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Levan Institute for the Humanities Book Chats—Christina Dunbar-Hester, Oil Beach: How Toxic Infrastructure Threatens Life in the Ports of Los Angeles and Beyond

April 24, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

A discussion of Christina Dunbar-Hester’s book, Oil Beach: How Toxic Infrastructure Threatens Life in the Ports of Los Angeles and Beyond (University of Chicago Press, 2023). The author will be joined in conversation by Ashley Carse (Vanderbilt University) and Deborah Cowen (University of Toronto), moderated by Juan De Lara (USC). Co-sponsored by the Center on Science, Technology, and Public Life and the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Registration is required. REGISTER HERE

About the Book: Can the stories of bananas, whales, sea birds, and otters teach us to reconsider the seaport as a place of ecological violence, tied to oil, capital, and trade?

San Pedro Bay, which contains the contiguous Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, is a significant site for petroleum shipping and refining as well as one of the largest container shipping ports in the world—some forty percent of containerized imports to the United States pass through this so-called America’s Port. It is also ecologically rich. Built atop a land- and waterscape of vital importance to wildlife, the heavily industrialized Los Angeles Harbor contains estuarial wetlands, the LA River mouth, and a marine ecology where colder and warmer Pacific Ocean waters meet. In this compelling interdisciplinary investigation, award-winning author Christina Dunbar-Hester explores the complex relationships among commerce, empire, environment, and the nonhuman life forms of San Pedro Bay over the last fifty years—a period coinciding with the era of modern environmental regulation in the United States. The LA port complex is not simply a local site, Dunbar-Hester argues, but a node in a network that enables the continued expansion of capitalism, propelling trade as it drives the extraction of natural resources, labor violations, pollution, and other harms. Focusing specifically on cetaceans, bananas, sea birds, and otters whose lives are intertwined with the vitality of the port complex itself, Oil Beach reveals how logistics infrastructure threatens ecologies as it circulates goods and capital—and helps us to consider a future where the accumulation of life and the accumulation of capital are not in violent tension.

About the Author: Christina Dunbar-Hester is a Professor of Communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She conducts interpretive research into the politics of technology. She is the author of two award-winning ethnographies of activism in technical communities: Hacking Diversity: The Politics of Inclusion in Open Technology Cultures (Princeton U. Press, 2020); and Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protest, and Politics in FM Radio Activism (MIT Press, 2014). Dunbar-Hester’s most recent publication, Oil Beach: How Toxic Infrastructure Threatens Life in the Ports of Los Angeles and Beyond (University of Chicago Press, 2023) is a study of multispecies life and death in the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, with emphasis on global shipping, wildlife conservation, and petroleum infrastructure.

Open to attendants outside of USC. An excerpt of the book will be made available to registered attendants. Registration before the event is required.

This event is part of the Levan Institute for the Humanities’ “Book Chats” series, conversations about new books published by USC scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. To see more events in this series, including recordings of past events, visit https://dornsife.usc.edu/levan-institute/book-chats/.




USC Levan Institute for the Humanities
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