CfP POLLEN20 – Invasion/contagion : Entanglements of racialisation and biology in the making of policed natures

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Session organizers

Patricia J. Lopez (Dartmouth College) and Naomi Millner (University of Bristol).

Please send abstracts to Naomi Millner ( and Tish Lopez ( by 15 November 2019. We will respond to submissions by November 20.

Session description

“Contagion stories” (Wald 2008) and “invasive species” narratives articulate global and local fears of biological insecurity that at once depend upon, and reinforce, racialized anxieties about connectivity and intrusion. Taken together, these anxieties highlight ongoing entanglements of racialization and biology that begin with colonial encounters and stretch into the present through practices of identification, monitoring, bureaucratic ordering, policing and containment, to name just a few. Such practices are informed by, and continue to shape and inform, ideas of race — just as their racialization informs, and is informed by, how more-than-human species and environments come to be understood. In this panel we open up this entanglement of racialization and biology, focusing on how it comes to matter in the making of specific “natures,” including naturalized ways of perceiving bodies, and the spatial ordering of conservation environments.

Within political ecology, racialized natures have been explored in the making of National Parks (Byrne & Wolch 2009), the establishment of specific regimes of citizenship (Vandergeest 2003) and in terms of the identification and containment of populations as “out of place” or “risky” (Ybarra 2012). Decolonial approaches have mobilised “political ontology” as a way to open up and question the ways that particular ways of knowing natures, or “what exists” within such contexts to question and to change (eg. Blaser, 2013; De la Cadena 2010). Meanwhile, in complementary areas of cultural geography and anthropology, the ontological making of ab/normal bodies (Guthman 2012), of race and reproduction (Mansfield & Guthman 2015), and of interspecies relationships (Kirksey & Helmreich 2010) have been thought in relation to the racialisation of bodies at the microbiological level. In this panel we build on such rich scholarship, but focus specifically on practices of borders and bordering that are made possible through precocious entanglements of biology and discourse-practices of racialization. Our premise is that borders — which encompass not only administrative or political boundaries, but all “edges” that define an inside and outside — define the margins against which human-made natures collide in attempts to maintain an imagined form of security against invasion / contagion (Ahuja 2016). The (re)creation of this boundedness, knowable and maintainable, but  always under imminent attack, serves as the site of technical management in efforts to mitigate intrusion.

However, while these frameworks seek to confer notions of agential infectiousness, leading to the abandonment of people and places by state and supra-state apparatuses, local contestations are marked by a refusal of essentialization and externalisation. In their stead, counter-narratives and everyday practices push back–offering alternative modes for imagining and creating worlds otherwise. In this session, we seek to engage with scholars, activists, and artists whose work attends to both the narratives and processes of abandonment, and modes of contestation and flourishing beyond abjection and/or abandonment in order to think through how the entanglements of racialization and biology inform pervasive modes of meaning-making.

To that end, we invite paper abstracts and creative treatments that attend to (but are not limited to) questions, such as:

  • How do the ways microbial life are thought and talked about affect how racialised and colonial patternings (re)materialise?
  • How do discourses of race affect microbial relations are thought and enacted?
  • How is race articulated within concepts of invasive species, contagion, virality?
  • What modes of contestation /  thriving / flourishing emerge beyond dominant discourses about contagion or invasion (to include those that may or may not be recognizable to those outside)?
  • In what ways does the making of biological metaphors come to bear on practices and policies of border and migration (both human and more-than human) management?
  • How do racialisation and microbiology entwine in the making of imagined enemies  / outsiders / threats?

Presenters will also be encouraged to read a few selections in advance of the session as part of a shared pedagogical praxis and engagement.


Ahuja, Neel, (2016). Bioinsecurities: disease interventions, empire, and the government of species. Durham: Duke University Press.

Blaser, M. (2013). Notes towards a political ontology of ‘environmental’ conflicts. Contested ecologies: Dialogues in the South on nature and knowledge, 13-27.

Byrne, J., & Wolch, J. (2009). Nature, race, and parks: past research and future directions for geographic research. Progress in Human Geography33(6), 743-765.

De la Cadena, M. (2010). Indigenous cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual reflections beyond “politics”. Cultural anthropology25(2), 334-370.

Guthman, J. (2012). Opening up the black box of the body in geographical obesity research: Toward a critical political ecology of fat. Annals of the Association of American Geographers102(5), 951-957.

Kirksey, S. E., & Helmreich, S. (2010). The emergence of multispecies ethnography. Cultural anthropology25(4), 545-576.

Mansfield, B., & Guthman, J. (2015). Epigenetic life: biological plasticity, abnormality, and new configurations of race and reproduction. cultural geographies22(1), 3-20.

Vandergeest, P. (2003). Racialization and citizenship in Thai forest politics. Society &Natural Resources16(1), 19-37.

Wald, Pricsilla (2008). Contagious: cultures, carriers, and the outbreak narrative. Durham, NC: Duke Uiversity Press.

Ybarra, M. (2012). Taming the jungle, saving the Maya Forest: Sedimented counterinsurgency practices in contemporary Guatemalan conservation. Journal of Peasant Studies39(2), 479-502.


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