“Potty Politics,” Covid Oral Histories, and the Downwinders

Tina Guirguis, Surojit Kayal, and Tina Cordova present on the works of the Future Infrastructures: Water, Energy and Justice research cluster

On April 21st, the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, directed by Prof. Paul Amar, hosted its third research cluster gathering, featuring presentations from our Future Infrastructures: Water, Energy and Justice research cluster. As the cluster states on their website, the goal of this cluster is to develop new critical and creative research practices in the social and environmental impacts of water infrastructure (such as sanitation services, container shipping, hydroelectric dams, and “green infrastructure” that uses plants to mitigate stormwater, or other waterways), and energy infrastructure (such as oil/gas extraction sites, mineral mining, pipelines, solar grids, nuclear energy, etc.)

Continuing, they state that they pursue these questions by organizing their collaboration around three distinct yet interconnected themes: (1) the scales of largely invisible water and energy systems and substances, from cells to oceans and cities; (2) the meditations of infrastructure, negotiating elements, multispecies life forms, technology, and culture; and (3) the participation of impacted communities and citizens in the deliberations on and implementation of decisions about water and energy infrastructure.

The research produced by this cluster reflects our collaboration and shared thematic vision with the Security in Context network, and is also supported by the the Paul Orfalea Endowment.

Speaking at this event was Tina Guirguis (PhD candidate in Global Studies); Surojit Kayal ( PhD student in Dept. of English); and Tina Cordova (Co-Founder of the Tularosa Badin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC). Moderating our discussion was Dr. Heidi Amin-Hong from the Department of English. It was a full room, with attendees such as Dean of Social Science Charles Hale. The medium of the day was video, with most presentations being displayed through already developed videos of their work. 

Potty Politics

Tina Guirguis started us off,  presenting video teaching resources she has created for the Orfalea Center’s Infrastructure Cluster’s resource page. These videos are produced and narrated by Tina herself.  These resources are two documentary style videos she produced that cover introductory themes related to infrastructure and sanitation studies based on research recently completed in India and Egypt toward her dissertation “Potty Politics.” These videos pay particular focus to the biopolitical and bioeconomic implications of sanitation infrastructure projects and hygiene campaigns.

The first video, Infrastructure and the Making of the “Modern”, talks about the ways in which the definition of the term “infrastructure” has, as Tina states in her video, “evolved over time, shifting from focusing on material structures to full systems that facilitate and regulate everyday aspects of contemporary life.” She continues, discussing the biopolitical implications of infrastructure projects and how the provision of infrastructure or lack thereof can be used to assert state nationalism, securitization and aspirations of modernization. She says “ Lack of proper infrastructure can also illustrate injustice or inequality within a population, such as the lack of access to basic rights and services.” All above points are explored through looking at sanitation, infrastructure and the evolution of the toilet, and the global hygiene campaigns

The second videoEconomies of Waste, tells us that a central motivation of sanitation infrastructure projects is to remove and treat toxic fecal waste, yet historically, this was not always the case. Tina says, “In many societies around the world, for hundreds, if not thousands of years, waste was treated and reused in many different ways, particularly as a source of fertilizer known as Nightsoil.” With industrialization and urbanization decal waste shifted to what we now refer to as “waste.” The video dives into positive and negative ways in which “waste” is now approached and dealt with. In addition to the visual teaching resources, Tina showcased two accompanying syllabi on “introductory infrastructure themes” and “bioeconomies and technologies of waste”. These can be found directly below the videos on the Orfalea website.

Covid Oral History

Surojit Kayal presented his global south  partnership work with Society for Creative Opportunities and Participatory Ecosystems (SCOPE) on the impact of COVID-19 at the East Kolkata Wetlands. In particular, he showed parts of a short film From Farm to Housing, and a series of oral interviews. In partnership with the ORFALEA Center, SCOPE has created an oral history video archive of the East Kolkata Wetlands that gather testimonies from the villagers about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cyclone Amphan, and the agricultural efforts of SCOPE in the wetlands. The archive features five interviews with the villagers who share their individual stories of pandemic life and agricultural difficulties.

Surojit Kayal speaking at the Future Infrastructures: Water, Energy and Justice research cluster presentations

Additionally, he presented his collaborative research with global partner Ankana Das in the Sundarban delta, which took the form of a series of interviews with local ports from Sundarban . Surojit told the Orfalea Center that his collaborative research with Ankana Das, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi “includes an exploration of poetic practices in the Sundarban archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. They investigate how the ecological reality of living with disappearing islands, frequent cyclones, and wildlife gets mediated through the poetic practices of rural islanders.” The research takes the form of a series of oral history videos, works of translation, and an in-progress publication piece.

All films and oral history series videos are available on the Orfalea website for those who wish to learn more about our global partners and the works we do with them.

Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium

Tina Cordova, Co-Founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium

Stephan Borunda, a PhD student in Film and Media Studies was unable to attend, but we were delighted to host his research partner, Tina Cordova.

Tina Cordova is a seventh generation native New Mexican born and raised in the small town of Tularosa in south central New Mexico. In 2005 Tina co-founded the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC) with the late Fred Tyler. The mission of the TBDC is to bring attention to the negative health effects suffered by the unknowing, unwilling, uncompensated, innocent victims of the first nuclear blast on earth that took place at the Trinity site in South Central New Mexico.

Tina gave a very educational presentation, talking about some of the ways in which The Future Infrastructures Cluster has partnered with the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC) to support several of their current projects. In addition to the presentation, printed handouts were distributed to the audience that introduced us to the organization and a timeline of key historical facts around the Trinity tests, their consequences, and the fight for justice since.

 As stated on our Orfalea website, the TBCC has been actively engaged in the collection of documents legitimating the usage of water cisterns as important water infrastructures in the region in order to contest the National Cancer Institute’s claims that well water would have minimiz ed damage from radiation from the Trinity nuclear attack on the region. Tina showcased a selection of the affidavits in her presentation. You can read these written histories collected from community members in the forms of affidavits here on the TBDC website.

TBDC founder Tina Cordova has also published an article for the global-e journal, hosted by the Orfalea Center, entitled “The Fight for Recognition: The Tularosa Basin Downwinders and the Injustices of Trinity.” The article focuses on the collection of affidavits mentioned above. While very important for this particular struggle, it is also important for water and environmental justice more broadly, but still directly connected. As Tina stated in the article “This archival work provides the TBDC with the opportunity to document, for the first time, the memories of local and elderly community members about the region’s water infrastructures and support their efforts for environmental justice.” The importance of documenting the truth is clearly stated.

Adding on to the collaborative work, In August 2022, Future Infrastructures research cluster member Stephen N. Borunda published a new article “A Body Downwind of the Atomic Attack at Trinity: Mediations of Atomic Coloniality in Nuevo México” with the new UC Press journal Media+Environment. As stated on the Orfalea website, the article “elegantly establishes a connection between the author’s family background as Tularosa Basin Downwinders in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and the fields of media theory and environmental justice scholarship.” It is a contribution to the recently released special issue (or stream) titled “Energy Justice in Global Perspective,” which is co-edited by notable scholars, including Professor Mona Damluji, who is associated with this particular research cluster. To read Stephen’s article, click here.

Finally, Stephen Borunda also published a second piece in the global-e journal, which acts as support in the form of anexploratory essay about the role of plants and rocks as nuclear sensors in New Mexico. This article is entitled “Sensing Radioactive Deserts: Mediating Florae and Rocks in New Mexico’s Anthropocene” can be read here.


Dr.Heidi Amin-Hong Moderating our Q&A Discussion Session

The future infrastructures research cluster presentations showed our audience just a few of the ways in which water and energy infrastructure can be  critically engaged with, and he breadth and scale at which this engagement can take shape. The linkages between scholarship and global activism are in full view here, through our collaborative partnerships and ideas. 

Our Future Infrastructures: Water, Energy and Justice research cluster is hard at work in continuing these collaborations, and we are very excited to show you what comes next. 

The research produced by this cluster reflects our collaboration and shared thematic vision with the Security in Context network, and is also supported by the the Paul Orfalea Endowment.

Page Editor

Omar Mansour
Omar Mansour
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