AHCS Speaker Series | Deborah Cowen "Beyond '150': Transnational Infrastructures of Empire and Resistance"


Bronfman Building Room 210, 1001 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 1G5, CA

Deborah Cowen
University of Toronto

Beyond '150': Transnational Infrastructures of Empire and Resistance
Despite commitments to systemic and institutional change in the wake of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, ‘Canada 150’ celebrations proceeded apace over the summer of 2017. Festivities were awash with the language of reconciliation, but performed amnesia regarding both historic and ongoing state violence, including the very act of celebrating ‘replacement’. Indigenous people organized against the whitewashed birthday festivities, insisting that struggles over pipelines, damns, and drinking water offered a better diagnosis of ‘Nation to Nation’ relations. Drawing attention to the infrastructure that underpins contemporary settler colonialism – water and land protectors expose ties that are long and bind tight. In fact, ‘Canada 150’ also marks the completion of the national railroad on which settler state confederation relied. The CPR was famously referred to as ‘the spine of the nation’, but it was built on Indigenous, Black, and Chinese backs. This talk explores the key role of infrastructure in the formation and contestation of settler colonial space. It traces a set of cartographies that cut across nationalist narratives to foreground the violent ways infrastructure holds us together across time and space. Tracking the making of this ‘national spine’ through the transnational slave trade, indigenous dispossession, and violent racial capitalism, this talk asks what infrastructures can take us beyond ‘150’?

Bio: Deborah Cowen is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto and a 2016 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow. Her research explores the role of organized violence in shaping intimacy, space, and citizenship. She is the author of The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade with the University of Minnesota Press, Military Workfare: The Soldier and Social Citizenship in Canada, and co-editor with Emily Gilbert, of War, Citizenship, Territory. Deborah has also been active in community-based research and organizing in Toronto addressing the racialization of sub/urban space, and was a collaborator on the National Film Board of Canada’s Emmy award winning HIGHRISE project. Deborah serves on the board of the Groundswell Community Justice Trust Fund. 

More information coming soon.