Landscapes of power: an ethnography of energy development on the Navajo Nation Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Powell, Dana Elizabeth
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • This dissertation examines the cultural politics of energy development on the Navajo (Din) Nation in the Southwestern United States (Arizona and New Mexico) through an ethnographic study of Desert Rock, a coal-fired power plant proposed by the Navajo Nation government. Since its initial proposal in 2003, the proposed plant has spawned widespread controversy both among tribal members and in the greater region, despite its unbuilt, emergent status. This dissertation follows the actors engaged in this debate, showing how Desert Rock became a fulcrum for urgent negotiations of Navajo identity and indigeneity, sustainable development, tribal sovereignty, and expert knowledge. I argue that these dynamics constitute landscapes of power, where Navajo people understand their region in large part through the political history of energy minerals; negotiate difference (ethnic, gender, and epistemic) through engagements with infrastructure and ecology; create a space for cultural artifacts that envision the effects of energy development on Navajo lands and bodies; contest and articulate particular meanings of sovereignty; mobilize expertise and new practices of knowledge production; and finally, forge new ethical subject positions vis--vis debates over technology and the environment. Showing how legacies of extraction on the Navajo Nation are both material and epistemological, the dissertation puts the politics of energy into conversation with the politics of knowledge production, especially as these bear on contemporary anthropological practice. I draw on three types of qualitative data: (1) interviews with a diverse range of people invested in the Navajo Nation's energy development outcomes; (2) participant observation in energy-related events and collaboration with members of a Navajo environmental organization; and (3) discourse analysis of newspaper articles, grassroots research reports, tribal government reports, and public hearings. This dissertation contributes to the interdisciplinary fields of political ecology, science and technology studies, critical indigenous studies, and nascent work in the anthropology of energy, illuminating how a particular conflict over natural resource management and energy infrastructure galvanized diverse modes of knowledge, energy activism, and identifications with environmentalism. Effectively, the contested technology generated an enduring legacy for the future of energy policy and activism on the Navajo Nation and greater Southwestern region.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Anthropology."
  • Holland, Dorothy
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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