Through lively, engaging narrative, Understories demonstrates how volatile politics of race, class, and nation animate the infamously violent struggles over forests in the U.S. Southwest. Rather than reproduce the traditional understanding of nature and environment, author Jake Kosek argues for a broader conception of material and symbolic "natures," exploring how northern New Mexican forests have been shaped by conflicts over resources and identities involving not only Chicano activists, white environmentalists, and state officials but also nuclear scientists, heroin addicts, and health workers. Drawing on nearly two years of ethnographic fieldwork and extensive archival research, he shows how these contentious natures are integral not only to environmental politics but also to the formation of racialized citizens, politicized landscapes, and modern regimes of rule.
Kosek traces the histories of forest extraction and labor exploitation in northern New Mexico, where Hispano residents have forged passionate attachments to place. He describes how their sentiments of dispossession emerged through land tenure systems and federal management programs that remade forest landscapes as exclusionary sites of national and racial purity. Fusing fine-grained ethnography with insights gleaned from cultural studies and science studies, Kosek shows how the nationally beloved Smokey the Bear became a symbol of white racist colonialism for many Hispanos in the region, while Los Alamos National Laboratory, at once revered and reviled, remade regional ecologies and economies. Understories offers an innovative vision of environmental politics, one that challenges scholars as well as activists to radically rework their understandings of relations between nature, justice, and identity.
"In this stunning account of the forest wars of New Mexico, Jake Kosek forces us to reconsider the underlying racial politics of the environmental movement's self-righteous claims to `stewardship' over the natural resources that sustain indigenous communities. If you want to understand the deep roots of the rising anger, not just of the Hispanos in the Espanola Valley, but of marginalized blue-collar people everywhere in the West, this powerful and honest book, with its unique synthesis of theory and passion, is the place to begin."
- Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums and Buda's Wagon
"Understories is a critically important book. Jake Kosek's arguments are original, necessary, and rarely heard; his deep tying together of race and nature is almost entirely absent from the current scholarly literature."
- Hugh Raffles, author of In Amazonia: A Natural History
"This theoretically and methodologically innovative study of how environmental politics shape and are shaped by race, class, and nationalism in the Southwest will make an important contribution to environmental anthropology and history as well as to border studies for years to come. An exciting book, it is also highly readable and can be used in advanced undergraduate as well as graduate-level courses."
– Ana Maria Alonso, author of Thread of Blood: Colonialism, Revolution, and Gender on Mexico's Northern Frontier