.