Singh, N.M. The affective labor of growing forests and the becoming of environmental subjects: Rethinking environmentality in Odisha, India (2013) Geoforum, . Article in Press.
How do humans come to care for their environment and what turns them into conservationists are central questions in environmental politics. Recent scholars have turned to Foucault’s ideas of “governmentality” to understand how technologies of power intersect with technologies of the self to create “environmental subjects,” that is, people who display a sense of commitment to the conservation of the environment. In this article, I argue that the applications of governmentality tend to privilege technologies of power and pay insufficient attention to the role of affect, emotions, and embodied practices in shaping human subjectivities. I draw on Spinoza’s framework of affects and Hardt and Negri’s idea of “affective labor” to bring attention to the processes through which human beings make themselves and the role of affect and environmental care practices in shaping subjectivity. Using the example of community-based forest conservation efforts in Odisha, India, I argue that we need to look beyond economic and political rationalities to explain human action and behavior. I suggest that villagers’ efforts to regenerate degraded forests involve affective labor in which mind and body, reason and passion, intellect and feeling are all employed together. Through the daily practices of caring for the forest and helping the forests grow, villagers not only transform natural landscapes but also transform their individual and collective subjectivities. I conclude by elaborating on the “biopower from below” of these environmental care practices.
Affect theory; Affective labor; Biopower; Community forestry; Environmentality; Governmentality; Subjectivity