Traci Brynne Voyles, "Wastelanding: Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country"

Event Date: 

Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 4:00pm

Event Location: 

  • Bren Hall

Traci Brynne Voyles, author of the new book Wastelanding: Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country (University of Minnesota Press, 2015) spoke in Bren Hall, UCSB campus, at 4pm, Thursday, February 25, 2016.

Wastelanding tells the history of the uranium industry on Navajo land in the U.S. Southwest, asking why certain landscapes and the peoples who inhabit them come to be targeted for disproportionate exposure to environmental harm. Uranium mines and mills on the Navajo Nation land have long supplied U.S. nuclear weapons and energy programs. By 1942, mines on the reservation were the main source of uranium for the top-secret Manhattan Project. Today, the Navajo Nation is home to more than a thousand abandoned uranium sites. Radiation-related diseases are endemic, claiming the health and lives of former miners and nonminers alike.

Traci Brynne Voyles argues that the presence of uranium mining on Diné (Navajo) land constitutes a clear case of environmental racism. Looking at discursive constructions of landscapes, she explores how environmental racism develops over time. For Voyles, the “wasteland,” where toxic materials are excavated, exploited, and dumped, is both a racial and a spatial signifier that renders an environment and the bodies that inhabit it pollutable. Because environmental inequality is inherent in the way industrialism operates, the wasteland is the “other” through which modern industrialism is established. In examining the history of wastelanding in Navajo country, Voyles provides “an environmental justice history” of uranium mining, revealing how just as “civilization” has been defined on and through “savagery,” environmental privilege is produced by portraying other landscapes as marginal, worthless, and pollutable.

Traci Brynne Voyles is an assistant professor of Women’s Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Voyles received her PhD in ethnic studies from the University of California San Diego in 2010, and was a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of California, Davis in 2011 as part of the Andrew Mellon Environments and Societies Research Initiative. Her research interests revolve around environmental justice, environmental history, feminist theory and gender studies, ecofeminism, and comparative ethnic studies. Her next book project explores the environmental and cultural history of southern California’s Salton Sea.

Event Sponsors: Global Environmental Justice Project, Environmental Studies Program, Department of Feminist Studies, Department of History, Department of Sociology, and the Environmental Humanities Center.