Curtis Marez (University of California, San Diego)
Friday, March 10th • 2:00-3:30pm, The Skylight Room (9100)
The Graduate Center, CUNY

365 Fifth Avenue

Even before Donald Trump promised to build one, U.S. entertainment media was preoccupied with walls—most famously in Game of Thrones—and such images build upon a longer history of struggles over technology and labor.

In Farm Worker Futurism: Speculative Technologies of Resistance (Minnesota, 2016) I argue that speculative fictions in literature and film—works by Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, George Lucas, Alex Rivera, and Beatrice Pita and Rosaura Sanchez—mediate, in revealing ways, histories of conflict involving migrant workers in California. This is in part because workers and employers have historically fought for conflicting visions of the future. On the one hand, I analyze “agribusiness futurism,” or the dream that future technology, especially automation, will result in a utopia of profits undeterred by worker demands. In practice, however, automation led not to the exclusion of workers but to the ramping up of production in ways that required even more. Like the wall, I argue, agribusiness technology was historically aimed not at excluding non-white, noncitizen workers, but at disciplining them for better exploitation. On the other hand, I analyze “farm worker futurism”—efforts by farm workers and their allies to use technology, especially visual technologies like cameras and computer screens, to imagine other worlds beyond exploitation. From the late-1940s grape strikes in the San Joaquin Valley to the early 1990s, when the United Farm Workers helped organize a fast in solidarity with janitors at Apple Computers, Farm Worker Futurism engages the dialectic between agribusiness and farm worker futurisms in visual culture. Viewing agribusiness from below reveals how farm workers and their allies have appropriated visual technologies to imagine better worlds and project different, more egalitarian social orders.

Curtis Marez is a Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego.  In addition to Farm Worker Futurism he is the author of Drug Wars: The Political Economy of Narcotics (Minnesota, 2004); the former editor of American Quarterly; and former President of the American Studies Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *