- Island Futures: Caribbean Survival in the Anthropocene by Mimi Sheller
I read mimi sheller's island futures with Puerto Rico as a referent. Despite being mostly about Haiti and the uneven politics of reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake, Sheller's narrative can be easily enlarged to encompass the Caribbean as a whole. As Sheller indicates, Haiti is but "a window upon a dynamic, contested, relational space in which the Anthropocene is allegorically produced" (p. 7-8). Haiti is not exceptional in that regard; it is instead one of many locations that have come to embody the "coloniality of climate change" (p. 8). Puerto Rico too, embodies the "coloniality of disaster." In that sense, this book is not just about Haiti, Puerto Rico, or the Caribbean, it is about "climate change vulnerability" and how climatic risks are "a result both of coloniality in the past and of neocolonial restructuring today" (p. 10; emphasis added).
As the title of the book suggests, however, Sheller also uses the text to think about the future. Readers will encounter an unresolved temporal tension throughout the book, one that will frustrate those – like myself – who went into the text thinking that an engagement with Caribbean futures would populate most of the pages ahead. Instead, the past and the present dominate over the future. Nevertheless, the author is "increasingly driven toward a sense of futurity" (p. xiii). That sense is palpable in almost every chapter of the book which follows a similar temporal organizational format. First, the historical formation of uneven mobility regimes is presented. Second, an analysis of the present demonstrates how reconstruction efforts exacerbate the coloniality of climate change vulnerability. Lastly, the author proceeds with a brief discussion of alternative development strategies and just recovery imaginations and initiatives. The format works well as a narrative device, yet I think this form of temporal narration unintentionally reproduces the linearity of time of the modern project of progress and development whereby the past, present, and future neatly follow each other without ever touching or overlapping. In other words, the book falls short in presenting the complexities of Caribbean futures and futurity.
My temporal critique is intended mostly to underscore the difficulties of breaking away with our hegemonic conceptions of time and space inherited from the fatal coupling of modernity, liberalism, and capitalism, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore would say. Sheller's Island Futures is a serious attempt to "imagine our way beyond [the Anthropocene], beyond coloniality, beyond capitalism, beyond extractive and exploitative economies and ontologies" (p. xvii). Even though the book is still partly informed by the crisis ontology that colors most research on and about the Caribbean, the temporal narration described above being one manifestation, I appreciated the author's dissatisfaction with that frame and their insistence [End Page 196] to move beyond those ontological requirements. In fact, each chapter ends with a song verse dedicated to a different Haitian Voodoo spirit or loa, suggestive of "alternative ontologies and ways of being in the world that look toward the deep past and the deep future" (p. xxiv).
Island Futures brings Mimi Sheller's impressive research agendas together. It combines work on mobilities with Caribbean, island, and disaster studies to provide a theoretically rich text that is both linguistically generative and politically suggestive. For instance, I found the concept islanding effect extremely useful to understand postdisaster politics and differential power relations. As the author observed, during postdisaster situations "highly mobile foreign responders and assistance" are mobilized to the most affected areas and population, "while holding the internally displaced in place in an ongoing process of marginalization, serial displacement, and containment" (p. 36). Islanding, when conceived as an "active verb and a performative imaginary" (p. 18), provided me with new language to speak about the contradictory presence of CBS reporter David Begnaud and his mobile crew across post-Maria Puerto Rico, while hundreds of thousands of families were stranded in their own communities...