Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
At the heart of one of the world's most advanced metropolises, capitalism's unquenchable thirst for oil profits comes head to head with the increasingly ferocious effects of anthropogenic climate change. At the receiving end of this inevitable and fatal encounter are those whose bodies and memories are inextricably woven into the very fabric of the city's birth, rise and growth in the modern era, and whose lives are still deemed disposable, dispensable raw material in the pursuit of profit. The sacrifice zones of Houston embody the sharp and terrifying break between the fading promise of liberal democracy, and the emerging horrors of undemocratic futures anchored in rapacious extractivism, the brutalities involved in the externalization and imposition of costs, and the sustenance of a fossil capitalism driven civilizational ethos dangerously at odds with the ominous challenges of survival in the Anthropocene. Based on fieldwork conducted in Houston following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, this paper seeks to explore through the aftermath of the disaster the 'slow violence (Nixon, 2011)' of toxicity and gentrification, as the rights and claims of the city's African American and Latinx working class populations come under renewed assault. While in the name of recovery, policy and practice privilege accumulation and profits over health and community, Harvey's survivors contend with a continuation and expansion of industrial production and gentrification-driven urban development. I also consider the landscape of resistance as questions of rights to the city become inextricably linked with the contradictory implications of living in toxic neighborhoods.