The Politics of Taconite
by Jeff Manuel
What can the changing nature of rocks in northern Minnesota tell us about globalization and politics? A lot, I would argue. It just requires a slightly different perspective than U.S. historians have taken in the past. Studying deindustrialization on Minnesota’s Iron Range, my research connects local taconite production to global shifts in industry. Global economic forces have buffeted the Iron Range for many decades, from worldwide declines in steel demand to an Indian firm’s recent decision to invest in the region. In many ways, these small Minnesota towns make sense only in a global context.
Using archives from the Iron Range Research Center in Chisholm, Minnesota, I am examining the Iron Range during a period of transition when high grade iron ore mining collapsed and new technologies for processing a former waste rock (taconite) into iron ore were developed after World War II. As iron ore shifted from something mined from the ground to something produced in a factory, political and cultural ideas in the region also changed.
The history of taconite is often described as a story of technological innovation. My research suggests that, along with an elaborate system for processing rocks, taconite also required political action—the legal and political maneuverings required to add a “taconite amendment” to the Minnesota state constitution, lobbying efforts to keep the steel industry’s supply chain within the United States, and the economic reorganizations, including government subsidies, that made the taconite industry profitable.
The larger story is that the history of taconite shows how our modern attempt to solve political problems with technological means is an inherently political process, even when certain developments are categorized as technological or scientific and outside the political realm. From taconite “solving” deindustrialization on the Iron Range to port scanners catching terrorists, we rely on technology to fix messy political problems. But my research suggests that the line between technology and politics is more fluid and permeable than it often appears.
Women and Apartheid
by Koni Benson
My parents left South Africa for political reasons in the 1970s, and I was raised in Canada on a diet of anti-apartheid struggle history. I had always wanted a chance to live in South Africa, I just didn’t think it would be so soon. I have been doing my dissertation research and writing in Cape Town, South Africa since 2005, when my Zimbabwe research permit was delayed.
The state was determined to segregate all urban residents, designating African women to impoverished rural ‘homelands’ (Bantustans), where they were expected to reproduce the migrant labor force while their fathers, husbands, and sons migrated to the mines, farms, and cities as “bachelor laborers,” returning home maybe once a year. I had heard about the famous international campaigns around Crossroads in the 1970s and 1980s, and how women had been at the forefront of organized resistance to forced removals. Crossroads was the longest standing squatter camp under apartheid. It was where African women erected their shacks (across from the airport on an empty field) and refused to leave despite countless violent demolitions by the security forces.
I set out to learn about the urbanization of poverty from the perspective of squatter women over the last century. How have they reacted to the situations they found themselves in, and how have living conditions and resistance movements changed over time? My dissertation is based on more than 75 oral narratives that document the life histories of squatter women involved in movements for urban survival, in particular housing, over the last 40 years in South Africa. I compare two moments of collective organizing by African women in the shack and township settlements of Crossroads.
The first case study looks at the first generation of squatter women leaders who, amongst many strategies for resisting forced removals, created and performed “Imfuduso” (Exodus)—a theatrical production about their struggle to remain in Cape Town instead of on state-prescribed Bantustans (Transkei and Ciskei) in the 1970s. Refusing to leave their shacks in town and returning illegally upon multiple violent “removals” by the state, they spearheaded a struggle for tenure rights in the Western Cape that continues today. The second case study focuses on the Women’s Power Group—300 women squatters who came together in the late 1990s to demand government accountability of funds for undelivered housing.
Women’s organizing directly challenges standard power dynamics and development practices in the area, and in both cases women leaders and their families endured serious punitive repercussions. Their life narratives differ markedly from the depictions of their actions in the official accounts. These women’s experiences offer important windows into the gendered and generational dynamics of labor migration, displacement, poverty, and housing over time, and the central role of women in apartheid resistance and squatter struggles today.
Regional Identities in India
by Pritipuspa Mishra
As a child, I grew up in different parts of India and became deeply aware of the innumerable cultural, linguistic, and religious differences among Indians. India has fifteen official languages and many more unofficial linguistic traditions. Practitioners of almost all major religions in the world reside in India.
Throughout my childhood, political and social movements representing particular identities and interests kept disrupting the illusion of homogeneity that the Indian state and leaders of the Indian nationalist movement so painstakingly established. In particular, the Hindu-Muslim communal strife of the early 1990s had a profound and disturbing influence on my understanding of the Indian nation. I came to realize that the Indian nation was a conglomeration of diverse interests. The image of a united, undifferentiated India was a fragile construct produced by the dominance of majority interests over minority, heterodox voices.
And yet, when I went to study at a large university in India, my own experience of cosmopolitanism, my own heterodox identity, was made invisible when my peers identified me as Oriya, the name of the people who speak the language of Oriya in my home state of Orissa in eastern India. I decided to investigate the relationship between these two identities: the homogenized national identity promoted by the Indian state, and the regional identities that after the 1920s became subsets of nationalism, or “sub-nationalisms,” that scholars have only recently begun to examine.
My dissertation research looks at the relationship between provincial identity formation in Orissa along with the development there of Indian nationalism during the drive (beginning in 1866) to unify all Oriya speakers under a single administrative province. My thesis explores the production of ‘Oriya identity’ as a subset of the notion of a disembodied, classless, and casteless Indian citizen-subject. I show how the Oriyas developed an independent identity within the Indian matrix, even as Oriya identity was integrally linked to an emerging Indian nation. I find my work particularly exciting because it allows regional voices to be heard while historicizing the production of a homogeneous nationalism.