Trevor Barnes


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Urban space and the engineers of time : assembling an intelligent transportation system in Los Angeles, California (2023)

Research on the “smart city” within critical urban studies is evolving into a maturing subfield. The smart city, these studies find, is becoming a globally dominant way of representing urban space through idealized high-tech interventions such as data dashboards, control rooms, sensor networks, and platforms. This dissertation contends that a more comprehensive account of the smart city’s materiality is needed to better understand the historical influence of smart-city discourse in local context. As such, this dissertation traces historically how a specific instance of smart-city discourse --- real-time “intelligent” transportation --- was shaped by, through, within, beneath, and above the bureaucratic and street-level landscapes of Los Angeles, California. It does so through an examination of the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) center within the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). ATSAC was launched during the 1984 Summer Olympics to reduce congestion through the computerized governance of traffic signals. It began as a demonstration project that evolved into a “citywide” system that continues to be promoted and upgraded. Archival and secondary-source research, thirty-eight individual and group interviews, and two day-long ethnographic observations were conducted to understand the co-evolution of the concepts and materialities underpinning ATSAC’s pre-history and development. The dissertation draws on governmentality studies and actor-network theory in order to conceptualize and analyze the “assembling” of ATSAC. The main argument is that the turn to real-time traffic governmentality in Los Angeles was both enabled and complicated by three material processes. These included the protracted embedding of real-time control into Los Angeles’s streetscape and municipal bureaucracy; the successful and unsuccessful enrollments of people, organizations and artifacts into ATSAC’s post-Olympics network of control; and the surprisingly complex labor of maintaining real-time traffic governmentality inside and outside the ATSAC control room. This framework and the case study of ATSAC contribute a material approach to the discursive aspects of smart-city development. They open up opportunities to debate the durable and fragile aspects of actually-existing smart-city projects that are often overlooked.

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Crowd cash and the city: understanding the (re)emergence of the crowd as a financial 'actor' and its reimagining of urban development futures (2022)

Crowds have (re)emerged as a cultural economic phenomenon over the past decade, often eliciting fervent financial fantasies of democratic distribution and public participation. New collective claims are being made over circuits of value and money. This is particularly evident in the rapid proliferation of the crowdfunding economy. This ‘new’ economy has become so pronounced that urban governments are now turning to ‘crowds’ to improve public finance. Latest reports have indicated 45 (12 percent) of the United Kingdom’s councils are attempting to ‘crowdfund themselves out of crisis’ and that crowdfunding will become the de-facto community development mechanism for U.K. councils. How do we understand this ‘crowdfunded urbanism’? This research draws attention to the ‘crowd’ as is it rendered into a financial market actor through three accountings of this phenomenon. First, it seeks to provide a genealogical account of ‘crowds’ in the context of finance, with an eye towards critique of dominant understandings of ‘wise crowds’. Second, it provides an empirical study of the marketization of urban crowdfunding, tracing the assemblage of actors, technologies, and discourses that are deployed to ‘make’ urban crowdfunding markets (particularly in the U.K.). This draws in a new sensibility towards the collective within study of financial markets and their incursions into urban life. And finally, it attempts to assess the implications of urban crowdfunding as a technology of urban financial governance. Is this a potentially proliferative space of the diverse economy or appropriated by existing financializing capitalist economy? In other words, this study of crowdfunding attempts to elucidate the intersecting processes of market making and the emergent ‘platform economy’. It illustrates how dramatically ‘crowd thinking’ has shifted. It is reliant on dissociations with irrationality and with cities in order to provide the ‘solution’ for the present. And yet, ‘classical’ crowd thinking offers a new entry point into the critique of markets. It reveals the iterative interaction of ‘crowd thinking’ and ‘the crowd’ in practice. And finally, argues that while ‘the crowd’ might open up political space for thinking the world differently, it is too often contained within ‘platform capitalism’.

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Making the environmental state in Chile: knowledge, markets, and legal frameworks for biodiversity conservation (2022)

In response to pressures from intergovernmental institutions, NGOs, and environmental movements, Chile is crafting new legal and policy frameworks to increase state management and financing of biodiversity conservation. In 2014, the executive branch sent to congress a bill to create a Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (BPAS). The BPAS, which remains in the legislature, would be a game-changer in a country that has for decades prioritized a neoliberal economic model based on the export of raw nature. Moreover, since the state ratified ILO Convention 169 in 2008 and UNDRIP in 2009, the new environmental institutions must respect the rights and views of Indigenous people – a considerable challenge given Chile’s long legacy of Indigenous land dispossession, forced displacement, and genocide. This dissertation analyzes “the making of the environmental state”: a state with sufficient institutional capacity to protect biodiversity. The questions guiding this research are: What is the character of the environmental state in Chile? How does the environmental state come into being? What is its approach to generating financial resources? And how does it relate to Indigenous people? Based on interviews with state and intergovernmental officers, Indigenous representatives, and private environmental experts, along with a review of governmental documents, I scrutinize the creation of the BPAS bill and its main economic instruments. I trace the legislative history of the BPAS bill, reviewing parliamentary debates around articles which render biodiversity economic. I then focus on one of the bill’s centerpieces, a biodiversity offsets market, analyzing the actors who participated in its crafting, the discourses justifying its implementation, and the market devices in its design. Finally, I shift gears to examine the state's relationship with Indigenous people during a consultation on the BPAS. This research suggests that the state's intimate relationship with global circuits of capital accumulation and policymaking severely restricts its capacity to implement environmental reforms. Furthermore, the environmental state in Chile is invested in internal and settler colonial logics that marginalize Indigenous practices and knowledges.

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Machine space: mass interrogation and later modern American wars (2021)

This dissertation examines the use of mass interrogation by military intelligence agencies during later modern wars. It draws from state, non-government, and military archives, as well as extensive primary and secondary records. The research focuses on the activities of the US military intelligence branches and the CIA since 1945, with empirical analysis centring on key episodes from the early cold war, the American war in Vietnam, and the ‘war on terror’. Together they demonstrate that interrogation apparatuses have been crucial means by which these agencies have produced the geographical and other intelligence needed to know the enemy and spaces of war in order to extend power over them. Much more than an interpersonal encounter in a tightly delineated zone, I argue that intelligence interrogation should be conceived of as an extended spatial practice. The research shows that mass interrogation recurrently takes form as large-scale ‘technopolitical apparatuses’. Their political geographies are infrastructural, material, and performative. As military technologies, they facilitate control over enemy bodies and territories by indexing the geographies of both; as political technologies, they produce new specialist subjects, disclosing interrogation as an expert-bureaucratic problem of maximising data production. The study establishes that mass interrogation is not singular; it takes radical new forms as the geographies of later modern war transform. Nonetheless, whether contributing to an industrial-economic cold war, a neo-imperial counterinsurgency, or as part of an ‘everywhere war’ by a counterterror state in the twenty-first century, American interrogators and their supporting personnel continue to be confronted by the imperatives of ‘machine space’. In it, military interrogation is not ‘a science and an art’, as commonly presented, but instead appears to demand the mechanical coordination of forces against material objects by military workers, each with strictly compartmentalised responsibilities. In machine space, the collective challenge of interrogation is to process a maximal number of human sources, to ‘break’ them so that ever greater volumes of data may be extracted and reassembled as new informational forms. This dissertation finds that, in doing so, mass interrogation has helped to activate some of the violent circuits necessary to perform later modern American war.

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Capillaries of capital: space, power, and fossil fuel flows in the colonial present (2019)

In the spring and summer of 2018, opposition to the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline emerged as a frontline in the global struggle against fossil fuel industries. Opposition to this project had been simmering for years. In the face of planetary climate change, the Anthropocene, and the Sixth Great Extinction, pipeline developments across North America had become highly controversial matters, targeted by environmental activists, advocates of climate justice, and many Indigenous communities. This dissertation places conflicts over tar sands bitumen extraction and pipeline developments within a broad historical-geographical context of settler colonialization and capital accumulation in Canada. The chapters roughly follow the flow of crude bitumen along the pipeline, historically and geographically, from the first colonial encounters of this material oozing out or the banks of the Athabasca River, to present-day conflicts on the west coast of Canada. I begin by tracing the historical processes of settler colonial dispossession and the circuits of capitalist investment that remade tar sands bitumen into a 'natural' resource of Canada, and which have produced the landscapes of extraction that the tar sands are today. Moving along this supply chain from the sites of extraction to sites of circulation, I then consider the spatial-temporal logics with which crude oil flows across capitalist space. In the final chapter, I arrive at the site of Trans Mountain’s tank farm facility where Indigenous people and settler activists attempted to restrict the movement of tar sands bitumen by placing their bodies on the line to prevent pipeline expansion. Ultimately, I argue that the current expansion project can be understood as one that is bound up in, and reflective of, shifting constellations of capital, nation, and political authority. At stake in this conflict is not just a pipeline, but whether the material flows of the future are characterized by socio-ecological relations of reciprocity and mutualism, or relations of harm and violence.

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Filling the void: struggles over implementing freshwater policy in Aotearoa New Zealand (2019)

This dissertation analyzes how the implementation of environmental policy is shaped by struggles over interpretation. Policy implementation is not a linear or mechanistic process, but is influenced by the subjective interpretation of policy concepts and how those relate to implementation practices. At the same time, however, not all interpretations are equal, and some are more influential than others. While there may be an initial ‘institutional void’ in which many interpretations are considered legitimate, political actors will attempt to structure this void by narrowing down the range of acceptable policy interpretations.The following chapters investigate how actors attempt to structure the institutional void of policy implementation. Chapter 2 situates the meaning of freshwater policy within historical debates about freshwater and its connection to colonial, biophysical, economic, and regulatory problems. Chapters 3-5 explore how three sets of actors engage in interpretive channelization by crafting and circulating their preferred interpretations of policy concepts in the implementation process. The state uses a diverse menu of regulatory and non-regulatory mechanisms to require and guide local authorities to implement policy in a certain way. Local governments face unique circumstances and must narrate the policy requirements into alignment with the interests of local organizations. Non-state experts such as intermediaries can augment local government interpretations by providing research and technical advice, but can also engage antagonistically by challenging interpretations in court or by using spatial inter-referencing to weaken the power of specific interpretations.By treating the implementation of policy as amenable to political struggle, a clearer political diagnosis of opportunities and constraints can be conducted. Within each of the channelizing processes described here, both constraint and opportunity exist: even a neoliberal government must respond to public aspirations for water; politicians influence but cannot completely control bureaucrats within the state apparatus; local governments experience progressive as well as conservative contextual forces; and expert intermediaries can be champions of decolonization and not just advocates of cost-minimization. While the contours of opportunity and constraint will be unique for each policy context, it is crucial to attend to both together if we want to realize environmental justice in practice.

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Audible Developments: Geographies of capitalism, nature, and sound on BC's North Coast (2018)

Proceeding from Denning's (2015) claim that sound is fundamental to social and political analysis, and hence, constitutive of 'audiopolitics', the dissertation argues for sound as an expressive medium of industrial development politics on the North Coast of British Columbia (BC), 2007-2015. Informed by sound studies, political ecology, and critical ethnography (Hart 2006), and drawing on eighteen-months of fieldwork (2012-2015), the dissertation identifies connections between large-scale development forces and communities experiencing uneven change. Chapter 2 engages environmental conservation activities through acoustically-mediated whale research, finding that situated conceptions of 'nature experience,' linked to institutionally sanctioned practices of interspecies listening, hold formal consistencies with Adorno's (1951) culture industry. Chapter 3 proceeds as a comparative study of noise abatement in the restructuring city of Prince Rupert, and follows three community campaigns which entangled themselves in locally-operative forms of neoliberal eco-governance. It argues that collective expressions of left melancholy (Brown 1999), and the reified conception of situated 'past-ness' they articulate, emerged from efforts to contest industrial sounds without challenging the logics they relied upon. Chapter 4 considers techno-scientific efforts to chart the biological impacts of ocean noise, now considered an emergent marine hazard linked to cavitating ship propellers. The chapter understands the consensus around the regional management of ocean noise 'risk' as evidence of hegemonization (Gramsci 2011), revealing a correspondence between marine bio-acoustics practices and capitalist efforts to attain sustainable growth trajectories in 'risky' marine space. Chapter 5 examines Gyibaaw (2006-2012), a musical project founded by two teenagers from the Gitga'at First Nation. Using Hall's (2017) concepts of articulation and conjuncture, it presents Gyibaaw as decolonial audiopolitics, and insists upon the significance of 'Indigenous black metal' at a contemporary nexus of Indigenous resurgence, resource extractivism, and ascendant white ethno-nationalism. Across these cases, sounds materialize as potent yet uncertain objects of social mediation, with their political valence not known in advance. The dissertation consistently observes deepening conditions of technological mediation, co-productive of new sonic natures and capitalist social forms, with consequences for local capacities to negotiate socio-ecological change and chart progressive futures.

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An Ethnography of Possibility: Finding and Forging 'the Otherwise' in Two Winnipeg-based Alternative Economic Development Communities (2015)

Theoretically driven by the work of J.-K. Gibson-Graham and postcapitalist politics, the thesis draws on ethnographic research in two community organizations to explore what is possible to think and imagine in the making and everyday of two community economies. The first half of the thesis examines possibly / knowledge, or the use and impact of ideas about economy and related concepts such as rent, enterprise and social enterprise, to study how theoretical practices shape community endeavors. Chapters examine the practice of capitalocentric and “otherwise” economic ideas. The second half of the thesis examines possibility / becoming, or the moment of becoming and the processes leading up to such becoming, to study, in one case, the social relations of a group and the role of consensus-based decision making and the impact of fantasies about cooperatives and cooperation; and in the other case, the impact of ideas about the role and roll-out of policy within the training program and who shapes an organization’s ability to intervene in the local labour market.

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Animal traffic: making, remaking and unmaking commodities in global live wildlife trade (2014)

Against mass species loss and escalating concern over declining biodiversity, legal and illegal trade in wildlife is booming. Annually, it generates tens of billions of dollars and involves the circulation of billions of live and dead animals worldwide. This dissertation examines one dimension of this economy: flows of live, wild-caught animals – namely exotic pets – into North America. My central questions are: how are wild animals’ lives and bodies transformed into commodities that circulate worldwide and can be bought and owned? How are these commodities remade and even unmade? In answering these questions the dissertation is concerned not only with embodied practices, but also with broader, dominant assumptions about particular figures of the human and the animal, and the relations between them. This dissertation draws on reading across economic geography and sociology, political economy and ecology, and political theory to construct a theoretical approach with three strands: a commodity chain framework, a theory of performativity, and an anti-speciesist position. It weaves this theoretical grounding through multi-sited research carried out from 2010-2013, including participant- and spectator-observation, interviews, and film and photography. In this research, to retain a focus on animals I inserted myself in multispecies contact zones. Specifically, I traced three nodes in global live wildlife trade’s circuits: commodification of animals through capture in biosphere reserves in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize; recommodification (re-legitimation of the animals’ status as commodities) through exchange at exotic animal auctions across the US; and attempted decommodification through rehabilitation at a wildlife centre in Guatemala. This research suggests that commodification and decommodification are not processes of “denaturing” and “renaturing”, respectively. Rather, they are both productions of particular natures. Commodification produces an encounterable, individual and controllable animal life. Decommodification seeks to do the opposite. Ultimately, I argue that all of these global live wildlife trade processes depend on and perform, or bring into being, a human/animal dualism that positions the human figure as a master subject and the animal as a subordinate object. This dissertation thus amounts to a critique of the exotic pet commodity form.

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State rescaling, experimental reforms and institutional continuity : the shifting spatial logics of socioeconomic regulation in post-1949 China (2014)

Drawing on the literature on state rescaling, this dissertation investigates how post-1978 layers of policy shifts interact with regulatory logics of Mao Zedong-era policies, and in turn how this reproduces what the Chinese state now deems to be ‘necessary’ forms of uneven development. It proceeds on the premise that the shifting regulatory geographies of the Chinese state constitute a prism through which to evaluate socioeconomic change in China. The analysis is presented in two parts. First, it questions the logics and implications of designating specific territories – Hengqin and Qianhai in the Pearl River Delta and Liangjiang in Chongqing – into “nationally strategic new areas” after the 2008 global financial crisis. These logics were assessed through triangulating three primary empirical sources: policy documents, published comments by state actors and interviews with planners and scholars in China. The contemporary cases are presented in two segments, each comprising two chapters (Chapters 6 to 9). The first chapter of each segment explores how the geo-historical context and key actors enabled the national designation, the second examines the implications of key policy experimentation in the areas. Working from these empirical findings, the dissertation revisited historical sources (memoirs from different state actors of the Mao era, statistics extending back to 1949, academic articles in China, etc.) and developed a geographical-historical narrative that evaluates how the spatial logics of socioeconomic regulation have evolved during and after the Mao era (Chapters 4 and 5). The outcome is a two-pronged, mutually-reinforcing attempt to theorize the past from the lens of the present, and to conceptualize the present through ascertaining the impacts of policies inherited from past regimes. In so doing, the dissertation problematizes simple ‘transition’ models that portray a unidirectional, epochal change in the post-1978 Chinese political economy, a change characterized by decentralized governance and intensified economic-geographical inequality. It emphasizes, instead, a more deeply sedimented pattern of development that is marked simultaneously by significant (and enduring) forms of uneven socioeconomic development and experimental (and capricious) attempts to transcend these forms.

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"We are damaged": planning and biopower in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1880-2010 (2012)

This dissertation examines how modern urban planning has sought to manage human life in the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Covering the period between 1880 and 2010, the dissertation examines a series of key moments and initiatives in the history of urban planning in Halifax. Drawing on archival research, semi-structured interviews, and social theory, it examines how planning sought to protect, improve, or otherwise alter the condition of human life; how power was implicated and exercised in these initiatives; and how acts of violence were committed against certain individuals or groups in the paradoxical name of safeguarding “life.” Drawing centrally on Foucault’s analysis of biopower, this dissertation argues that the seemingly paradoxical character of modern planning – its stated commitment to protecting or improving life, on the one hand, and its observe capacity to damage life, on the other – can be connected to the particular configurations of knowledge and power through which life is managed in modernity. Consistent with Foucault’s analysis, life is shown to be perceived by urban planning in relation to certain norms, and those who are perceived to betray these norms are liable to be exempted from the benefits of planning, compelled to bear its costs, or both. Across a series of initiatives, from the construction of “model tenements” in the early 1900s to the mobilization of public “participation” in the 1970s, planning is shown to operate within a divided, bifurcated conception of human life. Damaged lives, and a damaged city, are often a consequence of such divisions. In contrast to analyses that attribute the damage caused by modern planning to a deviation from its proper (or possible) role as a guardian of life, this dissertation concludes that damage is often integral to precisely the latter role, and it argues for a deeper interrogation of the configurations of knowledge and power that planning has come to serve.

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Making markets, making biodiversity: understanding global biodiversity politics (2012)

Pricing and market exchange, we are now often told, are the only routes through which biological diversity can be saved. The objective of this dissertation is to examine the material-semiotic processes and networks by which a kind of ‘economized’, and even at times, ‘entrepreneurial nature’ comes to be. I ask: how did biodiversity become entangled in economic rationalities and market calculations? What are the circuits of knowledge and power producing biodiversity in this way? What calculative devices, methodologies and policies are created, or envisioned as necessary to make biodiversity conservation economic? And what are the implications, especially for the kinds of nature produced? To answer these questions, I study several ‘circuits of power and knowledge’ through which biodiversity is rendered visible, legible and especially economically calculable within global environmental governance. Not taking the subject of my thesis for granted, I begin by examining the rise of biodiversity in the 1980s, and its entanglements in notions of human security and as a source of exchange value, especially for biotechnology related applications. With this foundation, I go on to examine the Beijer Institute biodiversity programme, where, in the early 1990s, leading economists and ecologists met and developed a consensus on ‘the problem of biodiversity’, a consensus that is steeped in economic rationalities and methodologies. The rest of the dissertation focuses on very contemporary ‘circuits’ wherein ecologists, economists, NGOs, international institutions, and private firms attempt to render biodiversity economic, and, in some cases, profitable. This includes an examination of the rise of ecosystem service frameworks and models focused on weighing ‘trade-offs’ between different environmental management policies, attempts to produce biodiversity loss as a ‘material risk’ (meaning impacts on the bottom line calculations of firms), debates over how to make biodiversity markets, and intergovernmental negotiations focused on developing regulated market-like mechanisms that could finally achieve ‘green development’. In each of these cases I focus on how biodiversity is made visible and legible for governance, which means focusing on the conceptual apparatus, but also the calculative devices that quantify and value biodiversity and ecosystem changes.

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The urban governance of climate change: a comparative socio-institutional analysis of transformative urban responses to climate change in Durban (South Africa) and Portland, OR (USA) (2012)

This dissertation investigates the socio-political dynamics of urban attempts to address climatechange in a systemic, rather than project-based or piecemeal, fashion. It focuses on the actions ofboth municipal and civil-society actors, as well as their interactions through formal and informalprocesses of participation and collaboration. It contributes to the larger re-theorization of theurban scale as a potentially powerful locus for action on climate change that has arisen as international climate negotiations have faltered (Betsill 2001, Bulkeley and Betsill 2003, 2005, Burch 2009, Kousky & Schneider 2003). Focusing on two exceptional cities at the forefront of urban climate policy, this dissertation looks more closely at the difficult work involved in relocalizing meaningful climate action to the urban scale.Based on comparative qualitative research conducted in Durban (KZN, South Africa) andPortland (OR, USA) this dissertation investigates how cities can make a transition from a limitedproject-based approach to more integrated and transformative responses to climate change. As Iwill show, systemic responses to climate change require, above all, a transition from climategovernment to climate governance (Bridge & Perreault 2009, Hajer 2003). Far-reaching transformations of urban systems lie beyond what any one actor can impose or direct. Effective climate responses therefore depend on the diffusion of policy making, management, and implementation along networks that draw together government actors traditionally isolated bybureaucratic silos, as well as private companies, civil-society groups, and citizens. Contributing to a clearer understanding of networks of urban climate governance, this dissertation focuses on two key facets of the creation of networks of urban climate governance. First it examines the institutional dynamics that take place within municipal bureaucracies, as policy leaders build support for integrated and ambitious climate policies. This contributes to the broad literature on organizational behaviour and change (Veblen 1914, Merton 1940, March and Olsen 1989, Schoenberger 1997, Latour 1987). Second, contributing to the literature on public participation and governance (Arnstein 1969, Taylor & Fransman 2004, Holmes & Scoones 2000, Silver et al. 2010, de Souza 2006 ) it analyses how civil-society actors shape and even lead ambitious urban responses to climate change.

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Grassland debates: conservation and social change in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, British Columbia (2011)

This thesis explores how a rural landscape – the area from Lillooet to Williams Lake along the Fraser River in British Columbia’s Cariboo-Chilcotin region – becomes the subject of increasing grassland conservation activity and with what consequences. Along the Fraser River lies the northern extent of a once vast, now endangered ecosystem called the Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass Grasslands. The landscape is the traditional, unceded territory of the Secwepemc, St’at’imc and Tsilhqot’in Nations. Ranchers have occupied and used the land since the late 1860s; for many years, the well-known Gang Ranch was the largest in North America. It is a dramatic and ecologically significant landscape to which many people hold strong attachments. Since the 1930s, scientists, government officials, activists, and academics have travelled the region within a broad framework of conservation; these practices have intensified dramatically since the 1990s. My central research questions are: (a) how has scientific conservation extended over this rural landscape and created new social forms; and, (b) how do different people – conservationists, ranchers, and Aboriginal community members – relate to subsequent changes. I argue that ecological ideas, travelling through conservation networks, change the social meaning of the landscape, though in unpredictable ways. I explore the middle Fraser as a site of growing conservation interest and activity. This work is situated within literatures on resource geography and environmental politics in British Columbia, which emphasize complex interrelationships among environmentalists, Aboriginal communities, and rural, non-Aboriginal people who depend on resource use activities for their livelihoods. I am also interested in the productive, disciplinary nature of scientific and state knowledge, as described in the literature on eco-governmentality. However, I see conservation as a set of discourses and practices, dynamic and emergent in a very active material, social world. In this view, I am influenced by Actor-Network Theory, which emphasizes a decentering of agency. Even as conservation changes the meaning of the middle Fraser, it is always through constant, complex negotiation with many different people and diverse non-human elements.

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Corporate Performances in Space: Situating Fraud in the Enron Case (2010)

This thesis concerns the collapse of Houston based Enron Corporation and its ongoing economic, political and legal implications. Specifically, I investigate spaces of corporate fraud to broadly ask, how is fraud located in the varied spatial contexts of the firm? My goal is to demonstrate that the corporation is contingent upon social, cultural and material relationships across space. In this regard, I explore three distinct corporate spaces. They include (1) financial statements, where I discuss Enron’s financial performances in two spatial contexts, what the public saw, and what went on in private, (2) the bodies of workers, where I consider the gendered exposure of Enron’s fraud to the public, and (3) the spaces of the courtroom where I document how the corporation, as a non-bodied entity, became embodied in a courtroom context. In each case, I demonstrate how fraud is situated differently, and in each case, I suggest the implications of corporate fraud play out with differing results for those involved. The research for this thesis involved an archeological and ethnographic approach towards gathering and analyzing narratives around Enron’s downfall. This means I rely on financial documents and other important papers published by the former company, semi-structured interviews with former Enron employees, interviews with key media persons documenting the Enron story, participant-observation of the criminal trial against former CEOs (Chief Executive Officer) Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, media analysis of news articles and other popular culture texts, and finally, journaling. Far from being solely a homo economicus, a rational economic actor guided by capitalist imperatives to extract profit, my data suggests that the corporation is constituted through cultural, social and material agents that are unstable and breakdown. With this, I suggest the use of a new metaphor for the corporation, the corporation as a body. The body I conceive is conceptually drawn from feminist post-structural theory. It is open, porous and embodied. This new metaphor enables me to draw on the corporation’s diverse embodiments as important constitutive moments of corporate fraud.

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"Marking Land, Producing Markets": The Making of a Guatamalan Rural Land Market (2009)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Housing language in Vancouver (2023)

In April 2021, Vancouver City Council approved a motion to “improve social housing” by upzoning two residential districts on the east and south sides of the city from four to six stories. Densification, city planners and officials argued, would not only unlock federal funding to help redevelop some 100+ “non-market,” “aging” properties; it would also help concentrate, and thus decarbonize, the city’s energy-inefficient sub-urban form. In a win-win move, Vancouver could fight the housing and climate crises with a single policy. This project investigates how a language of housing redevelopment has worked in the (re)production of Vancouver, British Columbia over the last century.Chapter 1 is a wide history of ‘density’ in three acts. First, in the early 20th century, early Vancouver planners institutionalized a technology of density to defend against the overcrowded slum, by then a global and feared scourge. Second, in the wake of urban renewal, a group of insurgent planners turned density from ‘bad’ to also ‘good’, and a metaphor of densification was articulated to help propel an intensifying process of urban redevelopment. And third, in the early 2000s, a failed attempt to enshrine EcoDensity into the charter of the city nonetheless lives on in the spirit of city policy.Chapter 2 is a case study of a particular affordable housing redevelopment. Less than a month after the 2021 rezoning passed City Council, the nonprofit housing provider Entre Nous Femme (ENF) informed tenants at Alma Blackwell—a 44-unit, mixed-used social housing complex it owns in East Vancouver—that the property would be demolished and rebuilt with double the stock. While density was a key catalyst and rationale for redevelopment, I argue that public divestment from the housing sector transformed both landlord and tenants alike, and between them was deployed contested visions of ‘community’ to justify and resist redevelopment.Chapter 3 is a history of the demoviction, a portmanteau invented by tenants in the neighboring city of Burnaby and used by Alma Blackwell tenants to contest redevelopment. I argue the concept works by foregrounding the byproducts of redevelopment—the evicted tenant and the demolished building.

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Infrastructures of vulnerability, or, how the Fraser Valley flooded twice (2023)

In November and December of 2021, major floods occurred in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia due to exceptional rainfall from an atmospheric river. As Justin Trudeau stoically informed the House of Commons, the unusual weather pattern that precipitated this event was likely an effect of anthropogenic climate change. However, the flooding of the Fraser Valley was not only due to new, more extreme weather patterns: for the last 150 years, flooding has been a persistent danger in this area. Drawing on a range of archival sources, I argue that the expansion and movement of the Fraser River was transformed into a hazard through the processes of colonial and capitalist development in the valley that followed the goldrush of 1858. These processes differentially rendered the inhabitants of the valley vulnerable to flooding. The introduction outlines this argument in the context of the floods of 2021. In Chapter 1, I provide a sympathetic critique of prevailing conceptions of vulnerability in geographic thought, arguing that vulnerability to flood hazards is not an inherent quality of individuals. Rather, individuals are produced as vulnerable through the socioecological relations in which they exist. Chapter 2 returns to the Fraser Valley. I show how the seasonal rhythms of the river, which had long been used by First Peoples for subsistence and cultural purposes, were rendered disastrous through the colonization of the valley and the imposition of European-style agriculture in the late 19th century. The vulnerability of settler-farmers to flooding led to the provincial state taking over the task of diking the valley in 1898. Significantly, however, the construction of this intervention introduced new vulnerabilities: the need to fund and maintain the dikes, dams, floodgates, and pumps on which agriculture in the valley depends. In Chapter 3, I show how these vulnerabilities were dramatically realized in the flood of 1948. After the flood, dikes and other infrastructures were rebuilt, ensuring that this vulnerability endured. Lastly, in the conclusion, I briefly highlight recent proposals from community groups around the Fraser Valley, particularly First Nations, to find alternative ways of managing flooding that do not rely on traditional dikes.

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Constructing the US-Mexico border wall (eco)system (2022)

In 2019-2020, construction workers contracted to build “Trump’s Wall” between the United States (US) and Mexico bulldozed an estimated thousands of Saguaro cactuses, including within the bounds of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (OPCNM), a US National Monument. By way of compensation, US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP, part of Department of Homeland Security DHS) coordinated with National Park Service (NPS) to dig up select Saguaros and to replant them elsewhere in the Monument. Their coordinated attempt brings to attention how non-humans are drawn into border construction and maintenance. As scholars have shown, border militarization is a more-than-human enterprise, one where non-human agencies affect and constitute the material bounds of the nation. This thesis contributes to such scholarship by investigating how the social, material, and ecological geographies of Trump border wall construction are inflected upon by environmental formations (by which I mean more-than-human actors and socio-environmental relationships). With a post-humanist political ecological methodology including interviews, remote ethnography, policy analysis, and GIS / cartography, this project maps out the multiscalar geographies of Trump administration wall construction across the Southwestern borderlands and at the site of OPCNM. Though Trump wall segments mostly replaced existing barriers, their materials effectively fragment Sonoran Desert habitat. In doing so, the wall segments reproduce settler colonial dispossession in the borderlands by inhibiting not only Native peoples (such as the Hia-Ced O’odham) but also their non-human kin from migrating throughout the extent of their ancestral territories. In OPCNM, part of Hia-Ced O’odham ancestral homeland, NPS and DHS’s cooperative attempt to redress some of the immediate ecological consequences of wall construction demonstrates an uneasy interrelationship between the projects of environmental conservation and national securitization. With the Saguaros unlikely to survive transplantation however, that project is contextualized as an extension of border control into the environmental realm. The Saguaro transplant project, as well as the impacts of the diverse coalition of activists who protested wall construction in OPCNM, demonstrate just some of the ways that more-than-human political mutualisms structure the Border Wall (Eco)System.

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After the Altepetl: Indigenous struggle and the colonial origins of the modern state in sixteenth century central Mexico (2020)

This thesis examines the contested character of early colonial domination in central Mexico, more specifically, the Valley of Mexico or Anahuac. Informed by critical Marxist and postcolonial state theory, critical race theories, and Nahua epistemology and historiography, I examine the traces left behind by Indigenous politicians, elders, and community leaders by looking at testaments and primordial titles to reconstruct their actions and some of their policies vis-á-vis colonial encroachment. From this perspective, I interrogate approaches to the modern state and colonialism that exclude Indigenous epistemologies and fail to consider racial formations as a crucial aspect of the modern constitution of power relations. I conclude by assessing the impact that this approach to the modern state can have in the understanding of hemispheric and global processes of state formation and the centrality of Indigenous and ‘subaltern’ geographies as embodied, relational, and productive frameworks for the decolonization of state theory.

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Performing market power in U.S. antitrust regulation (2016)

Antitrust regulation was established in the United States in response to growing public concern about the corrosive economic power of monopolies and robber barons in the late 19th century (Rowe, 1983). Underlying these concerns and those of academic commentators dating back to the birth of the modern corporation in the mid-1800s (Barkan, 2013), was the idea that corporations could hold “power” which they could abuse to society’s detriment. But what specifically is meant by this notion of power? In contemporary antitrust regulation, this form of power is referred to as “market power” and it is conceptualized as a firm’s ability to profitably set and hold prices above those that would prevail in a competitive market. The market power model underlies regulatory decisions with widespread economic impact and it has shaped the scope and form of antitrust regulation. In this thesis I argue that rather than a simple description of an actually-existing state of affairs, the market power model is an active force transforming its environment (MacKenzie, 2006). That is, the market power model rearranges economic truths through the routine standards, procedures, and analytical tools upheld by the US Department of Justice. These performative practices are laid bare in the revisions of the Department’s Merger Guidelines, which reveal how the market power model structures the world that antitrust practitioners can feasibly interact with.

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A Conjunctural Analysis of Canadian Official Development Assistance (2015)

This thesis examines two recent changes to Canadian official development assistance. First, new pilot projects in international development with Canadian mining companies were announced in 2011. Second, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade were merged to create the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development in 2013. I argue that these changes are new efforts to instrumentalize official development assistance for commercial and foreign policy interests. Canadian international development has always served commercial and foreign policy interests, but the two changes I examine are significant cementations of these interests. The government’s justification for the merger, “policy coherence,” is itself incoherent, and it legitimates the prefigured goal of instrumentalizing official development assistance. The pilot projects are effectively a subsidy for the Canadian mining industry in that government-funded development projects are replacing companies’ corporate social responsibility projects. I provide a conjunctural analysis of these changes in order to elucidate the challenges and opportunities for political change in response to them. I intervene in the key public debates that have surrounded the changes, and I advance a broader strategy for responding to the changes that turns on development ideology. I argue that there is a rupture in development ideology in Canada and that political action should focus on this ideological rupture.

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Incarceration and state terror: Racial capitalism in the American South, 1865-1945 (2013)

This thesis presents a history of the State of Florida's convict leasing program (1877-1920) and situates critical developments in the prison system within concurrent transformations of racial capitalism in the American South. The social struggles that followed the Civil War forged the legal, political, economic, and ideological practices and strategies for white supremacy and capitalist production that remained predominant in the region until roughly World War II. Drawing extensively from archival sources including the reports of state prison supervisors and physicians, correspondence between prison officials and lessees of convicts, and official biennial reports on the state prison system, this research proposes a three-fold interpretation of the postbellum South's penal system. The prison system was, first of all, among the primary disciplinary mechanisms for planters and industrial capitalists who sought to maintain a pliable, submissive, and impoverished workforce through debt peonage arrangements and corporal punishment. Second, the prison system was a revenue-driven human trafficking network that redistributed labour to various capitalists throughout each state. I document how race, gender, ability, and the demands of industry were the primary determinants in the apprehension of prisoners and their distribution throughout the state of Florida. Lastly, this work argues that the prison system must be understood as a form of institutionalized state terrorism organized to permanently suppress the Black Freedom Struggle. The labour camps were juridically produced spaces of unlimited violence within which prisoners were subjected to debilitating and life-threatening beatings, medical malpractice, and execution. As a whole, this thesis uses Marx’s method to construct a thorough critique of the claim that proletarian labour is necessarily "free wage labour" by detailing the mutually reinforcing relationship between capitalist social relations, as expressed within the process of production, and forms of personal and group domination including enslavement, debt peonage, imprisonment, and male domination.

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American uncovered : structures and patterns of immigrant health uninsurance (2011)

In this thesis I investigate disparities in U.S. immigrants’ access to health insurance, a strong proxy for differential access to quality care in the American non-universalized health system. The United States is notorious among industrialized nations for its high proportion of uninsured residents—about 15% of the total population. U.S. immigrants, however, lack health insurance at a rate nearly double or triple the national average. The immigrant uninsurance problem has been exacerbated by large-scale, deliberate economic and political adjustments to American health insurance institutions, and immigrants’ structural relations to these institutions. The two institutions I scrutinize in this thesis are (1) the employer-sponsored insurance system for immigrant workers, and (2) government-sponsored insurance systems for lower-income immigrants in need. Using a combination of primary and secondary data analysis, expert interviews, and a synthesis of multidisciplinary research, I map out the recent history and driving logic(s) of the immigrant uninsurance phenomenon, both for the United States in the 1980s-1990s and for the “case study” of Minnesota in the 2000s. During the 1980s and 1990s, new immigrants to the United States in need of health coverage were “squeezed” by both of the largest health insurance institutions. First, immigrants were negatively affected by a polarized private labor market that increasingly limited its provision of health insurance benefits to those workers at the higher end(s) of the skill/income spectrum. Second, immigrants were actively targeted by a federal government that decided to explicitly exclude many of them from the protection of the national health insurance safety net. The end result of these negative “stresses” was that by the 2000s, immigrants’ chances of obtaining health insurance were at once increasingly “personalized” (i.e. dependent upon immigrants’ individual and community characteristics), and increasingly dependent upon localized economic, political, and institutional contexts. In Minnesota, for example, the immigrant uninsurance rate in the 2000s remained lower than the national average. This outcome was enabled, however, by specific demographic and institutional contexts unavailable in most other states. The health insurance system for immigrants in the 2000s, in other words, became increasingly geographically fragmented and contingent.

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