Transportation Environments: The Politics, Ecology, and Infrastructure of the Panama Canal Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Carse, Ashley
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • Many of us think of the Panama Canal as an excavated channel between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean that was finished nearly a century ago. Open nearly any historical work on the canal and you will read about a monumental engineering project completed in 1914 by virtue of political will, technological innovation, and migrant labor. The protagonists of these accounts - typically politicians, engineers, and thousands of laborers - overcame significant obstacles and united the oceans, fulfilling a colonial dream of interoceanic transit and cementing a modern vision of global connection. I argue that this narrative, which might be called the big ditch story, is not inaccurate, but is too restrictive. This is to say that a focus on historical excavation elides the ongoing political, ecological, and infrastructural work across the region around the waterway that makes interoceanic transportation possible. My dissertation, which draws on ethnographic fieldwork and archival research conducted in Panama and the United States, reveals a constantly changing canal in which concrete and steel forms are bound up with water, soil, forests, and social life. This built environment is highly politicized, given shape through the diverse, sometimes oppositional projects that have been pursued by United States and Panamanian state institutions, capitalists, scientists, and people whose livelihoods depend directly on the land. The four main body chapters of the dissertation each examine a different aspect of changing political, ecological, and infrastructural relationships around the Panama Canal. Each chapter focuses on an object (water, bananas, concrete, and forests) and a related theme (control/excess, governance/margins, politics/mobility, nature/infrastructure). Through these case studies, I develop an analytical framework that I call the political ecology of infrastructure
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  • Redfield, Peter
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2011

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