Migration, enforcement and trashing the desert : discourses of social nature from Arizona border activists
Rachel W. Alexander
May 10, 2013
Department or Program
Politics - Environmental Studies
This paper examines discourses about nature emerging from migrant aid volunteers working in the desert areas around Tucson, Arizona. Western thought has traditionally portrayed nature as a "pristine" place which is set apart from human society, a limited conception which is largely historically inaccurate. The pristine idea has been used since the beginning of the conservation movement to justify the exclusion of racial "others" from so-called wild or natural spaces, often by portraying them as inherently un-ecological, dirty and destructive. In this context, the U.S.-Mexico border presents a unique site for studying conceptions of nature, because of the way in which major environmental organizations and humanitarian aid groups have come together to challenge border enforcement and militarization policies. Based on interviews with volunteers working on the border, this paper argues that an emergent conception of "social nature," capable of reading human influences as part of the desert, is being created through the work of migrant aid volunteers. Ultimately, this suggests that the beginnings of a justice-based, anti-racist vision of nature could emerge from the alliance between environmental and migrant aid organizations.