I want to thank Sharlene Mollett, Beverley Mullings, and Marion Werner for their incredibly generous, generative responses to my paper on “Caribbean Futures,” as well as their important critical interventions. Here I want to respond to what I consider the key points made in each of their responses, which I believe are crucial questions not only for Caribbean geography, but also for all geographers to consider. The first question concerns the relation between climate change and coloniality, and how we imagine the spatio-temporalities of futurity and historicity. The second question concerns the relation between Agamben’s notion of a “state of exception” and my own use of “zones of exception” and what this implies for political subjectivity salvaged from the ruins of capitalist modernity. Third, are Mullings’ concerns with dispossession, colonial extraction, abandonment and the question of what forms a politics of resistance should take in response to the current existential threats – focusing especially on transnational spiritual citizenship and Caribbean diasporas. Next, I turn to Werner’s rejection of archipelagic thinking, and commitment to regional studies of uneven development. And finally, I conclude with a brief historical foray into transport infrastructure (Panamanian railway and canal-building), banana plantations, and the power of fungi at the “end of the world” (Tsing 2017).

Sharlene Mollett raises the fundamental question of the relation between coloniality and climate change as integral and constitutive to the world today, such that climate change is a “manifestation of coloniality” rather than coming “on top of” it. I think I was arguing for precisely this kind of co-constitution as well, and do not agree with the suggestion that my analysis separated one from the other. Indeed, my point was that colonialism initiated climate change through practices such as plantation monocrops, deforestation, and extraction, and that climate change originates in ongoing processes of racial capitalism, dispossession, and neocolonial violence. With that said, it is still an interesting question to examine further what exactly links colonial processes to climate change, and how we might even conceptualize these as climates of coloniality or, better yet, the coloniality of climates.

This would imply in the first iteration that climate change is not simply about changing atmospheres, in the chemical sense, but also suggests conjoined economic, cultural, social, and spiritual atmospheres – we live within climates that are more than physical, thus our climate is permeated by coloniality. And in the second iteration, it would imply that contemporary climates (including both physical and cultural atmospheres) are outgrowths of past and present colonial extraction, carrying heavy loads not only of carbon dioxide, but also of other forms of colonial debris. Such a perspective supports recent calls for greater involvement of the social sciences in analyzing the evident failure of current low-carbon transition processes, and better understanding the uneven relations of power involved in implementing decarbonization and reducing global energy consumption (Dunlap and Brulle 2015). However, it adds the critical point that the social sciences must also more explicitly address the coloniality of global climate adaptation policies and their problematic relation to racial capitalism and continuing extraction. This is where Caribbean studies and mobilities theory can play such an important role.

Mollett secondly calls into question my use of “zones of exception.” Here I am referencing not only Giorgio Agamben’s “state of exception” but also the existence of zones of plantation slavery, as well as more recent “special economic zones,” tourist enclaves, and offshore financial services in the Caribbean – which does not imply at all that these are “exceptional” in the sense of rare or unusual, but rather that they are constitutive of modernity and have become the rule. Indeed, Agamben (1995) used the concept of a state of exception to describe concentration camps as the space that is opened when exception becomes the rule, wherein some humans are reduced to “bare life” (homo sacer) deprived of any rights, which he argues is at the core of the concept of sovereignty and describes a wider condition of modernity. Later, Alexander Wehileye challenged this argument by showing how “the concentration camp, the colonial outpost, and slave plantation suggest three of many relay points in the weave of modern politics, which are neither exceptional nor comparable, but simply relational” (2014: 37). Wehileye argues that slavery functions as a state of exception that “reveals the manifold modes in which extreme brutality and directed killing frequently and peacefully coexist with other forms of coercion and noncoercion within the scope of the normal juridical-political order” (ibid). Drawing on black feminist theorists Sylvia Wynter and Hortense Spillers, Weheliye unpacks the “workings of the flesh” through his alternative notion of habeas viscus, which “brings into view an articulated assemblage of the human (viscus/flesh) borne of political violence, while at the same time not losing sight of the different ways the law pugnaciously adjudicates who is deserving of personhood and who is not (habeas)” (2014: 11).

Where does this take us in terms of climate change and coloniality? It suggests that those who are refused entry to the future livable zones of the world – “the condemned of the Earth” following Frantz Fanon – are precisely those who live in coloniality’s racialized zones of exception, especially in the tropical regions that will be most harshly affected by climate change; where refugees from social, political and climatic violence are denied legal personhood, refused mobile citizenship, and excluded from self-determination of mobility and dwelling. Les damnées de la terre are literally left to die in boats crossing the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, in the deserts of northern Mexico, or through the violence of militarized walls, fences, and detention camps around the world. Without any legal principles guiding the rights of so-called “climate refugees”, people refused entry at the borders of white settler states such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, not to mention Europe, are condemned to die or detained in island prison camps (Jones 2017). Wehiliye’s embrace of habeas viscus, Wynter’s call for the human after Man, and my own belief in Caribbean radical thought and praxis “beyond coloniality” (Kamugisha 2019) are all concerned with how those excluded from the category of “Man” – the Anthropo in Anthropocene -- may actually hold the clue to better ways of surviving colonialism, capitalism, and climate change. And this is where the “we” comes in – for it certainly does not hold all people accountable for climate change (and I specifically call for climate reparations to be paid by those countries and companies that have contributed the most to greenhouse gas emissions), but rather implies that surviving climate change calls for new assemblages of human, non-human and inter-human.

Beverley Mullings raises a related set of issues around what kind of politics the present demands, which again I agree with in some respects but want to disagree with in others. Through a concise but powerful account of the dispossession, extraction, and abandonment of the Caribbean by colonial powers, she puts into question “the socio-economic-ecological-political future” of the region and the limits of life. However, after introducing this idea, she pivots to the notion that the accepted idea of Caribbean survival in response to this was through the art of “being in relation” (Glissant 1990), being “creolized” and willing to transform (Hall 1995), and taking on the persona of the Akan folkloric character of Anansi, the trickster, who outwitted his oppressors. She suggests that such a “politics of refusal” is not sufficient in the face of the “abandonment” of the region, and gives the fascinating example of the termination of correspondent banking provision as one aspect of so-called global “de-risking.” Endurance and creative resilience, she suggests, are insufficient in the face of “new technologies for expulsion/or letting die.”

In response, I would first argue that the Caribbean region’s significance to global capital remains significant and will not so quickly be abandoned. Financial abandonment is simultaneously being matched by re-investment in neocolonial forms of extraction, including the influx of Chinese capital into the region: bauxite mining is expanding in Jamaica where new highways have been built and there is talk of a new Caribbean logistics hubs; the largest oil reserves in the world are being drilled by ExxonMobil on the deep ocean floor off Guyana, and a new oil refinery was opened in St Kitts; new gold mines are being eyed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as Central America; and the crypto-currency investors moving into Puerto Rico certainly see new opportunity there, to give just a few examples. De-risking, then, is not so much an abandonment of the region, as it is an adjustment of the global financial sector to exclude local capital, only to free up more opportunities for “global” capital to accumulate anchorage points in the Caribbean.

Second, I fully agree with Mullings that the transnational space of diaspora offers new possibilities for “co-creations of place,” for “’re-scaling’ conversations and strategies for a liveable future,” and for generating “new ways of thinking about citizenship, insurgency, innovation and sustainable futures.” So when I speak of the “wisdom” to be won from critical Caribbean thought, I am not focused on Glissant’s being in relation, or a “politics of refusal,” or some kind of local Anansi strategy, as Mullings suggests. Rather, I mobilize the notion of the archipelagic as a political formation that is transnational, diasporic, and cross-regional, and stretches assemblages of political solidarity around the world. Indeed, if we want to turn to the realm of the spirits and traditional knowledge, I would suggest that there are multiple spiritual forces on whom Caribbean people call, whether at home or in the diaspora, which take many forms. From the Haitian practice of Vodou, to Santeria in Cuba, Candomblé in Brazil, or the Ifa/Orisha religions of Trinidad, the performance of what N. Fadeke Castor (2017) astutely calls “spiritual citizenship” has proliferated and transnationalized across the Caribbean, Latin America, North America, and parts of Africa. There are powerful South-South as well as South-North networks, reconnecting these and other Afro-Caribbean religious practices into new global assemblages, and mobilizing spiritual power and identity in new ways.

Whether taking the form of Ogun or Oshun, Dambala or Obatala, Legba or Asewele, there are many distinct spiritual forces guiding and re-scaling the innovative co-creations of place and ancestry that form their own kinds of archipelagic connections, linking place to place, connecting past to present, mobilizing the immaterial and the material. So when we speak of international organizations, international spaces, and transnational strategies, I include these forms of spiritual citizenship as well as the powerful global networks being built across Indigenous people’s political organizations across the world, and the global coalitions forming between black, indigenous and people of color. This is not about old forms of creolization, tricksterism, or a politics of refusal, but about building powerful mobile ancestral relations to places, plants, spirits, land and living beings.

This leads me to Marion Werner’s intervention which rejects my emphasis on archipelagic metaphors and fractal politics, in preference for theories of uneven development, regional articulation, and conjunctural politics. I am not sure I would counter-pose these two projects -- the region in radical geography as historical and spatial versus the archipelago as some kind of apolitical postmodern cliché bereft of place specificity -- against each other in this way. Rather, the archipelagic is also “a complex, patterned, and contingent spatiality of unevenness,” out of which conjunctural politics emerge across a wider terrain than an assumed “region.” If one turns to what Fernando Ortiz called the “counterpoint” between sugar plantation regions and tobacco-growing regions in Cuba as an example, then his point was that these contrapuntal patterns formed out of complex circuits of capital and labor that existed in relation to each other, and in relation to many other places. If Clyde Woods focused our attention on the lower Mississippi Delta as a place of reproduction of the “plantation bloc” as well as resistance to it by “rural, African-American working classes and their cultural traditions,” as Werner describes, then we might also follow Zora Neale Hurston (1938) into the exploration of those cultural traditions, which are not simply regional but span the Caribbean in vast webs of mobility. We might follow Robin D.G. Kelley into the Jackson-Kush Plan and the Cooperation Jackson Project (https://cooperationjackson.org), which has sought to build an alternative grassroots version of economic democracy and solidarity economy that embraces Deep South-Global South cooperation. There is no reason contingent spatiality and a sense of regionalism should stop at the mouth of a river, when that river pours into the wider Caribbean and Atlantic world.

Archipelagic thinking (and more generally mobilities theory) loosens what we might think of as a “region” and shows that regions can be dispersed and connected across scattered geographies. Mobilities, moreover, are conceptualized in critical mobilities studies not just as physical movements of people, but as complex im/mobilities and moorings of capital, information, things, representations and imaginaries. This is not the same thing as arguing for a “purely metaphorical notion of the archipelago as a fluid cultural process,” as Werner charges. Just as Mullings seems to be disagreeing with earlier notions of Caribbean trickster politics, Werner seems to be picking a fight with earlier postmodern notions exemplified perhaps by Antonio Benitez-Rojo’s Repeating Island (1989). My work instead draws on more recent arguments within island studies, literary studies, and American studies, which draw on Edouard Glissant and Derek Walcott to reposition discussions of archipelagic thinking today, for example work by Elizabeth DeLoughrey (2010), John Pugh (2013), Brian Roberts and Michelle Stephens (2017), or the forthcoming volume Rethinking the Archipelago, edited by Stephens and Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel (2019).

In these accounts of archipelagic thinking there are complex im/mobilities that re-make space and regions, transfigure spatial distance and proximity, and create effects of time-space compression in relation to splintered infrastructures and uneven accessibility. Moorings and connections may span multiple regions, encompassing for example Pacific as well as Caribbean islands, troubling what we might identify as “regions.” This is one of the key arguments of mobilities theory, which in fact grew out of critical regionalism and the spatial turn, including Doreen Massey’s argument, cited by Werner, that space is relational (see Sheller 2017 for a full account of the connection between the spatial turn and the mobilities turn).

Werner asks “Is there any substantive difference between thinking through the Caribbean as ‘island archipelagos’, as Sheller does, or as a set of articulated, relational places as I have suggested here? There is much in common.” But she nevertheless suggests a re-reframing of the “mobility premise” in favor of a “dialectical engagement with the politics of uneven development.” She favors regional accounts of the Mississippi Delta and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as better examples of “a matter of politics on the ground.” Yet her perceptive accounts of “the uneven development of im/mobility” in the Caribbean, especially the problematics of citizenship as a ground for social protection, and the crucial divergences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, are precisely what drives my interest in the politics of im/mobilities in ways that go beyond uneven development. The recent denationalization of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent and the expulsion of people born there, and whose parents were born there, has created a stateless population outside social protection. Citizens are made and unmade, and borders always produce the violence of exclusion (Jones 2017). If “the uneven geographies of Caribbean im/mobility create differences that require the careful construction of political alliances,” as Werner astutely argues, then surely the kind of politics that I am calling for are precisely about transcending naturalized notions of region and identity, as well as ideas of liberal citizenship, and working toward more consciously achieved political alliances that cross regions, work against uneven colonial geographies and splintered infrastructural networks, and undermine assumptions about the inevitability of national citizenship.

In short, while Werner directs our attention to traditional approaches to the spatiality of unevenness and regionalism, I would direct our attention to the emerging understandings of uneven im/mobilities which are also complex, patterned, and contingent. While spatial justice has been one way that geographers have described their concerns with the politics of uneven development, I have proposed mobility justice as an alternative way to think through the im/mobilities that generatively produce and reproduce uneven spatial geographies in the first place, enabling the spatial formation of particular cities, regions, and nations through their regulation of mobilities and borders (Sheller 2018). It certainly remains an important debate within the discipline of geography as to what the conceptual relation is between spatial justice and mobility justice, and what the theoretical and methodological implications are for approaching the coloniality of climates from these different perspectives. I would contend that a mobilities perspective has much to offer in understanding the complex multi-scalar assemblages of human, non-human, and more-than human actors that will necessarily be involved in surviving the Anthropocene.

Finally, let me return to Mollett’s call for more contextual historical specificity, paying attention to Afro-Antillean workers in Panama and Costa Rica. I would hesitate to describe Afro-Antillean migrant workers building the railway across Panama in the 1850s, and later the Panama Canal, some of whom became suppliers of bananas to the United Fruit Company, as “examples of black mobility, autonomy and multiple forms of freedom.” Certainly, some labor migrants may have experienced it that way, and the “Panama Man” certainly was a key figure of black social mobility in the Antilles. However, many of these migrants did not survive, and I continue to believe that we can better understand this regional history by placing it in the context of wider systems of im/mobility. Funded by speculation surrounding the Gold Rush in California, the building of the Panama railway by West Indian workers took place in abysmal conditions. Decimated by malaria and Yellow Fever, it is estimated that more than 12,000 workers died constructing this 48-mile “feat of engineering.” Their bodies were subsequently packed into barrels and gruesomely sold as cheap cadavers for use by medical schools – another form of extraction of the flesh. The railway preceded and enabled the building of the Panama Canal, and this new transport infrastructure in turn helped lure the United Fruit Company (UFC) to the region, with devastating social and ecological effects. Whatever “freedom of mobility” some workers may have experienced, they were part of larger systems of unfree mobilities, uneven infrastructures, and unfettered capital mobility and speculation.

As I have written about elsewhere (Sheller 2014), the nineteenth century banana industry launched globalization in its modern form, and this intersection of Caribbean labor and global capital was built upon the “persistent impermanence” and “enforced mobility” of uprooted workers (Moberg 1997), which also created ethnically antagonistic labor forces (Bourgeois 1989). UFC, founded in 1899, epitomized the modern multinational corporation, and could be considered one of the great engines of the climate of coloniality, and coloniality of climates. UFC not only had an economic stranglehold over Central American “banana republics,” but was involved in military coups and overthrow of democratically elected governments (Stiffler and Moberg 2003; Chapman 2008); beyond that, it also introduced monoculture plantations of Gros Michel bananas that assisted in the spread of the fungal disease fusarium oxysporum, commonly known as Panama disease. In addition to clearing hundreds of thousands of acres of primary tropical forest, this ecological vulnerability very quickly laid waste to the plantations, devastating huge swathes of land and throwing thousands of workers into limbo. In this colonial debris and capitalist wreckage, as Anna Tsing would suggest, new assemblages of life might emerge in the unexpected forms of cooperation of uprooted people, disturbed plants, soil-making fungi, and nutrient-recycling bacteria, at the end of the world (Tsing 2017).

Rather than a story of freedom of movement and autonomy, I consider this a prime example of “the interconnected systems of mobility that link commodity markets to human migrations, and world trade regimes to racially-based immigration policies... Bananas thus help to construct the racialized spaces of global inequality” (Sheller 2014). While the story of bananas or bauxite, sugar or tobacco, cotton or coffee, certainly have crucial regional components, they also demand a wider archipelagic lens, and a critical mobilities theory bringing into view the fractal politics that were fought on many different grounds, in many scattered places, but all connected through the im/mobilities of people, information, capital, representations, and social, political, and geographical imaginaries. This is precisely the aim of the kind of mobilities perspective that I have advocated within Caribbean studies, and beyond, and that I will continue to call for as necessary for the geography of the future.



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