Jerome Whitington is an anthropologist of science and environment and author of Anthropogenic Rivers: The Production of Uncertainty in Lao Hydropower.
Jerome Whitington's Anthropogenic Rivers: The Production of Uncertainty in Lao Hydropower (Cornell University Press, 2019) examines the dynamics and discourses centered around the development of hydropower dams in the Mekong River Basin. Through deep and connected ethnographies, the book traces how such projects create ecologically uncertain environments and the surprising ways they offer new capacities for being human. Along the way, this study unpacks puzzles such as why corporate developers would engage with activists in environmental sustainability initiatives even in the absence of legal compulsion, the evasion strategies of rural peoples struggling with the currents of such developments and the managerial tactics as well as failures among hydrological experts. By viewing large-scale development projects as collaborations between infrastructural developers, financiers and activists, the book is able to interrogate “late industrialism” not as a high modernist project but in terms of uncharted temporalities.In our conversation, we discuss how infrastructure like dams can lead to uncertainty, the limits of the ‘Anthropocene’ as a conceptual framework, how uncertainty was utilized and managed by various stakeholders who might not see themselves as environmental actors as well as the new positioning of white male experts in Asia.Jerome Whitington is a visiting assistant professor at the Gallatin School in New York University.Faizah Zakaria is an assistant professor of history at Nanyang Technological University. She is completing her first monograph on dialectical relationships between landscape and religious conversions in maritime Southeast Asia. You can find her website here or on Twitter @laurelinarien  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Cymene and Dominic celebrate a podcast milestone and bid adieu to 1990s Democrats and their market-loving, head-kissing ways on this week’s show. Then (15:40) Dominic has a chance to chat with NYU’s Jerome Whitington who has just published a fascinating book on hydropower in Laos—a country some are calling the “battery of Southeast Asia”—entitled Anthropogenic Rivers: The Production of Uncertainty in Lao Hydropower(Cornell U Press, 2019). We start off with where hydropower fits within the contemporary debate on renewable energy transition and why it receives so much less attention than solar and wind energy. Then we turn to how Jerome got interested in the Theun-Hinboun Dam project in particular and why he decided to frame the study in terms of knowledge and uncertainty. We discuss the importance of an experimental moment in the dam’s history when the power company sought to collaborate with environmental activists to allay concerns about the ecological and social impacts of the dam project. Jerome explains what he means by “technical entrepreneurialism” and we talk about how to think about the meaning of “anthropogenic” without getting stuck in nature/culture binaries. Shifting gears, we discuss Jerome’s current research on carbon accounting and he explains the influence of corporate accounting logics and Silicon Valley culture on practices like carbon offsets and why he doesn’t think carbon accounting is ultimately going to stop climate change. We close on the need for more academic activism on climate.
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1 hour, 40 minutes
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