In contrast to the longstanding conception of nations as fixed in place, this panel explores the ways in which projects of nation-building are increasingly forced to reckon with the flux and instability of nonhuman actors.
The conjunction of "nature" and "nation" is a powerful one. Across history and geography, projects of national self-formation have repeatedly sought to harness the physical heft of particular places as part of their attempt to forge felt senses of national identity and belonging. Alongside the myths, symbols, rituals, and narratives that together define what political theorist Lauren Berlant (1991) calls "the National Symbolic," the apparent fixity in both space and time of national places emerges as an especially powerful resource in the construction of compelling national fantasies. In this regard, such projects resonate with a largely implicit premise at work in much of the classic anthropological literature on the space, place, and the environment: that places stay still (Basso 1996; Basso & Feld 1996). More and more, however, such a "sedentarist metaphysics" (cf. Malkki 1992) is becoming difficult to maintain. In an era of global climate change, environmental crisis, and a wide range of other anthropogenic impacts on space and place, projects of national self-formation are today forced to reckon with the mercurial nature of nonhuman political actors. From shifting sands to migrating mountain spirits, and beyond, this panel seeks to explore those social moments when the taken-for-granted "thereness" of places and their im/material constituents are called into question. Over and above the empirical fact of territorial transformation, however, the panel will pay special attention to the particular modes of human imagination and attention that work to either embrace or occlude these more-than-human mobilities.