What is the Plantationocene?

The Plantationocene is a proposed alternate name for the epoch often called the Anthropocene. Inspired by the scholars, artists, and activists visiting University of WisconsinMadison as part of the 2019-2020 Sawyer Seminar “Interrogating the Plantationocene,” this Edge Effects series aims to foster conversations that address multiple forms of plantations, past and present, as well as the ways that plantation logics organize modern economies, environments, bodies, and social relations. For an introduction to the term and the questions surrounding it, read the essay that begins the series: Plantation Legacies” by Sophie Sapp Moore, Monique Allewaert, Pablo F. Gómez, and Gregg Mitman.

Series editors: Laura Perry and Addie Hopes

Photo collage of rice, fields, and cotton plants

Plantation Legacies

The Anthropocene gives a name to human-caused environmental change. The Plantationocene puts colonialism, capitalism, and enduring racial hierarchies at the center of the conversation and asks what past and future modes of resistance might emerge.
Ceramic and glass mosaics of two faces on a blue concrete wall

A Search for Repair in the Wake of the Plantation

An audio-visual essay by Deborah A. Thomas responds to the 2010 state of emergency in West Kingston, Jamaica, known as the "Tivoli Incursion" and asks how archiving affects—not just events—might be a way to re-imagine justice, politics, and repair.
Small conical red clay sculptures in a wooded lot.

How the Soil Remembers Plantation Slavery

What haunts the land? Artists R.L. Martens and Bii Robertson dig up the tangled history of "the vampire crop," slavery, and soil exhaustion in Maryland, revealing that the past is more present than you might think.
A street lined with tents and palm trees

Plantation Housing Isn’t the Answer to Homelessness in Hawaiʻi

A "plantation-style community" might ease houselessness in Hawaiʻi. But it also erases violent histories of labor exploitation and Native dispossession. Leanne Day and Rebecca Hogue discuss Kahauiki Village and the dangers of plantation nostalgia.
At the top a helicopter flies over a tank tunneling through the earth. Various armed persons and roosters are spaced above and below the tank.

Excavating Haitian Histories

Haitian political history, Taíno artifacts, colonial plantations, and even cholera bacteria leave their marks on the land in Kwynn Johnson's 30-foot panoramic drawing of Cap Haitien.
A red dirt road through the planted rows of the Sime Darby plantation

Reflections on the Plantationocene: A Conversation with Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing

Plantations discipline both plants and people. Two scholars reckon with the Plantationocene to develop a shared vision of multispecies justice.
A blue bucket attached to a rubber tree

How Rubber Plantations Reshaped Vietnam: A Conversation with Michitake Aso

An environmental historian explains why, for Vietnam’s rubber plantations and plantation workers, the specifics of colonialism, geography, and ecology matter.
Phosphate Mining and the Paradox of Abundance

Phosphate Mining and the Paradox of Abundance

Phosphorus fertilizes the land. Phosphate mining poisons it. Artist Christian Danielewitz visits sites of extraction in western Senegal and considers the Plantationocene.
Drawing of people kneeling in pineapple plantation

In Hawaiʻi, Plantation Tourism Tastes Like Pineapple

The Dole pineapple plantation has a destructive history of transforming the Hawaiian Islands. Mallory Huard describes how that continues today in the tourism industry.
What Is Land? A Conversation with Tania Murray Li, Rafael Marquese, and Monica White

What Is Land? A Conversation with Tania Murray Li, Rafael Marquese, and Monica White

Land is the scene of a crime and a site of liberation. Tania Murray Li, Rafael Marquese, and Monica White discuss land and the Plantationocene with Elizabeth Hennessy.
A laborer reaches up into a palm tree

Can Small-Scale Farming Save Oil Palm?

Drawing from her fieldwork with small-scale oil palm growers and plantation workers in Colombia, Angela Serrano describes a smaller way to farm oil palm.
Scattering of mustard seeds. Black and white photograph

Fugitive Seeds

Christian Brooks Keeve traces how fugitive seeds and seed stories are deeply entangled with the stories and legacies of the Black diaspora.
Keeping Time with Colombian Plantation Calendars

Keeping Time with Colombian Plantation Calendars

Timothy Lorek compares two calendars from Colombia that offer competing visions of plantation presents and agricultural futures.
An oil palm plantation in Malaysia

Picturing the Plantation as a Site of Displacement

A photo essay by Christine Horn from her fieldwork in Sarawak, Borneo, shows how oil palm plantations rearrange and displace communities and landscapes.
Large boiling vat with bucket

Fermentation, Rot, and Power in the Early Modern Atlantic

The histories of fermentation and its unruly twin, rot, provide key insights into race, power, and resistance on plantations in the Caribbean.
Truck on dirt road through green fields

A Syllabus for Plantation Worlds

Drawing from postcolonial, Caribbean, Black, and Indigenous Studies, Sophie Sapp Moore and Aida Arosoaie curate a reading list that highlights the complex dynamics of plantation worlds, past and present. Their syllabus is the perfect end to our series on the Plantationocene.