Justyn Huckleberry is a Ph.D. candidate in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and an editor for Edge Effects online magazine. Her current research focuses on how people experience and remember conservation and extractive-industry displacement. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Botswana where she is conducting her dissertation research. She holds an M.L.A. in Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley. Most recently, Justyn was been awarded the 2021 Jordan Prize for her paper, “Displacing Farmers and their Non/Human Relations through Internationally Funded Copper Mining in Botswana.” She will have the distinct honor of presenting her research at Africa at Noon in the Spring.
Justyn, tell us more about your research!
My research shares stories of people’s personal experiences and memories of development for mining and conservation—with a primary focus on displacement—using interviews, oral history, and archival research. I draw from memory, relationality, postcolonial, and racial capitalism theory to critique systems of colonial and racist development in Botswana. This paper specifically focuses on how farmer’s relations with their cattle, other nonhuman animals, friends & family, and the mining industry shifted, remained, and transformed with displacement for two copper mines owned by U.S. & Canadian-based companies. I’m currently writing my dissertation and have been very inspired by Max Liboiron’s Pollution is Colonialism and Lisa Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents in understanding the globally interconnected (yet specific and distinct) colonial land relations that the U.S. continues to impose on other countries, such as through copper mining displacement and pollution. As part of this work and research, I have been (re-)examining my own role in these complex histories that allows me to do research in Africa.
How is your research going in Botswana, especially given the pandemic? Have you had to adapt your plans?
I had been on Fulbright in Botswana since May 2019 when the pandemic began to impact the United States. I flew back to the U.S. at the end of March 2020, which cut my research short by three months. While I compiled enough data to complete the dissertation, my favorite part had to get cut. I planned to work with community members displaced for Moremi Game Reserve and two copper mines in the Kalahari to film their oral histories and create video memorializations that they could keep or use how they saw fit. This was an important anticolonial methodological piece that I was really excited about. I still hope to follow up with the communities I was working with to complete the films in the future.
Do you have any advice for your peers who are trying to complete their dissertation during these unprecedented times?
Take care of yourself. Whatever that looks like. We can’t do good and just intellectual work without first feeding our souls and resting.
Tell us more about how you’ve prepared for your research in your PhD program (language skills, learning new methodologies, etc.).
To prepare for my research in Botswana, I took a few semesters of the African Studies Multi-Language Seminar and held a summer FLAS when I first arrived in country. Through this language learning, I built a really amazing relationship with my mentor, Nthati, and her family, and learned enough Setswana to help me build more meaningful relationships with the communities I worked with.
I also engage(d) in an ongoing process of unlearning whiteness and colonialism. I participated in Population Works’ interactive e-learning platform that focuses on confronting these issues in development in Africa. Through my time in Botswana, I now know that more of this needs to be at the forefront of curriculum for students wanting to study or do research in Africa and really any community that is not their own.
What do you think an African Studies perspective offers Environmental Studies?
Studying the history of Africa—Southern Africa and Botswana in particular—has shown me that there are many more ways to do environmental studies outside of mainstream science and academics. People engage with the environment in a myriad of ways that contribute to how they understand the world (farming, foraging, tangentially, spiritually, and inquisitorially, to name a few). There’s no one way to do science or understand the world, and I think the communities we engage within Africa and globally, including our own, show us we are truly living in the pluriverse, a world where many worlds (and many environmental studies) fit.
Produced by Carly Lucas