This is an extract of our Sustainable Development document, which we sell as part of our Politics of International Development Notes collection written by the top tier of University Of Warwick students.
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*Cross-reference - PO203 Post-development // PO219 Environmental Politics & Green Theory // PO201 Edmund Burke & Historical Legitimacy
1. What is the 'environmentalism of the poor' (Rob Nixon)?
Why does Rob Nixon talk about 'slow violence' in relation to environmental degradation? 
2. Is sustainable development a contradiction in terms? 
3. Can poor countries achieve rapid economic growth without harming the environment? 
What are the priorities for developing countries in climate change negotiations? 
(see: ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS & GREEN THEORY)
Drawing inspiration from the works of Edward Said, Rachel Carson and Ramachandra Guha, Rob Nixon's Slow Violence and the
Environmentalism of the Poor engages with three main issues:
1. The phenomenon of 'slow violence';
2. The 'environmentalism of the poor';
3. The mediatory role of writer activists - e.g. Arundhati Roy, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jamaica Kincaid, etc. - in adrenalizing a new public awareness of our fragile ecology, felt disproportionately by communities who derive their sustenance from the land. 'In the process, we can aspire to a more historically answerable and geographically expansive sense of what constitutes our environment and which literary works we entrust to voice its parameters'.
Nixon proclaims that different kinds of catastrophe possess unequal heft: 'falling bodies, burning towers, exploding heads,
avalanches, volcanoes and tsunamis all have a visceral, explosive and hyper-visible salience that tales of toxic buildup, massing greenhouse gases and accelerated loss of biodiversity cannot match''. These 'incremental and accretive' disasters (or 'slow violence') lack the political salience needed to rouse public sentiment and warrant political intervention precisely because they operate on another visual/temporal paradigm to the spectacular violence we are accustomed to. This builds on notions of structural violence, emphasizing instead the extensive temporalities, slow-moving mutations and imperceptible ecological transformations that constitute modern power structures.
At the heart of Nixon's book is the notion of displacement (geographical, temporal and imaginative) and the representative/strategic obstacles which arise as a result. One such example of intertwined processes of physical and imaginative eviction is the 'developmental refugee'; 'a poignantly paradoxical figure [given that] 'development' instinctively entails positive growth, modernity and ascent towards a desirable end', especially surrounding megadam construction. For
Nixon, 'big dams are diversionary: they divert water from the powerless to the powerful; but they also divert attention, their glistening enchantments throwing into shadow unimagined communities*', for how can we act ethically towards human and biotic entities that lie beyond our sensory awareness?
Nixon invokes a politics of visuality that buttresses slow violence, systematically concealed on account of 'people whose witnessing authority is culturally discounted'. Environmental visualizations, based on false promises of transparency, are thus political and politicized as much as aesthetic and aestheticized. He complements this proposition with a detailed critique of temporal outsourcing. Indeed, the term 'climate change' itself is suffused with the concept of time, and as such, Nixon stresses how certain visualities are fundamental for stimulating/shaping certain imaginations of climate past, present and future.
A failure to articulate stories which are sensitive to the disparate speeds of environmental calamity, corresponding with some arbitrary framework for differentiating sufferers from non-sufferers, is a failure to secure vital compensation. Nixon cites 'an unequal playing field of neoliberal liability between the global North and global South', which obscures the culpability of shapeshifting corporations operating from behind elusive, historically-mobile transnational identities. Globalization also impacts the way foreign disasters are excised from collective memory 'because they don't appear to jeopardize 'our' environment or 'our'
national security'... what emerges, then, is a contest between the tenacity of corporeal memory and the corrosive power of corporate amnesia emboldened by a neoliberal regime of deregulation'. Adopting undertones of Foucauldian discourse analysis, Nixon contends that sustainable development discourse serves merely to legitimize free trade, border porosity,
Western notions of progress and the 'technological sublime' (see: CONTRADICTORY).
ENVIRONMENTALISM OF THE POOR
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