Michelle Hak Hepburn
Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology (PhD)
Thinking with trees to see the forest: Huayruro trees and deforestation in San Martin, Peru
In this thesis, I analyze the impacts of infrastructures that have been approved but are not yet constructed. Specifically, I show how the Nicaragua Canal – a mega-infrastructure project owned by a Chinese investment firm and pushed through by the Nicaraguan government – haunts resident peoples in both its non-present presence, and in its propensity to exhume a painful social past. In calling the Nicaragua Canal a “ghost,” a “chimera,” and a “smoke screen,” resident peoples communicate the illusory quality of infrastructures that remain stuck in the preconstruction phase. And yet the many ways in which the Nicaragua Canal is currently affecting resident peoples demonstrate the very real power it has, even when it does not yet exist in the material world. Given this, I engage Derrida’s concept of the specter to examine the impacts of infrastructures that are yet-to-be. With insights gained through fieldwork conducted in Nicaragua from May to August of 2016, I analyze what happens in the liminal spaces of infrastructural development – in the time lag between approval and construction – and especially how potentially affected peoples are experiencing the spectrality of the Nicaragua Canal.
This paper discusses the politics of the first proposed offshore wind turbine development in the United States, Cape Wind. I analyze two sides of this conflict; 1) How residents’ protests of the turbines have problematized large scale renewable energy projects by equating the politics of Cape Wind to capitalist exploitation of land and resources. The ways residents have protested Cape Wind draws parallels between building turbines and exploitation of local resources, something that is more commonly associated with the development of traditional carbon-based fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. 2) I argue that the residents who opposed the project contributed to the developer’s ability to build in Nantucket Sound by contributing to a process of rendering the area technical (Li 2007). My goal is to provide insight into the particular ways the wind and Nantucket Sound has been made the target of development, and also to show how a certain class of Cape Cod residents reacted to the project.