Second Year Master’s Student, Thomas Depree, Discusses Summer Fieldwork on Uranium Mines

Figure-Ground InterplayDuring Summer 2014, Depree traveled to the North American Southwest to study the relationships between mining corporations and people of the Navajo Nation. Thinking back on his fieldwork, as he begins to write a report of his fieldwork activities, Depree considers issues of conceptualization and analysis:

“My general fields of interest are political ecology and science and technology studies (STS). My research focuses on the politics of uranium extraction in the North American Southwest—on the Navajo Nation, as well as Laguna and Acoma Pueblos. Mining figures into my research as a culpable practice in the context of climate change and the precarious state of the world’s water system, particularly its systematic byproduction of mine waste, which has the agentive capacity to change the world around it. I attend to the relationships between mining corporations, state agencies, NGOs, and people who have been affected by and are critical of uranium mining. The term “environmental racism” is emergent in the field, used to describe the uneven distribution of environmental impacts, which raises concerns over basic human rights. Ultimately, I use a concept that I call the technopolitics of biomonitoring to describe a contested space in which the biophysical effects of mine waste, uranium tailings in particular, are demonstrated using technology that measures the occurrence of harmful constituents. The challenge is to analyze competing forms of data that are used strategically on both sides of the controversy. The metaphor of museum practice is helpful: how do collectors archive, curate, and exhibit data?”

*Thomas Depree graduated from Teachers College with an M.A. in Anthropology and Education in Spring 2015.